Ehimen Orukpe smiles often during pickup games. He's happy to be here, and that means more for him than most.
Orukpe, a 7-foot sophomore from Nigeria, is officially a member of Wichita State's basketball team after a three-year odyssey. He spent a year trying to leave Nigeria. He came to Wichita and took classes at Sunrise Christian Academy while waiting on clearance from the NCAA. After the NCAA rejected his first attempt to attend WSU, he spent two years at Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College.
"This has been a really long process," he said. "I'm grateful to Wichita State, Wichita, Sunrise Christian Academy — they all helped me a lot."
Orukpe's height and athletic ability attracted some other colleges early in his time at Three Rivers. It was tough to watch his teammates take visits and enjoy the recruiting process. He thought about all the work that Shockers coaches and administrators did and refused to allow the temptation to take hold.
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"There were some schools, but after awhile I didn't even want the letters," he said. "My coach didn't bother giving me any."
Now the focus is on improving his skills. His height and leaping ability give him a great start. He is still learning important subtleties such as footwork and positioning. He said teammate Garrett Stutz is helping him learn parts of the Shocker offense. During a break in a recent pickup game, Orukpe dribbled two balls up and down the sidelines to improve his ball-handling skills.
"I'm trying to work on guarding bigger players," Orukpe said. "I didn't get to guard a lot of big players (in junior college). Any part of my game, I'm working on, especially offense."
Ticket time — WSU needs three guarantee games to complete its schedule after adding Texas Southern.
As usual, scheduling the final few games won't be easy. Matching dates and winning the bidding wars grows more difficult as the summer goes on. Although WSU doesn't typically go that high, schools can demand as much as $100,000 to go on the road.
One school backed out of a commitment, athletic director Eric Sexton said.
"It's hard sledding, and we're working hard to make phone calls," Sexton said. "The market is pretty aggressive out there for those last three games."
Season-ticket holders renewed at about a 90 percent rate after WSU sold around 8,400 in 2009-10. The ticket office will begin upgrading seats later this month. After that, it will begin calling the 100 or so people on the waiting list. WSU will begin advertising for new season tickets in August.
WSU will play one exhibition game and one closed scrimmage, as it did last season. Neither opponent has been determined, Sexton said.
Peoria's pull — Bradley owns one Missouri Valley Conference cross country title — the women's team won in 1998. On the surface, it is a strange move for WSU coach Marc Burns to leave one of the Valley's dominant programs for one that treats the sport as an afterthought.
Burns is convinced things are changing at Bradley. He is taking over as men's and women's cross country coach and women's track coach (Bradley doesn't field a men's team). Athletic director Michael Cross and president Joanne Glaser sold him on a commitment to distance running, including his salary, a part-time assistant coach, adequate travel and plans for an indoor track.
"They're going to pump in more scholarship dollars," Burns said. "(Cross) told me 'We want to be more competitive.' "
Burns is leaving a sweet situation, so he had to be convinced Bradley can compete for the women's MVC cross country title and compile enough distance points to finish in the top half of the track standings. The men's program operates with low expectations and little scholarship money because the school doesn't sponsor men's track.
"I hope I can help the sport and be an ambassador and help them add (men's) track," Burns said.
Burns is also moving his family close to family in Illinois, where both he and his wife are from.
Even with all that, it wasn't easy to leave WSU. He won four MVC women's cross country titles in four years at WSU. He expects the Shockers to win again in 2010. WSU swept the 2010 indoor track titles and the men added an outdoor title in May.
"This place is truly a special place," he said. "You get so many resources and facilities and the support staff — that's something I'm really going to miss."
Burns will return to Wichita soon. He scheduled Bradley to run in the JK Gold Classic in September. WSU hosts the MVC meet in October.
Track and field coach Steve Rainbolt always keeps candidates in mind and wants to make the hire as quickly as possible. His athletes will be on campus in mid-August.
"There will be coaches who see it as a terrific opportunity to take over a great roster," Rainbolt said.
Worth noting — Drake guard Frank Wiseler is out 4-6 months with a sliced Achilles tendon, according to the Des Moines Register. Wiseler, walking near the Knapp Center, knocked a brick off a wall and the brick landed on the back of his foot. He had surgery on June 21 . . . Volleyball coach Chris Lamb starts a camp for grades 4-8 today. His second camp session for that age group runs July 14-16. Registration is available at goshockers.com.... Burns will hold his distance running camp beginning Tuesday. For information call 316-978-5547. John Hetzendorf will hold his throws camp beginning Tuesday. For information call 316-978-5546.