Senior Night is always a bit melancholy for me, and Wichita State’s Senior Night is coming up tomorrow at Koch Arena.
Four Shockers will be playing their final home regular-season game (yes, there’s a potential for a been-there-done-that NIT appearance) and I’ll be sorry to see them go.
Graham Hatch, J.T. Durley, Aaron Ellis and Gabe Blair are closing in on the final days of their college basketball careers. And if it makes me melancholy to see them near the end, imagine how they much feel.
Playing college basketball is a job. A full-time, tough, relentless, emotional job. There’s no time for rest or introspection. Games come at these guys at 100 mph.
I thought I would share my thoughts on the four Shockers on my blog today. In covering Shocker basketball as long as I have, I’ve seen a lot of players come and go. Thanks to Facebook, I keep up with quite a few of them even today. I hope the same is true for the Shocker Four.
Graham Hatch - WSU coach Gregg Marshall has called Hatch the “hardest worker” he’s ever coached. Gotta tell you, I didn’t see Graham Hatch much in Hatch early on. He looked a step or two, probably closer to two, slow when he arrived at WSU after serving a Mormon mission. He just didn’t have the appearance of a college basketball player.
But then Hatch got into the weight room and transformed himself. He obviously put in a lot of work getting quicker. He discovered early on that the way for him to make a difference at the Division I level was to work harder than anybody else. And, for the past four years, he has.
Hatch is a good shooter. I always thought he had it in him to be a great shooter, but it never quite happened. He’s unselfish and one of the best defenders the Shockers have. Who would have thought that?
I wasn’t even sure Hatch really wanted to play at this level when I first talked to him a few years back. It seemed to me he knew he wasn’t on par, physically and athletically, with some of the rest. But wow, what a transformation he made. He’s one of those players who prove that hard work and determination can be the difference, even in Division I. I’m very happy for the career Hatch put together at Wichita State. He might not play basketball after his Shocker career is over, but he’s a guy who will go far. You’d want him on your side.
J.T. Durley – Here’s another reclamation project. I give Marshall credit for getting the best out of these players. Remember what he J.T. Durley was saying about Durley early on? It wasn’t pretty.
Durley wasn’t willing to work hard enough. He was lazy, and admitted such. He didn’t have the fire or the drive to be as good as he could be.
It was obvious early that Durley had talent. But it was just as obvious he didn’t much care.
Well, things changed. Durley got serious and results followed. He worked in the weight room and worked on becoming quicker and faster. And he developed one of the best low-post games in the Missouri Valley Conference. Imagine what Durley would have done if he were a couple of inches taller. He’s listed at 6-foot-8; I’d be surprised if he’s much more than 6-6.
He has great imagination in the low post and great touch. And he’s adept on the perimeter, too, although much more dangerous in the paint. When Durley strays to the perimeter, I think he does the opposing team a favor. He hasn’t been the rebounder Marshall hoped he would, but Durley has become an adequte to above-average defensive player. And he’s one of the Shockers’ leaders. I wonder how many of the four home losses could have been averted if WSU had gotten the ball into Durley’s hands late in those games?
Aaron Ellis – There was a time when I thought Ellis was overmatched. I wondered whether he’d be better off at a smaller school. I Aaron Ellis battles for a rebound. didn’t think he had the skills to compete for the Shockers.
I was wrong.
Ellis learned early on that his greatest value to WSU was as a defensive player, so that’s what he worked on. He became a stopper at times on the defensive end and has made just enough baskets during his career to keep the opposing defense honest.
I’ve only chatted with Ellis a few times, but what a good guy. He’s quiet, but very respectful and friendly and the kind of guy you really root for on and off the court.
Gabe Blair – Tough guy. That’s what we all heard about Blair during the season he sat out two years ago after transferring from East Carolina.
It’s an apt description. The burly Blair is a tough guy, but he has a nice set of skills, too. He’s the best rebounder on the Shockers’ Gabe Blair team. He can defend threes, fours and fives. He’s become a better shooter than he gets credit for. He makes things happen, mixes things up.
I think Blair is in the discussion as the Shockers’ Most Valuable Player, although Durley and junior guard Toure Murry are likely the top two candidates. Blair will be missed because he provides a lot of intangibles, as well as a lot that is tangible. He’s a very solid, good player.
It will be interesting to see how the Shockers do without these guys next season, especially the three guys who play on the front line – Durley, Ellis and Blair. I know Marshall has a junior college player and a high school forward coming in, but I’m not so sure he won’t need more help to adequately replace those three. Of course, Garrett Stutz will be a senior next season and Nigerian Ehimen Orukpe continues to develop.
* It looks to me like West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins let the cat out of the bag early when he told a radio station back there that the Mountaineers would be playing Kansas State next season at Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena.
It’s humorous to me that K-State and IBA officials are saying they know nothing about this. Sure they don’t.
Trust me, Huggins wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t happening. And what a great game for K-State to be playing in Wichita. That’s going to make a lot of Wildcats fans who live in Wichita and all areas west very happy. Can’t wait.
* Just received my college preview edition of “Baseball America” in the mail and the magazine is picking Wichita State to nudge Illinois State for the Missouri Valley Conference championship.
I know Illinois State had a really good season in 2010, tying WSU for the conference crown and beating the Shockers in the championship game of the Valley tournament.
But I’d pick Wichita State to win this season on pitching alone. And the Shockers have a three-game home series against the Redbirds April 22-24 at Eck Stadium.
Illinois State, according to BA, has the Valley’s preseason player of the year, second baseman Kevin Tokarski. He batted .412 last season and stole 33 bases. Hard to argue with that pick. Shockers left-hander Charlie Lowell is the preseason pitcher of the year. Hard to argue with that pick, too.
In case you’re wondering, Kansas State and Kansas are picked seventh and ninth, respectively,’ in the 10-team Big 12.
K-State outfielder Nick Martini and reliever James Allen are preseason All-Big 12 picks.