ATLANTA — Before the Missouri State game at Koch Arena on Feb. 9, the Wichita State basketball players who were getting ready to take the floor looked up and saw some really big men making some really loud noises.
Former Shocker Xavier McDaniel gave the team some of his patented X-Man inspiration. Then Antoine Carr took over. He, like McDaniel, has his jersey hanging from the Koch Arena rafters.
And on that night, as most nights, Carr had something to say.
“I told that team they have to play with a lot of anger, with a lot of passion,’’ Carr said. “You got to have that second effort, third effort.”
Playing angry has become a motto for a Wichita State team that has carried a chip on its shoulder through the mountains of Salt Lake City to the beaches of Southern California and now to the peach trees of Atlanta.
Carr said he has used the “play angry” mantra with the AAU team he helps coach in San Antonio, one that includes his 16-year-old son, A.J., a 6-foot-7 forward.
“I started playing angry in high school at Heights,’’ said Carr, who played for the Falcons from 1976-79 and was part of an undefeated state championship team in 1977. “We had Darnell (Valentine) and those guys and you didn’t have a choice. Our coach (Lafayette Norwood) made it clear that if we didn’t go out and give it our all for the full time we were out there, then we were going to end up on the bench. And with the bench we had on that team, you might get buried.”
Playing angry has served the Shockers well. They buried Missouri State 79-50 on the night McDaniel and Carr addressed them and are 11-3 since.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall often references the Carr speech and so do the Shocker players.
“I think that speech turned our season around,’’ senior forward Carl Hall said. “It was a message to play hard, get after loose balls, things like that. It helped maybe give us a different outlook on things.’’
It helped that Carr wasn’t fooling around. He didn’t get in front of the Shockers that night to tell that what they wanted to hear.
“He looked very angry and he got everybody’s attention,’’ Hall said. “I think it kind of woke us up as a team and made us play as one again.’’
Carr said he was planning to arrive in Atlanta for the Final Four sometime early Friday evening. He expects to see several of his former WSU teammates, although plans are still up in the air.
“I’m very excited about this,’’ Carr said. “To me, it’s kind of redemption of what I’ve been saying all along. A lot of these big-time teams and big-time programs look at players out of Kansas and think they’re probably not going to be that good. My thing is to give everybody a chance. Give them a shot and if it doesn’t work, fine. But see if there’s something there.’’
Carr said he still doesn’t think the Shockers are getting enough national respect. Everybody he watches, reads or listens to expects Louisville to handle WSU Saturday in a national semifinal game.
“So I’m Cinderella?’’ Carr asked, rhetorically. “Well, I’ll tell you what, keep thinking I’m Cinderella. I’ve got a little something for you.’’
The Big Dog, Carr’s nickname during a 16-year NBA career, is barking.
“If you ever saw Antoine or X play, they played angry,’’ said WSU coach Gregg Marshall, who welcomed the muscle and bravado they brought to their pre-game speeches. “They were aggressive and tough and the initiators of hard contact in the post. They were boxing out and beating checks and beating people to those loose balls, those 50-50 balls. That’s what ‘play angry’ means – to defend with your feet and put your chest on people. This team has embodied that creed. I’m so glad those gentlemen gave us that advice.’’
Carr is available for another pregame speech, he said, should the need arise.
“I hope these guys play angry Saturday,’’ he said. “I’m ready for this thing to get going. I’m more hyped than them.’’