Maybe because he's been a Shocker the longest, J.T. Durley is the senior who admits to the most nostalgia.
Five Wichita State seniors play what they hope is their final home game tonight. Durley intends to savor the atmosphere more than usual before playing Creighton.
"I've had a lot of fun times running through that tunnel," Durley said. "You don't know what it means until it's too late. You don't think about it and cherish it like you should."
For Durley, who started his WSU career as a redshirt freshman in 2006-07, his memories start with the familiar faces in the student section. He loves the fans who wait for autographs after each game. The noise and the colors and support will stick him with him into old age.
"I really will pay attention to details my last time going out there," he said.
As much as they love their home court, the seniors don't want to play in front of those 10,506 fans again. The only way for Koch Arena to host another basketball game this season is in the NIT.
Tonight's game is important for reasons that go beyond a final bow for Durley, Gabe Blair, Aaron Ellis, Graham Hatch and Derek Brown. WSU (22-6, 13-3 Missouri Valley Conference) is tied with Missouri State for first place with two games to play. The Shockers want to win that championship and build momentum for the MVC Tournament in the final week of the regular season. For that reason, Hatch is trying not to think about the emotions of senior night against Creighton (17- 12, 9-7).
"I'm not really focused on the whole senior deal," he said. "It doesn't mean anything if we don't win."
Which brings up the legacy of the class of 2011. Will it be remembered as the class that won an MVC championship and got the Shockers back to the NCAA Tournament? Or will it be remembered as a group that won a lot of games, only to flop on its home court?
The Shockers are 5-3 in MVC home games, and took a fourth home loss on Friday against Virginia Commonwealth. Nobody expected that after WSU went 17-1 in home games last season.
The problems at home mystify the Shockers, especially in light of an 8-0 MVC road record.
"Some people say our preparation is bad," Ellis said. "But we prepare the same way we do on the road as we do at home. People go through the same routines. There's nothing that sticks out that says 'Hey, we didn't do that.' "
The common thread from the four losses is a lukewarm first half. WSU trailed at the half in three of those losses and led Southern Illinois by one.
So perhaps the Shockers are too comfortable at Koch Arena and count on the crowd to beat down the opponent. Perhaps they assume the player next to them is locked in, so they can take a play or two off. Bad weather cut into the crowd in two of those losses, and perhaps that hurt the energy.
"It's amazing how little things can bite you in the end," Hatch said. "This year, we've taken for granted how hard we need to play at home, because we have such great fans and we went undefeated (in the regular season) last year."
A win tonight puts the focus back on a positive legacy for the seniors, all of whom took unique routes to tonight.
Former coach Mark Turgeon recruited Durley, Hatch and Brown. Durley sat out his freshman season, Turgeon's last at WSU, with an injury. Hatch went on a two-year Mormon mission after signing and came to WSU along with coach Gregg Marshall for the 2007-08 season. Ellis was headed to South Carolina before detouring to WSU that same season. He and Hatch both married during their time in Wichita.
Blair, recruited by Marshall when he coached Winthrop, played two seasons at East Carolina. He called Marshall and said he wanted to win. Blair transferred to WSU and sat out the 2008-09 season. Brown walked on in 2006-07 and then left the team. He returned last season.
"You don't go 8-0 in the league, so far, without these seniors," Marshall said. "They wanted to not be known as guys who couldn't win on the road. They figured it out with their maturity, and their toughness and their resolve."
Collectively, their experiences include a difficult 2008 season that ended with an 11-20 record. Things turned in the right direction with a 17-17 mark in 2009, followed by an NIT appearance in 2010.
This season, the Shockers are already 20-game winners and guaranteed to finish in the top two of the Valley.
"You couldn't have asked for a better positive trend than we've taken," Hatch said. "Hopefully, we can finish it off at the very peak of winning a championship. From where we started, I didn't know if there was going to be much hope for the future my freshman year, for me and just the way we played."
It's a good legacy, and the five seniors want to build on over the next month.
"We want to win, not only for the seniors," Durley said. "We've still got a championship on our mind. There's more at stake than just for the seniors."