When coach Gregg Marshall arrived at Wichita State to take over the basketball program in April 2007, he found a shrinking roster. Athletic director Jim Schaus told him he wanted to move quickly on the hire. Marshall understood the urgency when he learned three players (Chris Brown, Arbry Butler and Ryan Bradley) were on their way out for competitive and academic reasons. Sean Ogirri, a star of the 2006 NCAA Tournament team, didn’t come to the first workout with the new coaching staff and soon departed.
WSU named Marshall coach on April 14, 2007, and his returners from a 17-14 team included P.J. Couisnard, Phil Thomasson, Matt Braeuer, Gal Mekel and little else. That reality sent the new coaching staff scrambling for bodies that spring and summer, a situation worsened by the death of recruit Guy Alang Ntang days later. Alang-Ntang collapsed during a pickup game in New Hampshire, with Marshall in the stands.
Alang-Ntang, signed by former coach Mark Turgeon, had elected to stay with the Shockers, as did Graham Hatch. Ramon Clemente, who visited WSU in Turgeon’s final days, signed with Marshall. The other members of Turgeon’s final recruiting efforts — Evann Baker, Denzel Bowles and Brandon Sampay — bolted. Bowles followed Turgeon to Texas A&M. Baker went to Quinnipiac and Sampay to Illinois State.
Coaches filled out their ranks for 2007-08 with players such as Clemente, Mantas Griskenas and Ehimen Orupke (who didn’t arrive until 2010). Then they focused on players in the class of 2008, their first full swing at building a roster.
This is the oral history, gathered through in-person and phone interviews, e-mails and text messages, of how Marshall and assistants Chris Jans, Marty Gross and Earl Grant landed Wichita State’s transformative recruiting class. It consisted of high school guards Toure Murry and David Kyles from Texas, high school center Garrett Stutz from Kansas City and Chipola (Fla.) College guard Clevin Hannah. They signed in the fall of 2007. East Carolina transfer Gabe Blair joined them in June 2008 and redshirted a season before playing in 2009-10. Seward County Community College guard Reggie Chamberlain played one season before transferring to UMKC.
Since that 2009-10 season, WSU is 174-38 with trips to the NIT in 2010 and 2011 and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Among the 174 wins are four straight in the 2013 tournament to reach the program’s first Final Four in 48 years, and 35 straight victories to start the 2013-14 season.
Wichita State needed a point guard and Hannah became a natural target because he played with Clemente at Paris (Texas) College, where Jans, then an assistant at Illinois State, recruited him. Hannah transferred to Chipola for his sophomore season, where he played for Greg Heiar, Jans’ close friend and now an assistant at WSU.
Marshall: I had seven scholarships on April 15 (2007). You’ve got 13 to give. If you’ve got seven to give in late April, it isn’t good. You’re behind already. We knew that next full year’s recruiting would be very, very important and the cornerstone to what you were trying to do. We needed everything.
We needed a point guard. When I had recruited Ramon Clemente, I saw Clevin work out at Paris. He made everything that day. That was one of the first things we had to do, recruit a point guard.
Jans: That was going to be our foundation. We had playing time to sell, and Coach Marshall’s resume. The winning culture he created at Winthrop was impressive to kids. We knew we needed certain positions, but we also we knew we needed just to get better players. We didn’t necessarily think we wanted to go out and try to find a freshman point guard to handle the load from jump, so we looked to the junior-college ranks to try to find one who could and lead in Coach Marshall’s system. That’s why we went for Clevin. We got a phone call in the spring about (a) young, skilled big (Stutz) who was rapidly improving. To get a 7-footer out of high school was a heck of a building block.
Grant: With all the winning at Winthrop, (Marshall) could sell the fact he could get a team in the NCAA Tournament. At end of the day, he really liked competitive guys and he liked long, athletic guys. One of thing he always asked was, ‘Can he rebound at 12 feet?’ He wanted athletic guys. He wanted guys that were really competitive. You knew you had to find some athleticism and you approached it that way. We evaluated well and we got lucky.
Clemente: Clevin was at junior college with me at Paris (Texas). He definitely trusted my word. He said “Ramon, you sure.” I’m like “Yeah, come on and visit.” He and Gabe visited at the same time. Clevin signed on the strength of me and Gabe, he just felt the whole thing. We just kicked it the whole time and even after that, during school, we were always together.
Hannah: It was basically like I was following Ramon along. I knew he was a very hard worker and he played very hard. I gravitated toward that. He said even when (WSU) had that losing year, people still came out and supported them. (Marshall) was telling me that the ball was going to be in my hands. He was giving me the keys.
