Zach Bush leaned back in his locker at the Scottrade Center last Saturday and watched the postgame craziness unfold around him after an MVC Tournament semifinal win over Missouri State.
He stretched his 6-foot-6 frame out and laughed as his Wichita State teammates cracked jokes on each other, as they filmed each other on their phones, as they read tweets people sent them out loud. As they eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
This is a good place to be.
“I didn’t know how we would top last year,” Bush said, “but this year has been close so far.
“Mainly because our coaches have the same approach, same grind. They don’t act any different, they put us to work.”
The Shockers are in good spirits after victories, of course – 34 times in a row, this season. But you get the feeling that it’s understood that this is where they are allowed to enjoy it the most.
Because once they walk out of here, it’s on to the next one.
“Back to the grind,” Bush said. “Every day is like that.”
Bush, a walk-on from Eisenhower High in Goddard, spent last year as a redshirt freshman on the end of the bench and got the ride of his life on the way to the Shockers’ first Final Four since 1965.
“Except for the start of the season, where we’re just beginning things, this year has been a lot like last year,” Bush said.
The most obvious difference this year for Bush has been that he actually gets into games. His numbers are negligible – his three points in eight minutes against Emporia State in the season opener are his only points of the year.
He’s played a season-high eight minutes twice. Once against the Hornets, a team he would’ve faced on a regular basis had he followed his initial path and went to Washburn, and again against Bradley on Jan. 14. Bush has played in 23 of 34 games – including 13 of 18 MVC regular-season games and in all three victories at the MVC Tournament in St. Louis, where WSU won its first league tourney title since 1987.
“It’s a blast,” Bush said. “I love playing with these guys. Who wouldn’t?”
He’s not the only walk-on seeing time with the Shockers’ during their historical run.
Freshman guard John Robert Simon, from Putnam City North High in Oklahoma City, has also seen action in 23 games, like Bush. He’s usually the one with the ball in his hands, dribbling out the clock at the end of WSU blowouts.
“It’s been a true blessing, it’s been incredible,” Simon said. “The NCAA Tournament is something you dream about as a kid. I go as hard as I can in practice to help these guys get better.”
Marshall, 51, was chosen Coach of the Year by The Sporting News earlier this week.
Senior Cleanthony Early earned second-team All-America honors from USA Today, as did Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins. Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair from Syracuse and Kentucky’s Julius Randle completed the second team
Louisville’s Russ Smith, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Duke’s Jabari Parker are on the first team.
Kansas freshman Joel Embiid received honorable mention.
Marshall, as WSU did last season, prefers to keep the selection show a quiet, private affair with players, coaches, family and administrators.
“We’ll watch the show, and CBS will be there,” he said. “Then we’ll get ready to play. For the first time in 27 years, there’s an automatic bid attached to our name, so that’s fun.”
WSU took Monday and Wednesday off from practice and will take Friday off. Marshall wants the reduced schedule to rejuvenate the Shockers on and off the court.
“We’re trying to get everybody healthy, trying to get them fresh legs,” Marshall said. “Stay on your books. Go to class. Get your legs right. Continue to lift. There’s nothing we can do about the layoff, so we’ll practice those days.”
Forward Darius Carter, battling a cold and sore throat, took Thursday’s practice off.
“I sent him home and told him to get some rest,” Marshall said.