NEW YORK — Wichita State guard Joe Ragland watched Andrew Goudelock and reminisced.
Goudelock, the College of Charleston guard with unlimited freedom to shoot, reminded Ragland of junior college.
"I was like Goudelock — I could shoot the ball whenever I wanted," Ragland said.
A lot of Shockers are big scorers before they arrive at Koch Arena. To win the coach Gregg Marshall way, playing unselfishly is the first order. Eight Shockers average between 5.9 and 11.4 points. Nine Shockers average between 14.2 and 26.3 minutes.
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Players such as Goudelock view those numbers as a starting point.
"Once I realized it's a team game, and that's how (Marshall) coaches us, and how we move the ball, you really can't worry about your own scoring," Ragland said.
Wichita State (27-8) plays Washington State (22-12) on Tuesday in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. A third straight NIT game can be viewed as a referendum on a star vs. a team.
Washington State guard Klay Thompson averages 22 points and 35 minutes. He is considering leaving for the NBA after his junior season. In the quarterfinals last week, Wichita State faced Goudelock, the Southern Conference Player of the Year, who scored 31 points and took 27 shots in 38 minutes. In the second round, Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, an All-ACC pick, scored 30 and played 43 minutes of a 45-minute overtime game.
The stars are home with their individual awards. The better team is in New York.
"People we've faced the past three or four games, they only have seven players," WSU senior J.T. Durley said. "It's an advantage for us when we play opponents like that, because we feel we're in better shape. We don't play as many minutes."
The symbol of Shocker unselfishness is the fist, the signal players give when they need a break. It takes trust to come out of a game — trust in the teammate who replaces you and trust that the coach is going to put you back in. When Aaron Ellis beat Creighton with a basket in the final seconds, Gabe Blair said he was glad he gave the fist to come out and get Ellis in.
"We've got a lot of guys, at the end of the day, they just want to win," Ellis said. "It's pretty easy when you come out and the guy that comes in is doing a better job, or as good as you were doing."
All season, those roles made the Shockers work. Durley and Garrett Stutz at center. Blair and Ellis at power forward. Graham Hatch and Ben Smith at small forward. Ragland, Toure Murry and Demetric Williams shared point guard.
The script isn't always the same. Marshall cut down on minutes for some against better opponents this season at times. Against Charleston, the starters played 27 or more minutes. No reserve played more than 13. For the most part, the Shockers thrive with predictable distribution of minutes. Ten players know they've got a chance to play around 20 minutes — if they play well. That keeps the majority of the roster focused and happy. They know the team needs them, and they know Marshall will call their number.
"Some teams you sub and you're like, 'Dang, I've got to get back out there,' " Ragland said. "This team, if I get subbed or I'm in foul trouble, I'm on the bench with no worries."
Imprinting that unselfish, one-for-all style can run counter to a player's instincts. Growing up, the attention and honors go to the scorers. Ragland averaged 18.4 points at North Platte (Neb.) Community College in 2010 and is the school's career scoring leader with 1,286 points in two seasons. Smith averaged 21.4 points in junior college.
Every Shocker has a story like that, as do most college basketball players. They all adjust their games and their expectations in college. Few places pull off that transition from star to part of the greater good as effectively as Wichita State.
"You want to be selfish sometimes and put better numbers up, and get concerned about your stats," Durley said. "We've got a great bunch of dudes on this team. They put their individual goals aside."
The Shockers play that way because Marshall demands it, and he wins with that style.
"We're so talented at each spot," Ragland said. "If you come in thinking I can play 35 minutes, the guy that is in your position is going to have days when he out-plays you. After awhile, you'll believe that this is a team game. You really can't be selfish."
In three NIT games, the Shockers handed out 56 assists — 30 more than their opponents. For the season, WSU led the Missouri Valley Conference in shooting percentage (46.7 percent) and assists (15.4).
"We're a team that likes to move the basketball and get the open shot," Marshall said.
While he makes his players work hard and play unselfishly, he doesn't control their games. Within the framework of set plays and a motion offense, he lets players use their talents. It is a balance of structure and freedom that works.
"He doesn't limit people to certain shots," Hatch said. "If you can shoot it, he's going to let you shoot it. If you're not making shots, he's going to take you out."