Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall will walk into gyms this summer and people will notice.
They will want to know which recruits he is evaluating. Players will whisper and point, perhaps play a bit harder, when he sits in the bleachers. He will sign autographs.
He is the coach who took a team to the Final Four and everybody knows.
“When something like that happens, your head coach becomes an instant pop icon,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. “There will be a buzz in the gym that Gregg Marshall is there watching. He’ll feel that right away. That’s the most powerful weapon that he has, to leverage that popularity.”
WSU’s Final Four appearance will help recruiting for a coaching staff already regarded as hard-working and well-connected procurers of talent. In Marshall’s six seasons, he and his assistants used high schools, junior colleges, NCAA transfers and foreign countries as recruiting resources. They built a 25-game winner in three seasons, an NIT champion in four and a Missouri Valley Conference champion in five. In 2013, WSU rebuilt after losing five seniors.
Coaches can expect the Final Four to open up recruiting possibilities of all kinds. More players will listen to their pitch. More coaches will call and email to pitch their players. WSU’s attractiveness to Division I transfers will double, Telep said. The pay-your-own-way approach that worked for Malcolm Armstead and Ron Baker will sound smart to more players. All of that is already happening in the Koch Arena basketball offices.
WSU started recruiting Grandview (Mo.) point guard Tyrone Taylor after his freshman year. Now a junior, ESPN.com ranks him the No. 3 player in Missouri’s Class of 2014. He has scholarship offers from WSU, Indiana State, Creighton, Colorado State and Northern Colorado. WSU interested Taylor all along, and the Final Four heightened his interest. He sees WSU as a program capable of winning a national title.
“After the Final Four, I was like ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity in front of me,’” he said. “I think if they could have kept that lead (against Louisville), they could have beaten Michigan.”
Taylor watched senior Malcolm Armstead closely.
“Armstead being a lefty — I was thinking that could be me, a left-handed guard, getting my team to the Final Four,” he said.
WSU assistant coach Greg Heiar started recruiting East Sac (Iowa) County guard Reed Tellinghuisen last summer. Tellinghuisen, an All-Class 2A selection as a junior, liked WSU well before the Final Four and picked the Shockers to make the Sweet 16 in his bracket. Tellinghuisen said he has a scholarship offer with Albany and is being recruited by Creighton, Iowa, Drake, South Dakota State and Nebraska-Omaha. At 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, he wants to show coaches he can hold up physically during the summer circuit and see what schools are interested in August. Playing time is important, so he sees an MVC school as perhaps a good fit. A scholarship offer from WSU would go a long way toward making the summer a success.
“My interest (in WSU) has gone up quite a bit, seeing how they play aggressive and physical and they can play with bigger schools,” he said. “It’s a great program.”
Despite the temptation to think of WSU as an elite recruiting machine, Marshall does not intend to dramatically alter his philosophy.
For a cautionary tale, he can look to MVC member Southern Illinois. Former SIU coach Chris Lowery signed a high-profile recruiting class in 2008, capitalizing on six NCAA appearances and two trips to the Sweet 16 from 2002-07. Those players, including Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker, didn’t fit the SIU style of play and left the program. SIU tumbled and Lowery, now an assistant coach at Kansas State, lost his job.
It doesn’t take many misses on players to derail a winner. At WSU in 2007, Marshall inherited a thin roster from coach Mark Turgeon in part because the Shockers missed on recruiting targets during the 2005-06 season and the Plan B group — players such as Chris Brown and Arbry Butler — didn’t last.
The recruiting contacts and strategies that provided four seasons of 25-plus wins can continue to work for Marshall.
“I’m not going to have this mandate now for my staff that ‘If we don’t start recruiting (McDonald’s All-Americans) and top 150 players in the country, I’m going to get a new staff,’” he said. “That’s not what we’re going to do. You can then come up empty and not be very good.”
Telep looks at Gonzaga, VCU and Butler as similar models to WSU. While Gonzaga has yet to make the Final Four, it is the best example of a school that turned NCAA appearances into a consistent ability to out-recruit conference affiliation. For WSU, VCU and Butler, all with recent Final Four appearances, Telep does not see evidence they can routinely out-maneuver more high-profile schools for top recruits.
“It’s 90 percent that you’re not beating the Big 12 or SEC,” he said. “It’s not a situation where the top 50 guys are going to abandon all hope of going to Kansas and ride with you. The minute you start thinking you’re Kansas is when you slip up. If you really over-reach, it’s going to bite you a few years down the road.”
The recruiting benefit comes from sticking to the plan and growing more successful within that plan, as Gonzaga, Butler and VCU are doing. With a Final Four to sell, Telep is convinced WSU coaches can start the summer with a list of top players and earn a chance to sign most or all. In a previous season, they might survive the summer with one or two players from their A list.
“It’s about fit and quality,” Telep said. “You can remain powerful with the upper-tier crust of that list. Their recruiting was top-notch before this happened.”
Marshall, during the NCAA run, said the attributes that made his current players attractive will remain the standard for evaluating recruits. He considers freshman guard Fred VanVleet (No. 138 on Rivals.com’s list of 2012 seniors) his highest-rated recruit out of high school. Junior forward Cleanthony Early attracted offers from San Diego State, Baylor and Alabama before choosing Wichita State.
WSU will aim high when it makes sense and the publicity from the Final Four may convince a highly-rated player to take a strong look.
“I try to find guys that have those intangibles like playing really hard, having a good rapport with their coach,” Marshall said. “The ability to score is paramount. If you’re athletic enough and tough enough, I can teach you to defend. We’re looking for some guys, when they have that ball in their hands, it doesn’t look like a foreign object.”
WSU has four players signed for next season and a fifth committed recently. Chipola (Fla.) College forward Earl Watson, who signed in November, and Vincennes (Ind.) University forward Darius Carter, who gave WSU a non-binding commitment during the Final Four, continue WSU’s reliance on transfers to bring immediate size and maturity to the team. Marshall likes the attitude most transfers carry. His reputation for working well with transfers helps WSU recruit junior colleges.
“They drive around on buses,” Marshall said. “Very rarely see an airplane. They might have a practice set of uniforms, or they may not. It’s not lifestyles of the rich and famous from a college basketball standpoint. They’re a little more hungry. And they’ve got a short time to prove what they’re capable of doing.”
Marshall and his coaches are living lifestyles of the rich and famous on the recruiting circuit. Their success using the Final Four bump will determine how close the Shockers come to returning in future seasons.