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For WSU, the Xs and Os are for more than the court

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, March 14, 2014, at 2:31 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 15, 2014, at 9:52 p.m.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Does getting a No. 1 seed matter for the Shockers?


There are five players on the basketball court. To get them organized, it takes six men wearing suits, plus at least one team manager.

What do all those well-dressed people do during a game?

One of their top jobs is knowing when to stay quiet.

“I don’t want to be the guy over there just vomiting at the mouth,” Wichita State assistant coach Steve Forbes said.

There is plenty of chaos going in the 40 minutes of action. No. 2 Wichita State’s coaches attempt to conquer the noise and confusion with a strict delegation of duties.

“If I ask them, they tell me what I need to know,” coach Gregg Marshall said.

In the huddle, the voice is Marshall’s, although he may lean on an assistant coach to explain a point about a scouting report. There is more time during TV timeouts in the NCAA Tournament, leaving more opportunity for others to speak.

On the bench, Marshall’s main contact is associate coach Chris Jans, who started with him at WSU in 2007. If the other assistants want to make a suggestion, they often go through Jans first to reduce the number of voices in Marshall’s ear.

Manager of player development Devon Smith is always at Marshall’s side because he carries a black binder and a laminated sheet with WSU’s offensive plays — about 60 sets (20 for zone, 12 secondary break plays after a rebound (known as quicks), 12 out-of-bounds plays, nine plays for when the shot clock is running down and five press offenses). Marshall relies on Smith to write down the plays called (WSU often calls three or more plays ahead of time), record their result and remind him what’s coming next so he can tell the players.

“Coach is our offensive coordinator, and he wants me to stay with him the whole game,” Smith said. “Your goal is to help him prepare the team. So if anything good happens or anything bad happens, it does not affect your job. You need to continue to give him information.”

Forbes and Greg Heiar, WSU’s other assistant coaches, speak more when they handle the scouting report for that opponent (responsibility rotates among the three assistants). The assistant who did the scout keeps an eye on the other team, listening for play calls and looking for hand signals. When he recognizes one, he calls out the play to the Shockers. Sometimes, players will spy and tell the coaches what play is called. One of the assistants logs the plays called by opponents, by time and name, so the Shockers can develop a book on tendencies.

The coaches don’t bother telling the players names used by the opponent. They relate an opponent’s play to a similar one used by WSU.

“If they’re running a play, and say we call it Kentucky … we’ll tell them ‘Here comes Kentucky,’ even though they call it Florida,” Jans said. “(The players) have plenty to do. That’s our responsibility to memorize all that stuff.”

WSU coaches always sit in the same order. Jans is closest to the opponents’ bench so he can watch what plays are being called and see who is subbing in.

“I’m a good lip-reader,” he said.

Smith sits between Jans and Marshall. Heiar and Forbes are on the other side of Marshall. Next to Forbes is director of operations Dominic Okon, who keeps track of fouls and timeouts for both teams. Heiar and Forbes do much of the talking with players who come out of the game because they sit closest to them. Trainer Todd Fagan sits at the end of the bench, hoping he is not needed to attend to an injury.

Jans’ position is also important because he is responsible for matchups on defense. When Marshall tells Evan Wessel to check in, he walks past Marshall and gets the offensive plays and Jans tells him who to guard. Jans must keep an eye on the opponent, because that will determine defensive assignments.

“Say Evansville subs two guys, and we sub two, as they’re walking on the floor, depending on who they sub, will determine who I think we should be matched up with,” Jans said.

During timeouts, head manager Chad Gibney checks with the scorer’s table to see which players the opponent is subbing in. He gives a list to Jans. Jans performed that part of the duty early in his tenure at WSU and found it took him away from the huddle too much.

“I’d come back in the huddle and say, ‘Hey, what about this,’ and (Marshall) would look at me and say, ‘We already talked about that,’” Jans said. “I finally got it streamlined where I don’t have to worry about looking down at the scorer’s table and missing something.”

Okon also works with the scorer’s table on fouls and timeouts. Marshall almost always sits a player with two fouls in the first half. When the scoreboard is wrong, Okon must know so Marshall doesn’t bench a player for the wrong information. When a player (or an opponent) gets a third foul, Okon tells Marshall. If it’s a Shocker, Marshall may pull him. If it’s an opponent, Marshall may call a play to attack that defender.

“When there’s foul issues, he’s not going to turn to Chris, and he’s not going to turn to Forbes,” Okon said. “He’s going to turn to me. I better be right.”

As the most experienced and trusted manager, Gibney performs another important job at halftime. The players don’t see a stat sheet. They look at the dry erase board with the score, steals, turnovers, three-point percentage and offensive rebounds for both teams. Gibney writes those figures on the board and adds WSU’s deflections, recorded by a manager, on the bottom, broken down by player. WSU’s goal is 35 deflections, a stat they say means victory 90 percent of the time.

Those, in Marshall’s mind, are the telling statistics. Steals, offensive rebounds and deflections measure effort. So does three-point percentage, because it tells the Shockers if they are contesting shots on the perimeter. Turnovers measure defensive effort and offensive execution.

Fifteen players. Six coaches. Assorted managers. Through all that traffic, the messages get through.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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