Clemente: Clevin knew that I wouldn’t go in a situation where I didn’t see it heading in the right direction. Marshall, that guy’s not a loser. The guys that were coming in on visits, I knew it was about to change. It was totally different than what we had. I knew Clevin was big-time player. Coach Marshall, he wasn’t playing around.
Hannah: It was real family-oriented on my visit. That was my only visit. They got me early.
WSU recruited Stutz against several high-profile schools and coaches sweated out Kentucky’s interest. In the end, Stutz’s trust in the coaches and his friendship with Kellen Marshall, Gregg Marshall’s son, won out.
Marshall: At some point, Chris found out about Garrett Stutz. He was supposed to play in Tulsa in an AAU event … for the Pumas and coach Scott Wedman. The team that they were playing was a Derby team, believe it or not. The Derby team is late to the game. So I’m watching Garrett Stutz just be on the court. He’s out there shooting three-pointers. He made like seven three-pointers in a row, with beautiful form, beautiful rotation. I’m thinking, “This guy is going to be huge one day and he’s very skilled.” Then we got to know what kind of person he was and what kind of family he was from, just like Toure, great families.
Jans: (Stutz) was all over the board. It was a long process. Northwestern. Saint Louis. Arizona State. Kansas State. He visited Kentucky for Midnight Madness. Certainly when someone does something like that, it makes you nervous. They kept it very close to the vest. You don’t have many home visits anymore. That was an old-school sit-down on the couch with the family. They went through the process, a very detailed process. They did not tip their hand. You just didn’t know where you stood.
Stutz: I remember all four coaches making trips to Kansas City to watch and talk to me. Marshall and Jans did an in-home visit. One day all four coaches came up there at the same time just to see me. I really liked the family atmosphere that WSU provided. The arena and the crowd really surprised me. I think I saw two or three games before I committed and each time it got better and better.
Marshall: His recruiting blew up. Toure’s — we got in before it blew up and it never blew up to the point I thought it should have. Garrett’s, at the end, became Northwestern, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas State, maybe. It was a weird recruitment, including Kentucky.
I remember I was talking to (a Kentucky assistant) and I’m not sure he really paid attention to (Stutz’s) workout. Now, he may have been there just to baby-sit and they already made their mind up that they were going to offer him and he didn’t have to look at the workout. But I was hoping they were still in the evaluation process and I was trying to keep him occupied and not watching the kid closely. That was a little intimidating.
Clemente: I’m loud sometimes and sometimes I have a foul mouth, occasionally. Coach Marshall made it clear — “Watch your mouth when this guy comes in here. We really need this guy. Don’t do anything to turn this guy away. He’s a big-time recruit.”
I remember, I’m in the locker room talking with somebody ... joking around. I was just as loud as possible and someone said, “Shut up.” I’m like “What’s going on?” I came out and there are Garrett’s parents. I was like “Oh my god, I’m going to lose us this recruit.”
Marshall: I knew (Stutz) had the Christian background and I knew if they got too nutty that would turn them off.
Stutz: I saw the way they coached and recruited players. I thought I could play a big part in the program and that Marshall would push me to be the best player that I could be.
Marshall: On the official visit, the parents are sitting there at my dining-room table. I said to both of them that I had a very good relationship with Tubby Smith, who was the previous Kentucky coach, prior to Coach (Billy) Gillispie. I said, “Guys, look, I understand Kentucky basketball and if my son were offered by Coach Smith, back in the day, that’s probably where he would have gone.”
And they looked at me like, “Why is he saying this?” And it just became a very real conversation. You can’t sit there and say you’re a better basketball program than Kentucky, you’ve got more to offer than Kentucky. You can’t do that at Wichita State. In the end, he, unlike maybe 98 or 99 percent of the kids in the country, chose Wichita State over Kentucky.
Stutz: The side to the story that few people know is that I committed to Kentucky, but de-committed just a few days later. I didn’t have a good feeling after I committed to Kentucky. It wouldn’t look good if (Gillispie) lost a recruit to WSU, so reporters wrote that I was never offered in order to control the story and help UK. I felt a lot more comfortable with the coaches at WSU.
Grant: Kellen Marshall (Gregg’s son, age 11 at the time) got close with Garrett Stutz on the official visit. The first person he called was Kellen Marshall. Kellen’s got that engaging personality. They just kind of connected.
