When J.T. Durley and Garrett Stutz last suited up for Wichita State, more than eight years ago now, they thought it would be their final experience playing for the crowd at Koch Arena.
The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team, single-elimination tournament broadcast on ESPN with a winner-take-all $2 million grand prize, has given the former teammates a chance to return to their old stomping grounds.
Durley, who played at WSU from 2006-11, and Stutz, who was a Shocker from 2008-12, were at Koch Arena on Monday for their first practice with the Aftershocks, a WSU alumni team that has formed to compete in TBT. The team will play its first game at Koch Arena, against Iowa United at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 25. The regional also features alumni teams from Kansas, Kansas State, Marquette and Colorado with single session and all-session tickets available on GoShockers.com.
“It’s going to be real fun to see a bunch of familiar faces and to hear your name chanted one more time,” Durley said. “They always say you’ll never feel this again when you’re done, but now we get the chance to wear the black and gold one more time and try to win this championship.”
Durley, a 6-foot-8 forward, and Stutz, a 7-foot center, each enjoyed international success following their WSU careers with Durley splitting time between Spain and Argentina and Stutz spending time in Poland, Czech Republic, Spain, Belarus and Japan.
They kept in contact in those early years following their departures from WSU, but like any long-distance friendship, it’s been difficult to remain close over the years. That’s what made Monday’s reunion even more special for the duo.
“I had some good memories playing with J.T. and some bad memories playing against him in practice,” said Stutz, laughing. “He looked great (Monday). He can still shoot it.”
Their final year together — the 2010-11 season when Durley was a senior and Stutz was a junior — is often referred to by WSU coach Gregg Marshall as the launching point of the program’s return to national prominence. Durley led the team in scoring that season, the only double-digit scorer at 11.2 points, while Stutz averaged 7.4 points mostly in a reserve role.
The season culminated with the Shockers winning the NIT championship in New York City, which kicked off a run of seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Final Four run and 35-1 season, for WSU.
“Back when I came in 2006, being from Texas, people thought Wichita State was from Wichita Falls,” said Durley, a Pittsburg, Texas native. “Now I hear people go crazy when I say I played basketball at Wichita State. It was rough in those early years, but it was all worth it seeing those banners up now.”
Durley and Stutz aren’t the only players on the Aftershocks from those early Marshall years. They will be joined by former teammates in Clevin Hannah, who played at WSU from 2008-10, and Toure’ Murry, who played at WSU from 2008-12.
Even after all these years, Durley suspects those four players will still have the chemistry from their WSU playing days.
“It always feels better when you’re playing with familiar faces, but it’s a lot different walking through those doors again and getting on the court vs. coming here to watch a game,” Durley said. “It’s a surreal feeling. I’m happy to be back. We have a good group of guys and we’re already building chemistry.”
Now it’s up to head coach Karon Bradley, also a former Shocker, and general manager Tien Huynh to find a way to mesh the different era of Shockers — from the early Marshall-era ones like Durley, Stutz, Hannah and Murry to the golden generation of Tekele Cotton, Cleanthony Early and Malcolm Armstead to the 2018 class of Conner Frankamp, Shaquille Morris, Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly.
But the group is confident it will be an easy transition since they all come from the same coach and the same Play Angry style.
“I think we all try to stay somewhat close to the program,” Stutz said. “I come back every summer and work out with the players, so I try to stay close that way. I’m still really close with coach Marshall and the guys on the team now, even (Gregg’s son) Kellen Marshall. It’s like one big family atmosphere here.”