A single game has stuck out in Gregg Marshall’s mind as the one that changed the basketball program at Wichita State.
It was January 2009 and the Shockers had lost their first six games in the Missouri Valley Conference, with rival Creighton coming to Koch Arena. The prior season, Marshall’s first, WSU finished 11-20.
Marshall revealed this to a crowd of around 1,500 at Century II on Tuesday night in his speech at the annual Chamber of Commerce meeting. He felt the pressure to perform and beat Creighton. The anxiousness was relieved when the Shockers won 74-61. Wichita State won the NIT championship in 2011 and is one of five programs to win a game in the NCAA Tournament the past five seasons.
“I remember it was a blackout and all of the fans had black shirts on,” Marshall told the crowd. “We ended up winning the game and it was amazing. I didn’t think anyone would attend, but of course Koch was packed to the gills and we win the game.
“I still go back to that game as the turning point. It ignited our program. I’m still grateful for that support our wonderful fan base gave us that night. We didn’t deserve much support that game, but they gave it to us.”
Marshall was joined by Dick Vitale as the co-main event Tuesday. Vitale’s emotion and authenticity was a hit with the crowd.
The ESPN personality had the crowd laughing for most of the night, especially when he was introduced on stage following Marshall’s speech when he thanked the audience for the city’s hospitality to him and his family over the years.
“I want to know if there’s a realtor in the house,” Vitale said, walking on stage. “After listening to Coach Marshall, I’m ready to move to Wichita.”
But Vitale also took a serious turn with his speech and gave his thoughts on the recent violence in America, which elicited the crowd’s loudest applause.
“There’s too much hate, not enough love,” Vitale said. “In life, we need a hug and a squeeze and a handshake and a ‘I love you’ and a ‘I thank you,’ instead of this violence. You go to a church, you go to a movie, you go to a concert, your life is in jeopardy and it breaks your heart. There’s no rhyme or reason.”
The night ended with Scott Schwindaman, the 2017 Chamber Chairman, moderating a question-and-answer session with Marshall and Vitale.
The highlight came at the end, when Vitale was given the opportunity to ask Marshall anything. He didn’t hesitate in choosing to ask Marshall for his thoughts on the federal investigation currently sweeping through college basketball.
“The FBI scandal is really scary and it’s a slippery slope I think we’re on,” Marshall said. “I don’t know about the other people in this room, but I sleep very well at night knowing that we do things the right way.”
That brought the crowd to another roaring applause before Marshall continued.
“Right now there’s a lot of folks that are breaking the rules. It’s disappointing and it sullies our game and I don’t understand why. I see young coaches that are really bright and they aspire to make it, but they get impatient. They want to cut corners. They don’t want to do it the old-fashioned way like Wichitans: rolling up their sleeves and getting busy, having an idea and having some coaching concepts and just out-working people. That’s not the way they want to do it.”
With basketball on the rise this year in Wichita, Schwindaman said that Marshall and Vitale were the perfect pair to bring in for the annual meeting.
“We’re going to have a tremendous season with the Shockers, with how high they’re ranked right now,” Schwindaman said. “And then we’re also going to be hosting the NCAA Tournament coming in March and there’s a lot of excitement for basketball right now in Wichita.”
On a night for basketball, mayor Jeff Longwell also hinted at some baseball news.
After mentioning Wichita’s recent attempts of landing an affiliated baseball team for a new downtown stadium development, he said, “I would highly recommend buying a ticket (to a Dec. 7 Chamber event) for potentially some really big news.”