Shockers turning college success into NBA opportunity

08/06/2013 3:49 PM

08/07/2013 6:52 AM

Toure Murry is confident he will earn a spot on an NBA roster. If so, welcome back to the Association, Wichita State.

Gal Mekel, who played two seasons (2006-08) at WSU before leaving to play professionally in Israel, signed a three-year deal with Dallas this summer. Murry impressed New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson with his play in the NBA Summer League and the team invited him to training camp this fall. Shocker senior Cleanthony Early is attracting NBA attention and could work his way into the two-round draft with continued improvement. Projections for the 2014 draft place him in the second round.

It’s not Kentucky, but it’s a start.

“It gives everyone an idea of what is possible from here,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “You don’t win 25 games or more the last four years … unless you’ve got great players. The odds are one of them is going to get to that next level.”

Antoine Carr played 11 minutes for the Vancouver Grizzlies on March 31, 2000, his final NBA game. Since then, Wichita State’s presence largely disappeared. Maurice Evans, who played two seasons at WSU before transferring to Texas for one, played in the NBA in 2012 and is the last player with Shocker roots to suit up.

The Shockers are winning at their best clip since the 1980s. In those days, WSU cranked out first-round picks Cliff Levingston (1982), Carr (1983) and Xavier McDaniel (1985), and later-round selections Randy Smithson (1981), Aubrey Sherrod (1985) and Henry Carr (1987).

Marshall used borderline NBA talents such as Murry to rebuild the program and the payoff is coming. Former center Garrett Stutz also played in the NBA Summer League, as did guard Joe Ragland in 2012.

There are obvious recruiting benefits to putting players in the NBA. The last Missouri Valley Conference player to be drafted was Bradley center Patrick O’Bryant in 2006. Last season, Creighton’s Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver were the only MVC players on an NBA roster.

Getting to the NBA from WSU, in Marshall’s mind, is simply a matter of evaluation and development. The legacy of the 1980s proves players can make the jump.

“I don’t think it’s ever been a question, because of all the NBA players Wichita State has had,” he said. “It’s just a matter of a coaching staff being able to lure enough quality players that, eventually, somebody will improve to the point … that somebody takes note.”

It is surprising that Mekel is the first Shocker from the recent era to crack an NBA roster.

Former WSU coach Mark Turgeon recruited him from Israel before the 2006-07 season. He played one season for Turgeon and one for Marshall before going home. At the time, few, including Marshall, saw his departure as a blow. He averaged 9.3 points and 3.7 assists in 2007-08 for a team that went 11-20. While his style didn’t fit with Marshall’s, it blossomed during five professional seasons overseas. He won two MVP honors in Israel, most recently after leading Haifa to the 2013 Israeli Super League title.

His expertise running the pick-and-roll intrigued NBA scouts and the Mavericks signed him in July. At 25, he is a polished veteran who is mature and skilled enough to help an NBA team.

“He looks very confident,” Marshall said. “He’s a little more in control on those ball screens and isn’t making as many wild plays. He’s making really good decisions and plays off those ball screens.”

While the Mavericks and Knicks did not play in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, Mekel impressed Murry with his his improvement. Murry knew Mekel’s reputation for flash. Now he tempers his imaginative passing enough to make him an effective floor leader.

“He looks like an NBA point guard,” Murry said. “I remember him making spectacular passes and they never got through. Now he’s executing those passes.”

Murry, after playing for Houston’s team in the NBA Developmental League, went to Las Vegas with the Knicks. During the Summer League, Woodson praised Murry’s point-guard skills and said he expects to give him a shot to make the roster during training camp.

“When I first met him, I could tell we clicked,” Murry said. “He knew me, and an NBA coach hardly ever knows an undrafted person.”

The Knicks see Murry as a point guard with good defensive skills. They need point guards and Murry’s candidacy appears strong.

“He does everything,” Woodson said on NBA TV during the Summer League. “He can score. He sees the floor very well and he gets after it defensively.”

Murry, who averaged 7.6 points and 2.6 asssists in five Summer League games, is also considering other NBA teams for training camp. Whether it’s with the Knicks or another team, Murry is optimistic about his chances after performing well in the Summer League and with the Developmental League champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Should a team put him on a regular-season roster, he will become the first four-year Shocker in the NBA since Carr.

“I’m positive I’m going to play in the NBA this year,” he said. “The D League helped me the most, it’s so close to the NBA. You’re playing against NBA guys. It’s a grind-it-out league, very similar to the NBA.”

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