The natural instinct for basketball newcomers is to try to impress the coach and make big plays in the early days of practice.
Wichita State seniors Malcolm Armstead and Demetric Williams are here to tell them that is often the wrong move. The Shockers start daily practices on Friday and finding scoring appears to be the big question.
Scoring, the newcomers will learn, comes easier when they work within the offense.
“They’re going to have to pay a whole lot of attention to learning the system and not trying to do too much and try to show everything they’ve got,” Williams said. “Take it easy and be patient. If you go out there trying to do too much, not really knowing the system, it’s not good for you, it’s not beneficial for the team.”
WSU, 27-6 last season, returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 with one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. The senior-dominated team knew how to get good shots, avoided turnovers and used defense and rebounding to produce easy baskets. WSU made 48.2 percent of its shots (15th nationally), and 37.1 percent of its three-pointers (56th).
It will not be easy to duplicate those numbers after losing five seniors. Center Garrett Stutz and guards Toure Murry and David Kyles had four seasons of experience. Guard Joe Ragland made 50.4 percent of his three-pointers and forward Ben Smith made 38.6 percent.
“We’ve got to defend with this group,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Then we’ve got to figure out a way to score. We lost a lot of great scorers.”
The importance of defense leading to offense won’t change. The Shockers appear to possess the athletic ability and depth to play aggressive defense and disrupt offenses.
“Your defense can start your scoring,” Armstead said. “That’s where this group here can really get it going, by allowing our defense and our pressure to start the transition and get out and make plays that way.”
Williams, one of four seniors, sets the example for trusting the system. His playing time increased when he cut down turnovers and allowed his scoring to come within the flow of the offense.
He is recovering from ankle surgery and is limited to light work in practice. He won’t know more about his return until after a checkup later this month.
Newcomers such as forward Cleanthony Early, who can score inside and from the perimeter, and swingman Nick Wiggins, an excellent shooter from deep, will get their chances to invigorate WSU’s offense. So will redshirt freshman guard Ron Baker, called WSU’s best shooter by Marshall. Center Chadrack Lufile is making a good impression with his speed for a big man.
“I try to tell everybody to do the easy things,” Williams said. “Try to get the system. Try to remember all the plays. Try to do what coach wants to do. Then show what you got.”
Armstead practiced with the Shockers last season after transferring from Oregon. He saw first-hand how the offense can work when players let it work.
“That’s my job, to be able to figure out that now in practice so when we get to games it’s not so much players forcing the issue or trying to do things out of character,” he said.
The departure of Stutz, who averaged 13.3 points, doesn’t mean the focus of WSU’s offense changes. He forced most opponents to double-team him, producing open shots for perimeter players. It remains to be seen if another Shocker can command that respect from defense. Senior Carl Hall did at times last season, when he averaged 8.4 points and made 57.2 percent of his shots.
“The system is for the post players, so a lot of it is going to come from Ehimen (Orukpe) and Carl (Hall),” Williams said. “(Carl) has expanded his game to the 17-foot range, jump shots, and he’s always been real physical. Expanding his game to be able to hit the mid-range is a good aspect to his game.”