Charleston has a chance to be an important destination for this Wichita State men’s basketball team, a place where it can start to develop its identity.
But Charleston will always be an important destination in the identity of WSU’s coach, Gregg Marshall.
He’s a South Carolina native who received his first big coaching break at College of Charleston, where he almost returned many years later. That’s where he met his mentor, John Kresse, and his wife, Lynn. His daughter, Maggie, attends the school and the family still vacations there in the summer.
It’s clear the city holds a special place in Marshall’s heart.
“Growing up in South Carolina, Charleston is the place that everybody is proud of,” Marshall said on his radio show on Monday. “It’s such a historic place. There’s beautiful homes and beaches and restaurants. We know the ins and outs and the places to go and when to travel to avoid traffic. We’re really looking forward to being there.
“I am very proud to be associated with the College of Charleston in many ways.”
WSU will play three games in four days, starting with Thursday’s 6 p.m. first-round game against Davidson (live-streamed on ESPN3).
With so many reunions planned, WSU flew to Charleston on Tuesday so Marshall could catch Earl Grant, his former assistant at WSU, lead the College of Charleston that night against Rhode Island. The two worked together for six years and Marshall recruited him as a player. The two are so close that Marshall attended Grant’s wedding.
Marshall has been ecstatic to see the success Grant has had at College of Charleston, where he led the Cougars to their first NCAA Tournament berth last season since the Kresse years. College of Charleston is also off to a 3-0 start this season.
Speaking of Kresse, Marshall was able to reconnect with his mentor on Wednesday during WSU’s practice. Kresse is best known for engineering the most successful transition from NAIA to Division I, as he led College of Charleston, with Marshall on staff, to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large berth in 1994.
“It had never happened before, it never happened afterwards, and more than likely it won’t happen again,” Marshall said. “We weren’t even a fully, 100-percent Division I team.”
Those eight years spent under Kresse in many ways molded Marshall into the coach he became, first at Winthrop and now at Wichita State. He constantly references his time in Charleston and regularly phones Kresse during the season to talk things over about his team.
“He’s been unbelievable for me as a mentor and a friend,” Marshall said. “He’s always there if you need him. He’ll lend an ear. He’s the best basketball coach I’ve ever been around. He’s also one of the best managers of people. I called him ‘The Puppeteer.’ Everybody (at College of Charleston) was somehow doing something that coach Kresse would help make us be better.”
It was also a reunion between the Marshalls and their daughter, who enrolled at the College of Charleston this fall. Lynn Marshall also earned two degrees from the College of Charleston, including a master’s degree.
“Maggie is excited to introduce her family and her team to the friends that she’s met at school,” Marshall said. “It’s just great that it’s all coming together. But we still have the issue of three games against very good competition.”
Davidson (2-0) certainly qualifies under the guidance of the well-respected Bob McKillop. The Wildcats are known for their ball movement and patience on offense. They are led by the do-everything duo of 6-foot-5 guard Kellan Grady and 6-foot-4 guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson, who are averaging a combined 42.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists.
“They’re like Conner Frankamp, but bigger,” Marshall said on his radio show. “Those guys shoot phenomenal percentages. You don’t want to get in a shooting contest with them. You want to make them earn it. But if they get back cuts and wide open threes, then we’re probably going to lose.”