There are a couple of things, especially, to like about Wichita State sophomore forward Markis McDuffie. One is his humility.
McDuffie realizes he’s not where he wants to be as a basketball player, which brings us to the other thing to like: He has a pretty idea of where he’s going and how he’s going to get there.
The 6-foot-8 McDuffie is showing tangible, exciting signs of improvement for the Shockers, including a career-high 26 points during Wednesday night’s 87-75 win over Loyola at Koch Arena.
“Man, he’s good,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said of McDuffie. “We didn’t do very good on him, but what a phenomenal game. Twenty-six points on 11 shots? He was phenomenal, a difference-maker. He’s a physical specimen who plays hard and battles.”
Yet McDuffie only turned 19 four months ago. His basketball body and mind are still developing, although McDuffie’s sculpted body is pretty far along.
“I just want to be the best player I can be every day,” McDuffie said. “I’m just watching as much basketball as I can, studying and focusing. I watch all the greats — I love watching Kevin Durant and Giannis . . . I can’t really say his last name.”
That would be Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the rising young stars in the NBA.
It’s fitting that one of the rising young stars in college basketball has gravitated to Antetokounmpo, I suppose. And McDuffie is certainly that, a player with huge upside who is pretty darn good in his current state.
After an offensive slump in games against Colorado State, Saint Louis and Oklahoma — during which McDuffie was 7 of 28 from the floor — he’s been on a roll. In seven games since, McDuffie is shooting 59.6 percent (31 of 52) has made 10 of 17 three-point attempts and 34 of 40 free throws.
“He’s a tremendous talent, let’s start there,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of McDuffie, who is averaging 12.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. “And a wonderful young man.”
It’s Marshall’s job, though, to help McDuffie get to where both want him to be. So Marshall doesn’t pull punches.
When McDuffie jacked up a three-point shot early in a WSU possession and from several feet behind the line, Marshall wasn’t pleased, even though McDuffie had made his first four three-point attempts.
“He’s got to think the game a little more,” Marshall said. “He’s got this youthful exuberance as a player that you love, but at times there needs to be a little more of a laser focus. He’s really, really good, but he also has room for improvement.”
You won’t get an argument from McDuffie, whose tool box is brimming with exciting athletic gadgets. He’s exciting now, but it’s his potential that makes the what-ifs add up.
“Most definitely, I’m a work in progress,” McDuffie said. “I’m young right now so I’m still trying to be mature as a basketball layer. That all comes with getting older. Each year, as I get older, I learn more.”
McDuffie is the latest in the long line of offensively-gifted Shockers learning to fit into Marshall’s system. Only once in the coach’s nine previous seasons has a player averaged more than 15 points (senior Cleanthony Early averaged 16.4 in 2013-14).
McDuffie hasn’t taken more than 11 shots in a game. This is a Wichita State team that goes 10 deep, so McDuffie’s not likely to play a whole lot more than the 23.7 minutes he’s averaging.
He did play 30 minutes against Loyola, though, and filled up the stat sheet. Overall, he’s shooting 49.3 percent from the field, 45.2 percent from the three-point line and 79.7 percent from the free-throw line.
There was a time during Wednesday’s game, though, when Marshall had to pull in his super sophomore. That came after the early and misguided three-point shot that Loyola rebounded and turned into an easy basket at the other end.
“I was just feeling it,” McDuffie said. “I haven’t been this confident shooting the ball in a while. I saw the guy guarding me had his hands down so I shot it. I didn’t know I was quite that far out and it was too early in the shot clock to take a shot like that.”
Mistakes, though, are dwindling. McDuffie is learning the ins and outs of the Marshall system and understanding that his coach appreciates offense but demands defense.
“I love guarding,” McDuffie said. “I love playing defense and I love guarding the other team’s best player when I get the chance. I guarded (Loyola’s) Milton Doyle and he’s really tough to guard. But I’m trying to be an all-around player and use my versatility. I just have to slow things down sometimes, that’s my biggest thing. My motor runs high and slowing down comes with maturity.”
Repeat, McDuffie is just 19. He was thrust into a major role last season, as a just-turned-18 freshman. Take a look at his face sometime — McDuffie looks more 15 than 22.
“His ceiling is unlimited, man,” said WSU teammate Landy Shamet. “He’s always joking, always dancing and he can do it all — shoot, score with his back to the basket, everything. He’s still getting better and he always talks about how there’s still a long way to go.”
You don’t want to miss this journey.