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Wichita State basketball gets newcomers into the flow

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 20, 2014, at 4:33 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, June 20, 2014, at 6:27 p.m.

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Wichita State freshman guard Corey Henderson Jr. is learning how to watch basketball a different way.

Assistant coach Greg Heiar gave him DVDs of two Shocker games from last season as a way to speed Henderson’s understanding of the offense. He watches on his Xbox in his dorm room. Then he talks through what he saw with Heiar.

When he finishes those two games, he will get two more.

His instructions are to watch players, especially junior point guard Fred VanVleet, without the ball. He needs to understand what the guards do after they start the offense, where they cut, how they space the floor and how they return to take control if the initial thrusts at the basket don’t work.

“I try to watch that so I’ll be ahead and it won’t be brand new to me,” Henderson said. “I can see the different plays before I actually get out there and do them.”

The Shockers are three weeks into their summer drills, usually two one-hour sessions with the entire team a week. Henderson, from Dallas, is one of eight newcomers practicing. The goal of the returners, as always, is to speed the introduction to Gregg Marshall and his way of coaching basketball.

“A lot of these guys have never been coached this way or worked this hard in their lifetime,” VanVleet said. “We trust the system. If they follow the lead and do what they’re asked, by the time games are here, they’ll be ready to go.”

Henderson’s progress is worth watching more than most of the newcomers. He is expected to back up VanVleet. The Shockers survived last season without a true No. 2 point guard. Henderson and redshirt freshman Ria’n Holland are on call in 2014-15 and while Holland plays both guard spots, Henderson is regarded as a true floor leader.

VanVleet averaged 31.7 minutes, most on the team, and Marshall wouldn’t mind a slight reduction in his workload. Ron Baker, naturally a shooting guard, directed the team when VanVleet rested, a situation created when a heart condition ended the career of freshman D. J. Bowles before the season.

“(Henderson) is showing great talent and poise,” Marshall said. “He can really shoot it. He’s coachable. He knows how to play.”

Henderson (6-foot-3) played at Episcopal School of Dallas, coached by his father. Corey Henderson played at Texas A&M and professionally in Australia.

“I just hope he continues to grow like his dad did and continue to get stronger,” Marshall said. “If he puts on 10 pounds and takes care of that basketball, he’s going to be out there.”

Corey Henderson Jr. is watching VanVleet closely and understands he gets a chance to learn from one of the nation’s top guards. VanVleet told him to come at him hard in practice and show coaches he wanted to play. Henderson is just beginning to learn WSU’s many plays and one of the first lessons is that timing is critical. The point guard must know where his four teammates are going to be to allow the plays to create the best opportunities.

“The first few months are always hard for a point guard in this system,” VanVleet said. “You’ve got to learn the pace of the game, learn how to control the game and understand the value of the game. A high school point guard can turn the ball over 20 times and nobody says anything.”

Learning the plays isn’t the hard part, VanVleet said. Learning how to get all five players moving at the right speed at the right time is the challenge.

“Fred told me to make sure I start off the play in the backcourt, not starting in the front court,” Henderson said. “Timing is one of the most important things the point guard needs. It all starts with us.”

Centers Bush Wamukota and Rauno Nurger, forwards Rashard Kelly, Zac Brown, Tevin Glass and Eric Hamilton are also getting their first taste of college life. Coaches can tell the players with more experience — Wamukota and Glass are junior-college transfers; Kelly, Brown and Nurger put in a year at prep school — are progressing quickly.

“I’m trying to learn all I can, and make sure I’m learning the right things,” Kelly said.

For all of them, the summer school, weights and practices are largely new experiences. Most haven’t lifted weights this hard and this often. Most came to WSU from places where they were the biggest and strongest player on the court.

“You have to make time yourself to learn stuff,” Kelly said. “That’s a big difference. Learning plays. You have to get in the gym on your own. Class — you’ve got to be on top of your own classes.”

Summer camp — More proof of WSU’s rising profile comes in the form of invitations to elite summer camps for the top college players.

Last summer, Cleanthony Early attended the Kevin Durant Nike Skills Academy in Washington D.C. This summer, three Shockers are headed to similar stages.

VanVleet will attend the Nike Skills Academy for point guards at Kean University in Union, N.J., from Monday through Thursday. In August, VanVleet and junior guard Ron Baker will attend Chris Paul’s CP3 Skills Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C.

From June 27-29, Baker will compete in Durant’s academy for wing players, again in D.C. Senior forward Darius Carter is scheduled to attend Nike’s camp for big men, also at Kean, beginning Monday.

On the mound — VanVleet, Baker and senior Tekele Cotton will participate in the first-pitch ceremony before Saturday’s Kansas City Royals game, part of a Wichita State promotion at Kauffman Stadium.

Baker played shortstop and pitched for Scott City High. Cotton said he last threw a baseball in grade school. On Friday morning, VanVleet said he intended to practice before throwing in a big-league stadium.

“I threw when I was little, but not for real since,” he said. “I’ll find somebody. I’m going to get on Twitter and see if somebody will help me out.”

One more — Marshall said Jared Walker has made the team as an invited walk-on. Walker, from Dubuque (Iowa) Wahlert, is a 6-foot-3 guard. He helped Wahlert win the Class 3A title in March and received second-team All-Mississippi Valley Conference honors.

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

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