A void in leadership was left on the Wichita State men’s basketball team upon the graduations of Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones this year.
The Shockers were one of the youngest teams in the country (and returned the sixth-fewest minutes) last season. WSU’s roster got slightly older this season, with seven returners, but 10 of 13 scholarship players are freshmen or sophomores.
Jaime Echenique is the team’s lone senior, but like the five sophomores, he’s entering just his second year with the program. Junior Asbjorn Midtgaard actually has the most experience on the team as a three-year player.
So who is the leader for the 2019-20 Shockers? The Eagle asked coaches and players that question at the team’s media day on Tuesday and the consensus was that it’s a collective leadership approach this season.
“It’s pretty well-distributed at this point,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Our guys come out very enthused, energetic and vocal. There’s a lot of excitement right now. But I would say all of the upperclassmen. They know what it takes, how hard they have to work. We’ve got a lot of guys that are trying to pick up where Samajae and especially Markis left off last year from a leadership perspective.”
According to the players, there are different leaders for different situations.
For example, Echenique and Midtgaard are the voices for the big men. It’s unlikely either will say much to the whole team, but if they notice something that could help a younger post player then they speak up.
“I try to jump in when I see a need,” Midtgaard said. “But mostly I go in and do my work, do my 100% and show the guys that this is what we need to do to win games.”
Last season, Marshall had to thrust Jamarius Burton, Erik Stevenson and Dexter Dennis into action as true freshmen. Their next challenge? Becoming leaders as sophomores.
After all, Dennis (908 minutes), Burton (889) and Stevenson (811) have more minutes played at the Division I level than any other player on the Shockers.
“They all know what they’re doing now,” Marshall said. “They’re a little more comfortable. They know what college basketball is about and they know what practice is all about. They know traveling, playing at home, playing on the road, the routine.
“They have been very vocal in trying to lead this group. As much as we miss Markis and Samajae, they’re gone. I think the leadership is not an issue right now. We’ve filled that void very well and we’ll see how well those guys can lead us in the season when it really matters.”
Dennis and Burton are talking more in practice this season, but many of the returners are leading by their practice habits. Dennis brings the same energy and enthusiasm to every practice, which in turn has rubbed off the rest of the Shockers and been his contribute to leading.
But when it comes to who will stand up in adversity and deliver the rah-rah speech, teammates say Stevenson has emerged as that kind of leader for the team. Freshman Tyson Etienne was also mentioned for having a voice in practice, but Stevenson was the most common answer for which player will be the vocal leader on the team.
Stevenson says it’s a role he’s comfortable with and one that he’s looking forward to assuming this season for the Shockers.
“It’s always been my thing, but last year I couldn’t really say much because I wasn’t really producing,” Stevenson said. “The way I look at it, if I’m producing, I can talk. So this year I can say stuff because I’ve got that experience and I know what I’m doing and I’m going to be producing this year.”