Sunday's showdown with Cincinnati not only had a conference title on the line for Wichita State , it was also an important showing for the Shockers' future with seven highly-rated recruits in attendance .
Among the targets were 2019 prospect Tyem Freeman, a four-star wing from Springfield, Mo., and five players from Sunrise Academy's "elite" team, including five-star, seven-foot center N'faly Dante, a 2020 prospect, plus 2021 target Jackie Johnson, a freshman from Wichita.
WSU did not extend an offer to any of the recruits during their visit, but they were hand-picked by Gregg Marshall's staff to attend the game and appear to be targets in the coming years.
Although the Shockers did not win the game, Marshall thought those in attendance on Sunday saw Koch Arena at its best.
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"As good as there is," Marshall said. "It was as good of an atmosphere as you can play in."
During the game, Marshall said one of the veteran officials came over to him to commend him on the crowd.
"He said, 'Hey man, if you ever leave here, I'll be angry. This is as good of an atmosphere as you can find,'" Marshall said. "And he does all kinds of big-time games, so that was nice to hear."
Johnson, a Wichita native who averaged 22.1 points in 17 games at North his freshman season before transferring to Southeast, echoed those sentiments following the game.
"It was a surreal experience," Johnson said. "It was nice that the coaches want to recruit me and wanted me to come to the game. It was just a blessing from God. It was an unbelievable game. Definitely a great experience."
Because of the senior day festivities and the number of recruits in attendance, Johnson didn't get to meet with Marshall for long or sit in during the post-game talk in the locker room.
But Johnson said he has been able to do both of those things on his past visits and he has come away impressed with Marshall.
"He's a great coach and a great leader," Johnson said. "I like the way he coaches. He's a leader when he coaches. I really like coach Gregg Marshall."
Johnson said Wichita State joining the American Athletic Conference makes the Shockers a more appealing destination. Playing in bigger markets against better competition and big-time coaches is something that elevates WSU in Johnson's mind.
Johnson said he doesn't necessarily have a dream school, but there is an appeal to being the next City League star to follow in the footsteps of Evan Wessel (Heights), Conner Frankamp (North), and Samajae Haynes-Jones (East) to become Shockers.
"I really love Wichita State and since I'm from Wichita, that will always be in consideration," Johnson said. "I'm just going to talk to God and pray about it."
Johnson will play this summer on the under-16 KC Run GMC team in the Under Armour Association circuit, as well as attend an exposure camp for the country's top prospects at IMG Academy in Florida this July.
WSU has signed six players to its 2018 recruiting class, fulfilling all scholarships that will be vacated by graduating seniors. Marshall could potentially add a prospect this spring for protection if sophomore Landry Shamet decides to leave for the NBA Draft or a player decides to transfer in the offseason.
The four other Sunrise players who were in attendance on Sunday were all 2019 prospects in Malik Hall (a6-7 four star), Blake Hinson (a 6-7 four star), Austin Crowley (a 6-5 three star), and Blaise Keita (a 6-11 three star).