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Bright lights, microphones become norm for Shockers

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 4:50 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

Wichita State freshman Ron Baker has told his story of being from Smalltown, USA — Scott City, Kan. — over and over. And then over again.

Senior Malcolm Armstead has talked again and again and again about his year spent working at a car dealership as he worked to pay his own tuition while waiting for a Shocker scholarship.

Such is the life of an athlete gearing up for a Final Four appearance. Everyone wants an interview, whether it’s local, hometown, college newspaper, TV station, national writers, radio stations. They ask and ask and ask some more.

Surely it’s a tiresome process, surrounded by journalists, cameras, microphones and digital recorders, all wanting the answers to their questions.

No Shockers are complaining.

“People want to ask questions, people want to know who you are, people want to know your story,” said Armstead, who did an interview on “The Jim Rome Show” on Tuesday. “You want to open up and let the world find out who you are. I’m not sure (how many times he’s told his story), but I still have people that don’t know it. I want let it be known as much as someone wants to know it.”

Baker shrugs off any remotely annoying aspects of the media process, too, even though he’s been asked time and again about his two-stoplight town in western Kansas.

“I’m not sick of the story because it’s a really special story to me,” he said.

As freshman Fred VanVleet pointed out, the Shockers are in a bit of a different situation than, say, Louisville, their opponent in Saturday’s national semifinal.

“We didn’t deal with this all year, not at this magnitude,” VanVleet said. “It seems like it’s routine every day, and it’s a fun situation. We know what it’s like to not have anyone interview us.”

But he’s also smart enough not to rip an upcoming opponent or get too cocky. No way is he providing bulletin-board material for any team. VanVleet’s goal is to always speak respectfully of the next opponent while also speaking his mind.

Junior Cleanthony Early doesn’t get impatient, even when the same question is asked by different people.

“It’s part of the system,” he said. “It’s like, how many times are you going to hear the same thing from coaches, from one to another? You have to learn to adapt and take it for what it is. I try to show who I am, regardless of what I’m doing, whether I’m playing basketball, in class or talking with my friends.”

Armstead takes a similar tack. While he’d rather not be in the spotlight — he used to suggest others do his interviews — he continues to share a part of himself.

So when he answers the question for the umpteenth time about his car dealership days, he answers.

“I think when people ask that question, it’s because they’ve never heard my story,” he said. “You have to have fun with it and let them know it’s real.”

There have been some silly questions over the past two weeks of the NCAA Tournament, though.

VanVleet was pressed again and again to detail his pregame routine.

He didn’t know what to say beyond the boring ’ol truth of, “I told her ‘nothing special,’ ” he said. “But she kept asking.”

And Armstead was asked whether he and coach Gregg Marshall “butt heads.” That’s dangerous ground there. Answer that in the wrong way and suddenly there’s problems at WSU! Oh no! Gasp!

Armstead shook his head.

“I’m like, ‘You’ll never make me answer a question like that,’ ” Armstead said. “I leave that alone. ‘Do you and coach ever bump heads?’ Come on, man. He’s my coach. Without him I wouldn’t be here.”

There have been moments over the past two weeks that it would be easy to stare open-mouthed at the questioner or blow off a query.

But the Shockers have handled it with aplomb, as if they’ve been in this situation before.

For Baker, his goal is simple, no matter the situation.

“I try to be the politest person that I can,” he said.

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com.

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