In 2008, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall started three newcomers, including freshman Toure Murry, in the opener. Four years later, Murry and three other seniors starters departed, leaving Marshall to start over again.
On Saturday, the Shockers play NCAA Division II Augusta (Ga.) in an exhibition game at Koch Arena and Marshall’s thoughts are similar to those two previous openers.
So much is possible. So much is unknown after the departure of five seniors, including NBA players Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, from the 2015-16 team.
“There’s some excitement,” Marshall said. “A little apprehension. A little anxiety.”
What’s most likely certain about the Shockers is that they are deep and Marshall’s rotation could feature nine or 10 players at a minimum. That rotation is full of lengthy, athletic players, none of whom have more than one season as a starter. There are two seniors on the roster — J.R. Simon and Zach Bush — who don’t figure to play significant minutes. WSU is likely at its best when playing fast to take advantage of its athletic skills and it’s a team that almost certainly will improve as the season wears on.
How soon and to what degree those items click into place is to be determined.
Friday’s practice ended with all the Shockers healthy, which is a good first step. Freshman Austin Reaves missed most of the summer and parts of the fall with shoulder issues. Freshman C.J. Keyser sat out the summer and much of the fall with foot injuries. Both practiced this week and, while the situation may limit their minutes Saturday, health won’t.
While newcomers can play in the exhibition without losing that option, redshirting a player seems unlikely, Marshall said. Guard Peyton Allen left school in August for personal reasons, chipping away at WSU’s depth. That put the Shockers at 12 scholarship players before Simon received a scholarship recently.
“We’re down a man as it is,” Marshall said.
The starting lineup remained unsettled after practice, although it is likely to come from WSU’s most experienced returners — a group that would include center Shaq Morris, forwards Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie and Rashard Kelly and guards Conner Frankamp and Landry Shamet.
“I’ve got to have some experience coming off the bench, too, when I go to the second five,” Marshall said. “I”m not worried about who’s starting. It’s how we play.”
Marshall is also reaching back in his memory banks for Saturday’s opponent.
Augusta coach Dip Metress played point guard for Belmont Abbey (N.C.) College in the 1988 NAIA Tournament in Kansas City. Marshall served as assistant coach that season, working under Kevin Eastman, who later was an assistant for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers.
“He was a winning point guard,” Marshall said. “He just ran our stuff, and he didn’t turn the ball over, and we were very successful.”
Metress coached Belmont Abbey from 1996-2004 and he and Marshall, then at nearby Winthrop, became coaching friends. When Metress went to Augusta, Marshall would stay at his house on recruiting trips.
“He had a great eye for talent, discovering the gems that other people don’t see,” Metress said.
Metress knows what to expect Saturday.
“In 51 years that we’ve had basketball at our university, it will be the best environment we’ve ever played in,” Metress said. “The number of people that will be at the game will be the most knowledgeable and rabid fan base we’ve ever walked ourselves into.”
▪ Augusta is the favorite in the Peach Belt Conference, as voted on by coaches.
Senior guard Keshun Sherrill averaged 23.3 points last season and twice earned All-American honors.
“He’s a legitimate player,” Metress said. “If he wasn’t 5-foot-9, he probably would have gotten a Division I scholarship out of high school.”
Augusta went 18-11 last season. Metress is entering his 13th season with the Jaguars and finished second in NCAA Division II in 2008.
▪ Metress’ first name is Darren. He’s gone by “Dip” since a young age, derived from “Dippler the Traveler.” He grew up in a military family and moved frequently.
“Now I’m stuck with it the rest of my life,” he said. “That’s the story my parents told me. I think they just made it up.”
Augusta at Wichita State
- When: 2 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Koch Arena
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: Cox 22