Wichita State produced an assembly line of talented post players in recent seasons — J.T. Durley to Garrett Stutz to Carl Hall.
For the first time since 2009, that position is a mystery, manned by players with little or no history as a Shocker. There is some size, although not as much as in past seasons. There is minimum experience and the rest is potential. How quickly those ingredients turn into production is a key question.
Adding to the intrigue is WSU’s impressive array of shooters. The big men will get help from lineups full of three-point threats who will pull defenders away from the lane.
“We’ve got what it takes to go and score on the block,” senior center Chadrack Lufile said. “We’re deeper in the post game, because we’ve got a lot of guys who are skilled and athletic. We’ve just got to gel.”
Lufile is the revelation of preseason practices. He played little last season. With a year of experience, he is much improved in his understanding of the offense and defense, and how to use his speed and bulk.
“He’s so big and so physical and he doesn’t really understand that yet,” forward Cleanthony Early said. “The game has become very easy for him, being able to sit in and get his position and throw in a simple little hook shot.”
Senior Kadeem Coleby, a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette, is a proven NCAA Division I player. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 2011-12 and led the Sun Belt Conference in shooting percentage at 56.1. Junior transfer Darius Carter will play forward and can help with the post play.
“(Chadrack) has had a good fall camp,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He was facing live bullets last year and he’s doing much better this year than he did last year. In that regard, he’s got a little advantage over Kadeem. Kadeem’s probably a better defensive player, shot-blocker, rim deterrent. It’s a good competition.”
Coleby practiced with the Shockers last season while sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules.
“He’s obviously very athletic, talented, strong, but now he’s got to remember things and execute under stressful situations,” Marshall said. “He’s doing that good, but not great yet, but good. When they’re sitting out, they’re not under the same scrutiny as the guys that are playing and you find out more about them when they’re actually going to play in games.”
The post players benefit from plenty of good leaders and guides as they adjust to new roles. The Shockers are loaded in the backcourt and on the wings.
“That’s the best thing for a big man to have, good guards,” Carter said. “They know how to get you the ball.”
Sophomore Fred VanVleet will run the offense and nobody is worried about the sophomore stepping into the role of team leader. His progress in the NCAA Tournament proved he can handle that responsibility. The NCAA Tournament also served as an introduction to most for sophomore guard Ron Baker, who averaged 11 points and made 9 of 21 three-pointers in the tournament. He will start at guard and help VanVleet at point guard. Freshman Ria’n Holland is a an excellent shooter who is also playing point guard. The absence of D.J. Bowles, prohibited from playing due to a heart condition, robbed WSU of depth behind VanVleet and will force Baker to take on some of those duties.
“You want Fred on your side when you’re tallying up wins and losses,” Marshall said. “He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he’s really strong and he wants to win. Badly.”
On the wings, junior Tekele Cotton and sophomore Evan Wessel are back. Cotton usually guards the top scorers and improved his shooting stroke dramatically last season. Wessel started eight games before a broken pinky finger ended his season. Before the injury, he was WSU’s top three-point threat, making 11 of 24. Senior Nick Wiggins, also an excellent shooter, will provide scoring off the bench.
Early led WSU with an average of 13.9 points last season and is showing up on NBA draft projections. He is difficult to guard because he is equally comfortable shooting threes and scoring in the lane. With an eye on the NBA, he worked this summer to get stronger and improve his ability to drive past defenders to score. Carter, an NJCAA All-American at Vincennes (Ind.) will team with Early at power forward.