Since Mark Turgeon was hired as Wichita State’s basketball coach in 2000, the Shockers have won 20 or more games in seven seasons. They’ve won two games in the NCAA Tournament, an NIT championship and two Missouri Valley Conference championships.
Turgeon did such a good job in his seven seasons that he was courted away from WSU by Texas A&M and has since moved on to Maryland. Gregg Marshall, the coach who replaced Turgeon in 2007, has had his chances at college basketball’s paradise, too, but has chosen to stay at a place where he knows he can win.
Wichita State, dare I say, is a highly successful program and has gone about getting there in unique fashion. The Shockers have done it without star players.
They had some good players. Some who are really, really good. But no stars. Nobody who gets frequent mentions on “SportsCenter.” No one the national college basketball writers flock to see, like Creighton’s Doug McDermott.
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WSU has put together a remarkable 13-year stretch of winning, interrupted only by Turgeon’s departure and a couple of rough seasons that resulted. And who has been the Shockers’ best player during this run?
Cast your vote now, but expect to do a lot of head-scratching first.
You could make a case for a dozen players, from Cleanthony Early, an All-Missouri Valley Conference player this season, to Randy Burns, one of the first difference-making players from the Turgeon-era.
Before we go farther, what constitutes a “great” player from a really good player?
Tough question. Subjective question. It’s in the eye of the beholder, and it’s hard to argue any Shocker player in this century has been great.
“Great” is Dave Stallworth, Xavier McDaniel, Antoine Carr, Warren Armstrong, Cleo Littleton. Great might be Cliff Levingston, Cheese Johnson, Jason Perez, Maurice Evans, Aubrey Sherrod.
Being referred to as great is reserved to, well, those who are great. You know it when you see it.
Since 2000, 54 MVC players have averaged at least 15 points in a season. Averaging 15 points hardly qualifies a player for greatness, but it’s the benchmark we’re using here.
Of those 54, guess how many are Shockers?
Burns averaged 15.1 points during the 2002-03 season. That’s it.
Turgeon and Marshall are different coaches, with different styles. But the one thing they have in common is a belief in building deep teams. Marshall, especially, has routinely given nine or 10 players significant playing time during a season. The formula has worked.
Fans don’t flock to WSU games to see star players. They pack Koch Arena because the Shockers win with balance and a bunch of good players.
The question becomes how successful can Wichita State be with this approach? There are nights when a go-to player, a guy you know can get you a key basket at an important time, is missed.
You saw how Evansville’s Colt Ryan and Creighton’s McDermott carried their teams to wins over WSU in the past week or so. They are 2,000-point career scorers. They are great.
The Shockers don’t have that. They haven’t had that in a long time, since Evans and Perez played together for Randy Smithson in 1998-99. Yet that team, with two of the finest players in WSU history, was 13-17. Excuse me, how did that happen again? And is it really right to refer to Evans and Perez as great players given the team’s overall lack of success during their careers?
I think so. Evans and Perez were great players caught in a bad system. There’s nothing that says great players have to win, although it sure helps.
Nowadays, the Shockers have good players frolicking in a system that accentuates their every basketball skill. Marshall knows how to use a roster. The depth he relies on has allowed WSU to overcome the kind of injuries this season, to key players, that would cripple most other teams.
So who are the Top 10 players from the Turgeon and Marshall eras?
After considerable head scratching, this is the list I came up with in no order. Trying to put these guys in order would make that head I’m scratching explode.
From the Turgeon years: Paul Miller, Randy Burns, Jamar Howard, Kyle Wilson, P.J. Couisnard.
From the Marshall years: Toure Murry, Clevin Hannah, J.T. Durley, Joe Ragland, Garrett Stutz.
Those are some good players. And the key to the Shockers’ success over the past decade-plus has been finding good players and trusting them to form championship-caliber teams.