Wichita State made a bold move by adding three transfers to a basketball team returning eight of its top nine players.
That's 11 (or more) players expecting minutes, a mixture that can produce healthy competition or chemistry problems. In mid-summer, the good news is this: WSU's returning players view newcomers Ben Smith, Joe Ragland and Ehimen Orukpe as important additions, not intruders.
"They're fitting in very well," WSU senior Graham Hatch said. "The feeling around the team is we want a championship. Whatever we have to do, whoever has to play to get that — we just want to get better and achieve that goal."
The newcomers, all of whom know how close the Shockers came to making the NCAA Tournament in 2010, are talking about the same goals. WSU (25-10) finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference, second in the MVC Tournament and settled for the NIT after giving an at-large berth a good run for much of the season.
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"I want to be on a winning team and contribute as much as I can to lead us to the NCAA Tournament," Smith said.
Each of the newcomers, all from junior colleges, fills a role. Ragland will help replace All-MVC pick Clevin Hannah at point guard. Smith is a small forward who should give WSU another wing scorer to go with Hatch. Orukpe, a center with three years of eligibility remaining, will serve as a defender and rebounder as he works on his offense.
"It's a blessing to step into a role with a team that was so close to an NCAA berth," Ragland said. "That's one of the main reasons to come here."
Orukpe spent the past two seasons at Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College, where he witnessed the power of teamwork and unselfishness. The Raiders finished second in the NJCAA Tournament in March.
"One thing I learned from Three Rivers is that you can have a lot of talented players, and that doesn't win games," he said. "It's playing as a team and everybody knowing their strengths and weaknesses. We played schools that had way more talent than us, but everybody wanted to do their own thing."
Most of the chemistry work will come in the fall, when coach Gregg Marshall and his staff work with the team. Marshall, if his first three seasons are a gauge, doesn't allow personal agendas to overwhelm the team. Until then, the newcomers are learning the Shocker ways through afternoons in the weight room, followed by pickup basketball.
"I'm not used to lifting weights and taking summer classes, so this month is a chance to get to know my surroundings better," Ragland said. "It's good to have a veteran team all around you to help you."
The 90-minute sessions with strength and conditioning coach Kerry Rosenboom are a new experience.
"It's a lot more," Smith said. "I've never lifted this much — for two hours. Normally, I lifted for 30 minutes and be done with it. I'm jumping higher, running faster, being stronger and finishing at the bucket."
His new teammates are watching closely. Junior guard Toure Murry, after playing a pickup session with Smith and against Ragland's team, likes the potential for more punch on offense. The Shockers lost seven games against MVC opponents in 2009-10, failing to break 60 points in four of those games.
Most painfully, WSU missed 20 of 26 shots and scored 21 points in the second half of the tournament championship in St. Louis. Northern Iowa held the Shockers without a basket for 12 minutes, 10 seconds in the second half on its way to a 67-52 win.
"With Joe Ragland and Ben Smith, they can really score," Murry said. "They're blending in real good. Everybody adjusted to how they play real quickly. They have very simple games, so it's not difficult."