Stutz: I look at Kellen and (Maggie Marshall) like a little brother and little sister. Lots of memories babysitting them. I still visit them in the summer and Skype Kellen while I’m overseas. We use to play Pop-A-Shot against each other all the time. I told Kellen we could have a four-year battle at Pop-A-Shot when I talked to him to commit to WSU. Now we compete at golf. I’m hoping this summer he will beat me for the first time. He told me he’s been playing a lot more and I don’t get a chance to play much. I told him I look forward to the day he passes me by on the golf course.
WSU got a good start on Murry because of Gross, a long-time assistant at Rice who recruited Nile Murry, Toure’s brother. Even with that background, it took Marshall’s enthusiasm for Murry to make him a priority after watching him in a tournament in Houston. Murry, from Houston, believes Marshall came to watch Kevin Foster, who played at Santa Clara, that day.
Gross: We struck out twice on Nile, but certainly got to know the family and followed Toure’s career through high school. He was under 6-foot and thin as a freshman (in high school). You could tell he was long and pretty athletic. Coach Marshall liked him immediately. I knew how tough the kid was and how bad he wanted to be a player.
Grant: Skinny, little kid. We were telling (Marshall) to look at other kids and he liked Toure. It all worked out. He grew three inches, got up to 6-5, and gained 25 pounds. Some of it’s luck. I think the only person who knew how good Toure Murry was was Gregg Marshall. He liked his ball skills. He had a certain toughness. He just saw something in him.
Marshall: Marty Gross had me looking at like 10 guys on a list. As I’m looking at them, I kept coming back to this kid — I will never forget — he reminded me of a young bunny rabbit. You know how bunny rabbits have floppy ears, he had long limbs and long legs and thin body and these huge feet. It was Toure Murry. I keep thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’ Then we started recruiting Toure.
Murry: I was in a camp playing and I remember seeing Marshall. That’s when I didn’t have any looks and nobody knew about me. Ever since then, I saw him at every event I was at. He always made eye contact, smiling at me, pointing at me, letting me know, “I’m here, I’m watching.”
Clemente: I remember Toure coming in (for his visit). He came in with his dad, like a young kid coming in with his parents. We teased Toure for that, coming to school with his dad.
Murry: He has this whole aura about him that made you believe that this guy is a winner. I just believed in him. He had so much energy. He never told us no stories, telling me I’m going to come in and start. Usually coaches tell you you’re going to start. He came in said starting spots are open, you can come in an compete for it. David Kyles committed already. He told me we had a young team and we were going to be good in the future.
Jans: I remember when Coach saw Toure, he just fell in love with him. He was adamant that was he was the kind of guy for us.
Murry: My mom fixed chicken alfredo (for Marshall’s home visit). We didn’t even get to the dinner, we were so caught up in the conversation on the couch. We didn’t want to interrupt him because he was so locked in. My mom fixed chicken alfredo and we didn’t get a chance to eat it. He left without eating. He would have talked to me and my mom and dad about basketball all night.
Gross also knew about Kyles, from Dallas, and considered him an overlooked talent. Kyles said schools such as Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Connecticut showed interest and wanted him to wait until after his senior season to sign. He went with Wichita State.
Kyles: I wanted to make my decision before the start of my senior season so I would not have to play with the stress of not knowing where I was going to go and outside things getting in the way of me performing.
Gross: That was a different kind of recruiting because David was one of those guys, really talented, that was kind of slipping through the cracks. We just kind of hung in there with David. We got him up on a visit and he loved it. The guys who were already at Wichita State helped in a big way. It takes a village, really.
Marshall: Kyles was a kid we saw in Kansas City. He had that live body and able to make jump shots. We were also recruiting the local kid, Jordan Cyphers (Wichita Southeast) and Jordan elected to go to Utah. We weren’t even pushing with David. David called us and said, “Hey, you guys interested? I’d like to visit.” Even though he played the same position as Murry … we basically took two two-guards in the same class. We needed to, because we didn’t have any.”
Kyles: Marty Gross did a great job of making me feel like family before I got stepped a foot on campus because we would constantly talk, especially after I signed. I felt like he actually (saw) a star in me on and off the court. I was raised by my grandmother, so she influenced a lot of my decision-making at the time and when (Marshall) spoke about the opportunity to play as a freshman, the Maui Invitational with the chance to play against UConn first (after they wanted me to wait), Puerto Rico and the sold-out Charles Koch arena that put a great smile on my grandmother’s face.
Marshall had a history with Blair, who is from Gastonia, N.C. and decided not to pass up a second chance to play for him.
