Evan Wessel’s long wait keeps getting longer.
Mostly, that’s a good thing. Wichita State, for which Wessel started the first eight games before being lost for the season with a broken right pinky finger, is in the Final Four. Wessel is experiencing, up-close, college basketball on its grandest stage.
But WSU’s NCAA Tournament run represents more games between Wessel and a long-awaited fresh start. Next year, Wessel will be a big part of WSU’s plans, just like he was this year.
It’s difficult to think about that while his team is two games from away from its first national championship, so Wessel is doing his best to stay in the moment and find solace in his role of moral support.
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"It’s still a great experience, no doubt," Wessel said. "Just being a part of a Final Four team, knowing that you helped the team get to where they’re at now and still being a part of the team atmosphere. Being at the Final Four is great.
"But obviously it’s really tough not being able to play. If you’re a true competitor, you want to be out there playing at all times. Sitting on the bench after being out there the first eight games is really tough."
Last season, a WSU Final Four that he wasn’t a major part of might not have affected Wessel so much. After winning three Class 6A championships at Heights, Wessel started his career with the Shockers with promise that wasn’t likely to be realized immediately.
On a team loaded with veteran players that led WSU to the NCAA Tournament, Wessel played in 12 games. In the Shockers’ last 12 games, Wessel played a combined 12 minutes. It wasn’t yet his time.
This season was supposed to be Wessel’s time. He worked exhaustively during the offseason to improve his jump shot and to add muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame, and that paid off.
Going from one of WSU’s most inexperienced to one of its most familiar as the Shockers added transfers and redshirt players, Wessel was a fixture in the starting lineup for the first eight games. He scored 11 points in a win over Western Carolina.
"I think it makes me that (much) more hungry for next season," Wessel said. "This season’s a great motivator to do well next season. You get a taste for what it’s like, and things like that, and you want to work harder."
That’s where Wessel is trying to find a balance. It’s natural to be thinking about next year, about how another deep postseason run might include him in a prominent role.
Those conflicting feelings may be hitting Wessel all at once, because before now he hasn’t had much time to think. His first priority has been getting healthy — which he is, allowing Wessel to become an important practice player.
WSU is trying to get Wessel a medical redshirt, which would keep him as a sophomore for next season and give him an extra year of eligibility.
"I know it’s pretty hard for him to stay motivated, to stay focused, to try to get back healthy," WSU senior guard Demetric Williams said. "For him to get his weight (right) that he worked so hard in the offseason for to miss all this, I know he wanted to be a part of it. At the same time, he’s still a part of it. He’s still our brother, he still helps us out vocally."
Of course, it could be worse. Trips to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Atlanta are more glamorous than the games Wessel missed in Terre Haute, Ind., or Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Playing in those games would have been plenty glamorous for Wessel. He’s part of a Final Four team, but a part that’s rarely seen. He has a corner locker at the Georgia Dome and is almost never approached by the media, so he spends time looking at his cell phone and joking with teammates who are also getting passed by.
Next year will likely be different, but that doesn’t always ease the disappointment of not having a more visible role this year.
"You kind of feel a little bit on vacation, going to different cities, but it’s a business trip," Wessel said. "Even though I’m not playing, you’ve still got that business mindset to be on the team and accomplish the goal that we have."