At the 2007 Shocker Madness, a Chinook army helicopter landed outside Koch Arena to deliver the game ball. Optimistic fans joked that Ehimen Orukpe might be on board, liberated from Nigeria to play basketball for Wichita State.
Saturday, Orukpe made his Shocker debut at the 2010 event at Koch Arena. African and NCAA roadblocks delayed his debut by three years, except for fans as devoted as Josh Casady. He drove to Miami, Okla., last season to watch Orukpe play for Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
For most of the fans at Shocker Madness, Orukpe became reality.
"Who's not excited to see him?" Casady said. "It's been way too long a wait."
Orukpe felt the same way. The crowd estimated at around 4,500 overwhelmed him a little. Fans watched his every move, cheered when he did something good and moaned sympathetically when things didn't go his way.
"It was crazy loud," he said. "There was a lot going on I didn't pick up on."
Teammate J.T. Durley did.
"When his name was announced, you could tell everybody was finally happy to see the 7-footer from Nigeria," Durley said.
Orukpe, a 7-foot sophomore, played most of the men's 12-minute scrimmage. He showed that coaches are smoothing off some of his rough edges offensively. He spun around junior Garrett Stutz in the lane, only to see his layup blocked by guard Demetric Williams. Minutes later, he hit Toure Murry with a bounce pass as Murry cut to the basket.
"From the summer to this point, I think I really improved on my offense," he said. "I could execute a little bit today, even though everything was a little shaky."
The Shockers practiced for almost three hours on Friday and again on Saturday morning. WSU coach Gregg Marshall said Orukpe's biggest challenge is fighting through fatigue.
"Probably the hardest practice he's ever been through was Friday night," Marshall said. "He kind of got tired, and then when he got tired his brain shut down."
The Gold team defeated the Black 16-6. Players switched teams throughout the scrimmage. Gabe Blair led all scorers with six points. Durley made a three-pointer and scored five. Stutz added four.
The scrimmage unfolded much like practices, Marshall said.
"We're a little itchy, rushing things a little bit," he said. "Defense is way ahead of the offense."
Women's coach Jody Adams divided her team into returners and newcomers. The returners, wearing Black, won 16-6 in a 12-minute scrimmage. Haleigh Lankster led the Black with six points. Alicia Sanchez added four.
"I think what you saw tonight was a lot of nerves," she said. "We wanted to help our newcomers understand where they need to be, the pace they need to play at. They're going to have to get over playing in front of this many people."
Women's player Morgan Boyd defeated men's player Joe Ragland in a three-point shooting contest. Both made 15 of 25 shots from around the arc, forcing a shootout. Boyd made 4 of 5 in the playoff, two more than Ragland.
The men's team played without junior David Kyles, benched by Marshall.
"I wanted to send a little message to him," Marshall said. "David needs a lot of messages. He needs e-mail, voicemail, text. He actually was dying to participate tonight. He would love to be out here and doing this. He needs to take care of all the rest of the things that are important to me off the court."
Notes — Redshirt freshman Jerome Hamilton is dealing with a sprained right ankle and did not play.... Marshall said around 100-150 seats remain for season-ticket buyers.... A representative of the Maui Invitational presented the men's team with a surfboard before their scrimmage.... WSU's Tip-Off Luncheon is Nov. 8 in the Koch Arena practice gym.... Heights senior Evan Wessel, who has committed to play for WSU's men's team, watched Shocker Madness and visited with Marshall after the scrimmages.