Wichita State sophomore Markis McDuffie turned 19 in September. He’s on the young edge of college basketball youngsters.
In a program so often defined by its seniors, McDuffie’s role is crucial this season for the Shockers. While he’s not the most experienced Shocker returner, he might be the most prominent after winning Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year honors last season. He represented WSU on the preseason All-MVC team, with junior center Shaq Morris on the second team.
“I do feel like I’m one of the young guys — guys pick on me about how young I am,” he said on Tuesday at MVC media day. “But I feel like I’m playing on one of the biggest stages in basketball, so it doesn’t really matter what age you are.”
McDuffie’s potential intrigues coaches and fans for many reasons. He offers a rare combination of height and athletic ability. Wing players who can move like he can at 6-foot-8 are rare in college basketball and almost non-existent in the MVC. He is skilled enough to excel on the perimeter, yet his toughness and size make him a potential power forward, kind of like former Shocker Cleanthony Early with more time to develop and better defensive and ball skills.
The key piece is his body, which no longer looks like a slim freshman. He ended his freshman season at around 185 pounds and doubted his ability to gain weight and strength. A summer of two-a-days in the weight room and gallons of chocolate protein shakes changed his mind.
“I didn’t believe in myself,” he said. “I didn’t think I would get any bigger. Then I started working really hard in the weight room.”
McDuffie can tell his body is changing in practice when he no longer bounces off bigger players or gets pushed out of position.
“They’re still pretty much stronger than me, but I’m able to hold them down,” he said. “They were a lot stronger than me last year. I can’t wait to see how it goes out on the basketball court against other players.”
Before the bandwagon — McDuffie loved the Knicks before Ron Baker, Early and Toure Murry made the move from Shocker to Madison Square Garden.
Not before Dave Stallworth, however.
McDuffie, from Paterson, N.J. is a devoted fan. It’s not clear when Baker, a current Knick and former Shocker, will earn the locker-room status to ask Carmelo Anthony for a pair of autographed Nikes. When he does, McDuffie has his hand up.
“I’m a huge Knicks fan,” McDuffie said. “I think (Baker) is what the Knicks need. The Knicks struggle on defense a lot. They just need that spark on the defensive end, someone that knows how to play the game, knows how to help the team.”
McDuffie said he congratulated Baker after he made the team. Baker did not, however, hand his cell phone to Anthony for a chat with McDuffie.
“I’m going to get him to do something,” McDuffie said. “I hope I get some front-row seats.”
In the building — Single-game tickets for WSU men’s basketball go on sale Tuesday, if any remain after season-ticket sales end.
WSU has a few season tickets remaining, available at the Koch Arena ticket office or by calling 316-978-3267. Tickets available are in the top row of the arena and cost $390 a seat, plus a $230 donation to the Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization. WSU recommends visiting the arena to approve the location before buying.
Around 1,500 seats, in the upper level, are available for the Dec. 17 game at Intrust Bank Arena against Oklahoma State. Tickets can purchased through selectaseat.com, at the box office, or by calling 855-755-7328.
Honored in Iowa — Former Shocker Rob Kampman is member of the Iowa High School Activities Association Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
Kampman, who played at WSU from 2001-05, earned All-State honors twice at Forest City High. He scored 1,576 points and his teams made two appearances in the state tournament.
The inductees will be honored at the state tournament. The class also includes former Northern Iowa players Brooks McKowen and Carlton Reed.
Quick change for the Ramblers — Loyola women’s basketball coach Kate Achter took over on July 19 with six players on the roster.
“The first thing I did was I called every kid who was supposedly on the roster,” she said. “That was my concern — can we field a team?”
Achter replaced Sheryl Swoopes, fired on July 3.
Achter, who came to Loyola after one season as an assistant at Xavier, inherited four freshmen and two sophomores. She re-recruited four players to bring the roster to 10, which helps explain why the Ramblers are picked 10th in the preseason poll.
“I’m not in the business to get rid of kids,” she said. “Just making them feel like they were a part of something going forward, I think, helped tremendously.”
One of her first calls was to junior Katie Salmon, who played in 11 games last season before a season-ending knee injury. Salmon decided to transfer, then decided to stay at Loyola. Three junior-college transfers who committed to Swoopes also decided to stay after meeting Achter.
“I was at work and I looked at my phone and I had a voice mail, saying ‘Hey, we’re going to do a practice tomorrow,’” Salmon said. “At that time, I wasn’t even on the team.”
Achter knew Salmon planned to leave. She also knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince her to stay.
“I had gotten the vibe that Katie also wanted to be back, so I didn’t approach it any other way — ‘You’re back, here we are,’ ” Achter said.
That worked for Salmon.
“I was so excited,” she said. “My heart’s always been at Loyola.”
Redbirds in trouble — Illinois State was picked second in the MVC men’s basketball poll on Tuesday. That’s the only good news this week for the team expected to challenge the Shockers.
Before Tuesday’s MVC media day, coach Dan Muller indefinitely suspended junior forward Deontae Hawkins after his arrest for, according to the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal transportation of alcohol and driving with a suspended license.
On Tuesday, Malilk Yarbrough and DJ Clayton were arrested misdemeanor theft of an iPhone, according to the Pantagraph. Yarbrough, a transfer from Saint Louis, is redshirting this season. Clayton is a junior transfer.
Worth noting — Former Shocker basketball player Nick Wiggins signed with KK Rabotnicki of Macedonia. … Former WSU pitcher Kris Johnson won the 2016 Sawamura Award on Monday, an honor given to the top starting pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball. He went 15-7 with a 2.31 ERA for the Hiroshima Carp. Johnson, from Blue Springs, Mo., pitched from 2004-06 at WSU and was a first-round draft pick by Boston. … Wichita State’s baseball best-of-3 scrimmage series starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Eck Stadium, followed by 6 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. Admission is a can of food for the Kansas Food Bank.