One of the perks of playing basketball at Wichita State is after-hours access to the practice gym at Koch Arena. WSU’s newcomers already realize that practice time isn’t enough.
Coaches love hearing that. Each athlete is issued a dark gray key fob that opens the practice gym doors from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. Get in by 9:59, and a shooter can enjoy plenty of baskets, no waiting, deep into the night. A machine is available to rebound and fire passes, if a manager or teamate isn’t available.
“You can get in the gym any time you want and work hard,” freshman guard Ria’n Holland said. “We get some shots up, try to get these dribbling drills down pat.”
Holland, guard D.J. Bowles, center Shaq Morris, forward Darius Carter and walk-on guard John Robert Simon arrived this week and are taking classes and working in small groups with returning players and coaches. Post player Earl Watson, a transfer from Chipola (Fla.) Community College, is taking two summer classes and his future as a Shocker is uncertain.
“He has not been able to complete his stuff to be admitted,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It just depends on if he can get it done.”
Without Watson, the Shockers are at their limit of 13 scholarships. Should Watson finish his junior-college requirements, Marshall said he will deal with that scenario when it happens.
On Thursday, Holland, Bowles and Simon joined returners Nick Wiggins and Fred VanVleet in guard workouts under the direction of assistant coach Greg Heiar. Assistant coach Chris Jans worked with Morris and returner Chadrack Lufile, while Marshall shuttled between the two areas. The guards performed passing, shooting and cutting drills then worked on dribbling between orange cones. The big men drilled on footwork and scoring, passing and defending in the post. Carter joined a later session, going against senior Kadeem Coleby, a transfer who sat out last season.
Morris spent almost an hour banging with Lufile, adding to his appreciation for the physical play and stamina required in college. He said he weighs in at 280 pounds and wants to drop 20 by the time the season starts. A week ago, Morris wrapped up his high school days by earning Most Valuable Player honors in the Faith 7 Basketball Bowl in Shawnee, Okla. He scored 20 points, adding nine rebounds and five blocks in Oklahoma’s 101-95 win over Texas. Scoring against Lufile, equal in size with three seasons of college experience, is a tougher task.
“I know I’ve got to get in the weight room,” Morris said. “The game pace is very fast, even in pickup (games).”
Holland also sees weights as a crucial part of his adjustment. He needs to get bigger. He weighs 148, up 12 pounds from November, and wants to weigh 160 by the end of the summer. Bowles is trying to soak up all the pointers he can to help his duties as point guard and the veterans are helping.
“They’re telling me when I’m out here playing pickup to be aggressive, don’t come out here just trying to fit in,” he said.
The returners are encouraging the newcomers to listen and ask questions. The drills that are second nature to them are largely new to the incoming players.
“Coming in, I wouldn’t say it’s frightening, but it’s one of those things where you don’t want to come in and mess up and you’re trying to be perfect,” Simon said. “They’re telling us that you’ve just got to play your game and be ready to shoot the ball.”
College life is challenging in other ways. At Oldsmar (Fla.) Christian School, Bowles lived with a host family. They made sure he got to school on time. At WSU, he is on his own and a reliable alarm is crucial.
“Time management is the biggest thing,” he said. “”Waking up on my own and stuff like that.”
Most of Marshall’s message to the new players is focused off the court. He wants them to understand playing for a program coming off a Final Four is in the spotlight all year. Before Thursday’s workout with the Shockers, he held court at camp with around 286 youngsters, around double the number from a year ago. Marshall ran shooting contests, laughing and joking with the campers, signed autographs and critiqued performances.
“I told the new guys how they need to care of their business, go to class and be on time,” he said. “They’re under a microscope and everybody’s watching. They need to take care of their business on and off the court like professionals.”