Wichita State's J.T. Durley and Demetric Williams frequently end practice by challenging Ben Smith and Joe Ragland to a three-point shooting contest.
"They've been winning," Smith said. "But we come close. I don't think they'll beat us (next time)."
Smith and Ragland, both junior college transfers, look like more formidable opponents in around-the-horn after Wednesday's game. Smith, a 6-foot-4 forward, made 4 of 5 three-pointers and scored a season-high 16 points in the 91-57 win over Evansville. Ragland, a 6-foot guard, made 2 of 4 and scored a season-high 12 points.
Smith and Ragland are WSU's most prominent newcomers and both are growing more comfortable each game. The Shockers (10-2, 1-0 Missouri Valley Conference) play at Bradley (6-6, 0-1) tonight.
"It's good to see," Durley said. "I love when my teammates play great."
The shooting challenge, complete with lots of teasing and talking, is the veterans' way of pushing the newcomers. It also keeps the new guys involved and having fun, even when practices are tough.
"It's important not to let their confidence get down," Durley said. "It seems playful, but it's kind of a competitive thing. You say you're a better shooter than someone else, and they don't want to agree with you."
Smith and Ragland went through the normal growing pains transfers often do. They had to learn how to play hard against opponents of equal talent. They had to learn WSU's system, and accept roles that didn't define them as scorers.
"Every day at practice I go up against a great group of guys," Smith said. "They push me and push me and make me better."
After 11 non-conference games, a holiday break and practice without the distraction of school, both say they are fitting in. They can play without thinking too much as the Shocker way becomes second nature.
"My main problem was my motor and my energy," Ragland said. "Ever since Coach (Gregg Marshall) got on me about that, I've been working on that and everything else is going to fall into place."
After Smith barely played against LSU, he bounced back with eight points in nine minutes against Tulsa. When starter Graham Hatch got into foul trouble Wednesday, Smith made sure the Shockers didn't falter. In addition to scoring, he helped guard Colt Ryan, Evansville's leading scorer.
"He's the key that we were missing last year," Hatch said. "We really didn't have a backup (small forward) and if I wasn't shooting well or doing that well on defense it was hard to sub in.."
Ragland missed his first two threes against Evansville. Marshall told him to keep shooting.
"He's a very talented shooter," Marshall said. "I thought he ran our club very well."
The Shockers won their MVC opener for the first time since the 2005-06 season. To get to 2-0, for the first time since that same season, they must take care of a weakened Bradley team. The Braves trailed by 19 points in the second half at Indiana State before losing 80-66. They are without two starters for the season. Forward Taylor Brown is sitting out as a precautionary measure while undergoing cardiac testing. Guard Sam Maniscalco hobbled through six games before a painful left ankle sidelined him.
"The knock on us is, can we win on the road," WSU guard Toure Murry said. "We're looking to forward to the test when we play Bradley."
For the first time in several seasons, the Shockers possess the depth and maturity to mean those words when they leave Koch Arena.
Hall of Fame additions — For Former Wichita State athletes will be inducted into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 29.
Baseball players Tim Raley and Travis Wyckoff, pole vaulter Ryan Barkdull and volleyball player Sara Younes will be enshrined at halftime of the basketball game against Bradley.
Raley, a third baseman, is fifth all-time on WSU's career list with a .394 batting average, and was a Collegiate Baseball All-American in 1987. Wyckoff, a pitcher and hitter, was a Collegiate Baseball All-American in 1996. Barkdull, a two-time All-American, holds school records indoors (18 feet, 6 1/2 inches) and outdoors (18-4 1/2). Younes, the 2004 MVC player of the year, ranks fifth on WSU's career kills list (1,289).