Marshall: I recruited him when I was at Winthrop and he went to East Carolina. I could never beat East Carolina for a player, but then when we played them on the court, we’d beat them by 20 or 25. They got all these players, including Gabe, that we wanted. When I called him, he said, “Hey, I want to win. I’m tired of losing.”
Blair: We played Winthrop and they beat us by 20.
Gross: At Rice, we played ECU and Gabe was a freshman and I remember thinking, “Wow, this kid.” Long and athletic. Great body. Coach Marshall knew that situation, felt really good about Gabe and Gabe’s ability to help us. Gabe wanted a coach to challenge him. He wanted to end his college career on a winning note.
Blair: He recruited me to go to Winthrop and I was like, “Nah, I didn’t want to go there because it’s too small and too close to my house.” I was at East Carolina for two years and I decided it wasn’t the place for me because they didn’t really care about winning as much as I did. Word got out I was looking for a new school. Gregg Marshall called me and he was like “If you come out here, I promise, you won’t regret it.” I had a few other schools interested, Virginia Tech, I was supposed to visit. I told him I would check his school out first. I flew out there. Before I left to catch my plane back, I told him I would come.
Marshall: He came in on his official visit and it was very ominous weather. Spring. Tornado season. Earl Grant was picking him up at the airport and they were coming directly to my house. As they’re en route to my house, the tornado sirens start to go off and I remember pulling my car out of the garage and telling Earl, “I’m leaving the garage open, drive directly into my garage as if it’s the Bat Cave and come downstairs.” (Gabe) never knew what the hell was going on.
Blair: I remember he took me to his house and I was like, “Man, you’re living large out here.” I still heard the sirens, but we were in the comfort of a million-dollar home on the golf course. All the sirens were just an afterthought. I played basketball in Israel and I heard bomb sirens. That was a little more tense than a tornado siren. That didn’t scare me at all. The weather is something you really can’t control.
On my visit, they told me, pretty much, you could have what you wanted to eat. I said, “I want chocolate-covered strawberries … the kind you dip in a fountain.” I think, to this day, when players come over they have a fountain that you can dip fruit into.
Hannah, Murry, Stutz and Kyles played in 2008-09 and WSU improved to 17-17 after an 11-20 record in 2007-08. Blair joined the active roster in 2009-10, when the Shockers went 25-10 and played in the NIT. Without Hannah, WSU won the NIT in 2011. In 2012, the trio of Stutz, Murry and Kyles led WSU back to the NCAA Tournament.
Marshall: We got some guys that we liked and we beat some people on these guys. Clevin, I had to play because I didn’t have another point guard. Murry had to play as a freshman. Kyles played some as a freshman. I should have redshirted Stutz, but I was scared. It was the first time in my life I had ever lost as a coach. We won 11 games and I’m thinking, “We’ve got to win some games here or they’re going to run me out of town.” I played Stutz knowing he was going to be good in the future, but I rushed him. That third year, when Gabe became eligible, that’s when turned it around, won 25 games and went to the NIT and it’s been good since.
A class to build on
Toure Murry, guard, Houston Klein Forest (2008-12)
▪ Scored 1,539 points, No. 11 on WSU’s career list.
▪ Led WSU in assists with 430 until this season, when Fred VanVleet passed him. Ranks second in career steals with 180.
▪ Currently on the Washington Wizards roster, his third NBA team.
David Kyles, guard, Dallas Kimball (2008-12)
▪ Ranks sixth on WSU’s career list with 153 three-point baskets. His 75 threes in 2010-11 is third on WSU’s season list.
▪ Averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds as a senior.
▪ Plays in the Cyprus League for ETHA Engomis.
Garrett Stutz, center, North Kansas City, Mo. (2008-12)
▪ All-Missouri Valley Conference selection in 2012 and finished second in Player of the Year voting to Creighton’s Doug McDermott.
▪ Averaged 13.3 points and 8 rebounds as a senior.
▪ Plays for ČEZ Nymburk in the Czech Republic.
Clevin Hannah, guard, Chipola (Fla.) College (2008-10)
▪ All-MVC selection in 2010.
▪ Made 41.4 percent of his three-pointers as a Shocker, 11th best for a career.
▪ Plays for FIATC Joventut in Spain.
Gabe Blair, forward, East Carolina (2009-11)
▪ Averaged 6.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as a senior.
▪ Named to MVC’s All-Newcomer and All-Bench teams in 2010.
▪ Trains athletes for PureResults Training in Charlotte, N.C.