Wichita State men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall rarely forces a player to redshirt. He might suggest it strongly and make the case a player is trading an uncertain season for one five years later when they are stronger and more skilled..
That argument — no matter the sport — is easier to understand at 23 than 18.
He made that case to Jake White and Evan Wessel a year ago and they declined to sit out their freshman season. Neither played much as freshmen, but the experience they earned should help as sophomores.
“With those two guys, I wish one of them had redshirted, for sure,” Marshall said. “You’ve got to be careful how you present that. A lot of people denote redshirt to mean not good enough. To me, it means you’re going to better when you are 23 than you are at 18.”
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Regardless how fast their clock is ticking, both say the game is easier for them after a year of practice and games. Wichita State is gradually moving into its regular-season practice schedule this week. They will practice Thursday for two hours, ending their weekly early fall allotment, and start the traditional daily routine on Friday.
“You come in here and you don’t have a clue,” White said. “Freshman year, you get the whole ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Everything is going way too fast for you to figure out.”
The Shockers, 27-6 and Missouri Valley Conference champions last season, are working in six newcomers, in addition to three players who sat out last season while practicing. White and Wessel worked through the growing pains that will hit many of the newcomers. WSU opens the season with an exhibition against Pittsburg State on Nov. 5. Its regular-season opener is against North Carolina Central on Nov. 10.
“The intensity Coach Marshall instills in practice won’t be shocking like it was coming in my freshman year,” Wessel said. “You’ve got to be going 100 percent, 110 percent, every time, no matter what drill.”
White, a 6-foot-8 forward from Chaska, Minn., played in 21 games and averaged 7.2 minutes. He did his best work late in the season, including a 7-point, 6-rebound performance in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament against Illinois State. Wessel, a 6-5 guard from Wichita, played in 13 games and averaged 7.6 minutes.
Both know what roles they need to fill to get more playing time this season.
White can be described as a “stretch four,” a power forward who can rebound and make the defense guard him at the three-point line. If he can make threes, WSU’s inside players will get more room to operate against a single defender.
“He’s going to have to shoot the ball well and do the little things very well,” Marshall said. “If he does that, I think there is a chance he will be in the rotation and help our team.”
White worked on getting stronger and his ball-handling over the off-season. He owns an impressive knack for offensive rebounding. Marshall would like the same results on the defensive end. His improved understanding of WSU’s system should help his shooting. With senior Carl Hall likely to play center most of the time, White is WSU’s most experienced returner at power forward.
“Going into sophomore year, you know the system, you know what Coach is looking for,” he said. “We do the whole motion thing, and you don’t always have to be going 1,000 miles per hour. You can be more precise with things rather than just running around.”
Marshall likes Wessel for his football background — he played defensive back at Heights — and his smarts. When Marshall instructs the team, he says Wessel is the first to understand the plan. When a ball is loose, Wessel is all action. Marshall said he is the Shocker most likely to come up with 50-50 balls on the floor.
“Evan is one of the toughest guys,” Marshall said. “He is a ball-getter, because of his willingness to put his body on the line.”
His biggest improvement comes in practice, where he no longer tries to rely on athletic ability. He found out quickly as a freshman that most college players are as talented and more experienced. In summer and fall workouts, he learned to practice at game speed.
“Last year, he practiced like it was a high school game or a warm-up for a church league game,” Marshall said. “Now he’s got a quickness to his step. He’s elevating on his jump shot every single time. That’s what you’ve got to do in games.”
Wessel is fighting for minutes on the wing, where the Shockers lost Toure Murry, David Kyles and Ben Smith from last season. There is plenty of competition, however, from returners such as sophomore Tekele Cotton, who played in 32 games last season, and newcomer Nick Wiggins.
“I can help the team by doing the little things — not turning the ball over, running the offense, rebounding, playing good defense,” Wessel said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can score.”
White and Wessel said they better understand why Marshall wanted them to redshirt now. It is a decision they might do differently, given a chance.
“It was a tough decision,” Wessel. “Maybe I should have redshirted, just to save a year in a sense. But I learned a lot and I don’t really regret it.”
The year of playing time, minimal as it was, did give them the feel of playing in front of crowds and against opponents. They have three more years to make the best of those lessons.
“I did get some experience I wouldn’t have,” White said. “Towards the end of the year I was playing, and I think it’s going to carry me into a good season.”