The last week has been a sentimental one for P.J. Cousinard, who starred for the Shockers from 2004-08 and returned to be a coaching adviser for the Wichita State alumni team, the Aftershocks, in The Basketball Tournament.
Being back in Wichita, hearing the roar of the Koch Arena crowd one more time, hanging out with the former WSU players who followed him was a thrill for Couisnard, who now runs an AAU program in Houston.
While Houston is his hometown, Wichita is Couisnard’s home away from home.
“I came from nothing, literally the bottom of the bottom,” Couisnard said. “So coming here and getting love from the fans, being accepted by a whole new culture and given a whole new realm of life, that was so incredible. That’s why I invested so much in this program. I gave everything I had. I played through broken bones, anything for my black and gold.”
Couisnard is most fondly remembered as a key component of the Shockers’ 26-win Cinderella run to the 2006 Sweet 16. But he also holds the important distinction as the bridge between the Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall eras.
The final two years of his playing career did not end like Couisnard wanted: WSU went 17-14 in Turgeon’s last year, his junior season, then the Shockers were decimated by injuries and limped to an 11-20 finish in Marshall’s first season.
Couisnard wasn’t recruited to WSU by Marshall, but in a lot of ways it felt like he was. Marshall has said that he couldn’t have picked a better leader for his first team and Couisnard felt the same way about his new coach.
“Playing for Coach Marshall is like playing for nobody else,” Couisnard said. “There’s nothing like it. We were both kind of the same people. You cannot be soft and hang around Coach Marshall. It won’t work. I think he saw that I was tough and he took care of me and I became one of his guys. To this day, whenever he sees me, he still makes sure people know that I’m one of his guys.”
Couisnard, a 6-foot-4 guard, averaged a career-high 13.4 points and led the 2007-08 Shockers in scoring. Injuries wiped out most of his supporting cast that season, so it wasn’t a surprise he saw an uptick in scoring, but Couisnard said Marshall had a way of realizing potential and pushing players until they reached their ceiling.
Following WSU, Couisnard carved out a successful professional career with a two-year stint in Hungary. But he believes it could have been even better with more time with Marshall.
“If I would have played three or four years with him, I would have been a big-time pro,” Couisnard said. “He tells me that all the time and I believe it without a doubt because of the confidence he gives you and the way he makes you work is second to none.”
Despite only spending one year together, the bond between Couisnard and Marshall has only strengthened over time. They still talk regularly and Marshall is happy to help Couisnard with whatever he needs, whether that help is related to basketball or not.
When Hurricane Harvey flooded the Houston area in 2017, Marshall was one of the first people to text Couisnard to make sure he was OK.
“You don’t forget stuff like that,” Couisnard said. “You couldn’t ask for a better coach to play for and a better mentor with the way he’s helped me out and the things he does for his guys. He supports everything I do with helping the kids from my neighborhood. I would definitely say he’s one of the people I lean on.”
Couisnard said he’s even structured his AAU program, Cooz Elite, around Marshall’s way of coaching.
“The No. 1 thing in our program, just like in Coach Marshall’s, is you cannot be soft,” Couisnard said. “Kids from my neighborhood, you already have a lot of different things you have to overcome, so you cannot be a soft kid. It’s not even about the X’s and O’s. As long as you’re tough enough, you’re going to win games.”
So when the opportunity to return to Wichita and spend time with Marshall and hang out with former Shockers presented itself, Couisnard couldn’t turn it down.
Although he wasn’t teammates with any of the Aftershocks, he hosted Toure’ Murry, Clevin Hannah and J.T. Durley on their recruiting visits to WSU and helped recruit them to WSU.
Cousinard is still a huge fan of Shocker basketball and has watched closely over the years, taking a particular liking to players like Tekele Cotton, Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly. A highlight of the past week was connecting with all three of those players on the Aftershocks.
“I feel like we’re all kind of the same type of player, so we bonded real quick hanging out,” Couisnard said. “(WSU strength and conditioning coach Kerry Rosenboom) was telling me that Tekele was just like me back in the day, just a warrior in the weight room. He’d come in arm hurt and still want to lift everything. That was pretty cool to hear we were alike that way too.”
While Couisnard, now 35, is retired from his playing days, he did get a chance to prove what he can still do in pickup sessions with the Aftershocks in preparation for the games.
Couisnard’s picture is prominently featured close to the WSU team locker room at Koch Arena, so the former players were eager to see what the star could do. Couisnard proved he still had it, knocking down a pair of game-winners the first night he played.
That was fun, but Couisnard said he couldn’t stop smiling because he was back at Koch Arena.
“It’s not a bad place to be,” Couisnard said, grinning. “Not a bad place at all.”