LAHAINA, Hawaii — The contributions of Wichita State forward Aaron Ellis rarely dominate a box score.
That's doesn't concern coach Gregg Marshall. Ellis started 30 games last season and is back in the starting lineup as a senior.
"I like starting the game with our best defensive team," Marshall said. "Aaron Ellis has played so well, had a very good fall. He comes to work every day."
Ellis averaged 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds last season. In WSU's opener, he made one of two shots and grabbed two rebounds in 16 minutes. Marshall trusts Ellis is going to play hard and unselfish and give teams a bothersome look on defense. Ellis (6-foot-9) can guard big men and small forwards, in the lane and to the three-point line.
Never miss a local story.
Marshall and Ellis considered a redshirt season before injuries to other big men nixed that option. Ellis' performance also weighed on that decision.
"This is the best he's played," Marshall said. "He's scoring more than he has. He is our best screener. He doesn't turn the ball over."
Senior J.T. Durley, who started all 35 games last season, came off the bench in the opener. That is only a ceremony in Marshall's mind. Durley will play plenty of minutes.
"It's whatever helps my team win," Durley said. "Whatever Coach Marshall puts me at, that's where I'm going to play my hardest."
Options and opportunity — Ten Shockers played between 15 and 21 minutes in the win over Texas Southern last week.
"We're a deep team," Durley said. "That's a good feeling, that you can have somebody come in and not slump off."
That depth should be helpful this week with three games in three days. That scenario duplicates the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament schedule, and is similar to the two-games-in-three-days format in the NCAA Tournament. Fatigue and foul trouble shouldn't bother the Shockers too much.
"We can go out there and play as hard as we can and know that somebody's got our back," forward Ben Smith said. "When they come in, nothing's going to drop off."
Test, test, test — Coaches like the Maui Invitational because of the competition. Connecticut, Kentucky, Virginia and Oklahoma — all with unproven lineups — will learn a lot this week.
Kentucky lost five first-round draft picks, including top pick John Wall. Center Enes Kanter, a freshman from Turkey, was declared ineligible by the NCAA. That leaves the Wildcats with 10 players.
"This is a great experience for us, finding out what we really are," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "The holes that we have will be exploited. That's why you come to a tournament like this."
Virginia lost to Stanford 81-60 on Thursday, as the Cavaliers made a California stop on their way to Hawaii. Since they open with Pacific-10 favorite Washington today, coach Tony Bennett is prepared for a tough week.
"I know we've got our hands full," Bennett said. "This will be a great learning experience for us. What you learn from this, preparation for your conference (schedule) . . . is invaluable."
Keeping it real — Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, with a smile on his face, declined to go with the party line in his remarks before facing WSU.
"I love the way (WSU) plays, I just hope they don't play particularly well," he said. "I know I'm not supposed to say that. I'm supposed to wish (Marshall) good luck. I don't necessarily feels he needs good luck, nor do I wish him good luck. He is a terrific young coach, and I'm sure he will do wonderful things — after Monday, hopefully."
Beach time — Stressing the importance of sun block, Marshall gave the Shockers a few hours on the beach Saturday. Lifting weights, practice, film and study hall took up most of the rest of the day.
"We warned them about the sun, and how intense it is," he said. "We gave them a curfew."
Sunday, they practiced early in the morning and then took orders to rest for today's 10 a.m. local time tip.
"More indoor activities," he said. "Get off your feet and get some rest."
Playing games — Connecticut's Kemba Walker defeated WSU's David Kyles in the EA Sports video-game tournament on Saturday.
One athlete from each team played the company's NCAA Basketball game in a touranment at the Sheraton Maui Resort. Virginia's Mike Scott defeated Walker in the championship.
Sunday, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel and Calipari, teamed with a local youngster, tied for a win in a free throw contest.
Marshall, Capel, Calipari and Bennett made both of their free throws. Washington's Lorenzo Romar was the only coach to miss both of his.