Heights basketball coach Joe Auer attended Wichita State’s practice on Tuesday afternoon at Koch Arena to watch the Final Four preparations.
“It’s an unusual opportunity,” Auer said.
For Auer to get an invite, it just took a call to the coaching staff to see if he could come. On a day that included Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall conducting national and local interviews, he talked for 15 minutes with Auer after the practice.
Auer has been to other practices, too, and has called WSU’s coaching staff to discuss coaching ideas or thoughts on a player who might be good for WSU.
Marshall “is very accessible,” Auer said. “He very much wants to be aware of local players, local talent. He and (assistant) Chris Jans have done a tremendous job of making themselves available.”
Marshall has made strong connections in Wichita during his six seasons and has landed several local players, including sophomore Evan Wessel, a Heights grad who was a starter before a hand injury sidelined him for all but eight games this season. Redshirt freshman Ron Baker, who was a Wichita Eagle All-State election in 2011 with Wessel, is from Scott City. Walk-on Zach Bush graduated from Eisenhower in Goddard.
During Marshall’s recruitment of Wessel and Heights grad Perry Ellis, a Kansas freshman, he developed a strong relationship with Auer. WSU was on Ellis’ list of last four schools in 2011.
Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted said he is friends with the entire Shocker coaching staff, which has shown interest in three Sunrise players, including junior Marvin Clark, senior Andre Sands and junior Nathan Bain.
Sunrise, a traveling academy team, is regularly loaded with Division I athletes from different countries and across the nation. Lindsted helped get Wichita State senior Ehimen Orukpe, who is from Nigeria, as a foreign-exchange student and helped him earn his GED.
“So far it’s been one of those deals where our needs have never matched up,” Lindsted said. “We’ve never had a kid who has been a fit.”
Andover Central coach Jesse Herrmann knows Jans, as well, because he coached his stepson. Herrmann said he doesn’t have any other relationship with the Shockers’ coaching staff, although Andover Central grad Randall Vautravers was a walk-on for two years. Jaguars freshman Darraja Parnell has been invited to several Wichita State games.
Eisenhower junior Trevon Evans has been invited to WSU games, too, but his invitations are from Jans and not through his coach Steve Blue.
“I’d liked to see perhaps more interaction, but I understand they are busy,” Blue said. “It’s tough for them, especially during the season, to have any sort of interaction when they are focused on winning games and going as far as they can in the tournament and winning games in the season.”
Blue said he receives e-mails offering tickets for games, but he usually forgoes them, choosing to be home with his children.
Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel said his relationship with the Shocker coaching staff is “very superficial. I’ve been out to watch a couple practices over the years, but bottom line, I’m working the same time they’re working.”
Fiegel has been impressed with Marshall and his staff, though, specifically regarding the recruitment of Baker, who initially walked on and then was given a scholarship this season. Scott City beat Collegiate in the 2011 Class 3A semifinals en route to winning the first of three titles.
“If I was sitting here thinking, ‘WSU is just recruiting Kansas kids,’ that doesn’t impress me at all,” Fiegel said. “When I see that they have the ability to look a little deeper and see how special that kid is, that impresses me about their coaching staff…. Not everyone is willing to dig that deep to look, not only to how talented you are today, but to your potential down the road. That’s where they had great vision.”
Auer agreed. He appreciated how Marshall recruited Ellis, but even more how they went after Wessel early in the process.
“You look at Baker and Wessel,” Auer said. “They were not two high-profile basketball players as far as a national scene. They were Kansas winners, multi-sport athletes who proved they were champions.
“(Wichita State) appreciates local talent and they are not afraid to take a chance on a guy that maybe isn’t attracting big-time interest.”