Gregg Marshall might have the most diverse roster of his 13-year tenure this season with the Wichita State men’s basketball team.
The Shockers have three international players, the most overseas players they’ve had under Marshall. They have a player who grew up on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. They have a player whose family migrated to America from the Northwest coast of Africa.
They have a player who was raised in New York City (population: 8.6 million) and a player who was raised in Saint Francis, Kansas (population: 1,304).
“This is a really neat group of young men and they do come from all over,” Marshall said. “It’s a melting pot. And it’s a really close group from what I can tell and they really enjoy being together and spending time with each other. They have fun in practice, or as much fun as you can have in our practices.”
Here are the stories of where the players on Wichita State come from and how they’ve come together on and off the floor.
Bringing ‘home’ to Wichita, Kansas
Jaime Echenique (Colombia), Asbjorn Midtgaard (Denmark) and Josaphat Bilau (France) are all a long way from their homes.
They’ve all found ways to bring a little piece of home with them to Wichita. For Bilau, that’s listening to French rap music. For Echenique, it’s frying rice with his meals. For Midtgaard, it is stockpiling salt licorice.
“You don’t really have salt licorice here, but it’s my favorite thing in the world when I get a cheat day,” Midtgaard said. “I remember I got some sent over freshman year and I made Shaq (Morris) try some and he hated it and spit it out. It was kind funny seeing something I love so much and he had to spit it out.”
Echenique can relate. His mother is a chef and he is usually cooking something in a home shared with teammates Erik Stevenson, Dexter Dennis and Morris Udeze. Echenique’s favorite Colombian food is fried plantains, not that he’s been able to convince his roommates.
“Sometimes you walk in the house and you smell Jaime cooking and you’re like, ‘Oh, that smells really good,’” Dennis said. “Sometimes he’ll be cooking steak or pork chop, but then he got me to try fried plantains and I didn’t even eat them.”
While their teammates might not always love the same things they do, Echenique said it’s important to him to retain his roots.
“I never forget where I come from or forget my people or my culture,” Echenique said. “That’s why I try to cook as much as I can. When I don’t want fast food, I go to the store and try to make the closest thing to Colombia it can look like.”
The different backgrounds have forced the Shockers to learn about different upbringings, different cultures and different styles. In a way, it’s made the team even closer.
“I love the diversity here on this team,” WSU sophomore Jamarius Burton said. “I feel like I’m always learning something new every day. I’ve learned things from the French culture, the Denmark culture, the Colombia culture that I wouldn’t have never learned if I didn’t play with these guys. I just love it.”
From big cities and small
Being friends with people from different races, cultures and backgrounds is nothing new to WSU freshman Tyson Etienne, who was raised in New York City.
“My dad calls me and my friend group ‘The United Nations’ because we have so many different backgrounds, different races,” Etienne said. “I was raised to never be one-dimensional, never allow people to put you in a box. I feel like I can always learn from different people from different cultures.”
Etienne said one of the first things he did after meeting Echenique was start taking Spanish lessons from him to learn a new language.
WSU redshirt freshman walk-on Tate Busse comes from Saint Francis, a tiny town in Northwest Kansas that has a Class 1A high school. Every other player on WSU comes from at least a mid-size city, so teammates constantly ask Busse what life was like coming from a small town.
He tells them about the work ethic instilled in the children and the tight-knit community. But Busse says he asks just as many questions and joining a team with so many different backgrounds has opened his view of the world.
“It’s kind of cool being the only one from a small town,” Busse said. “But it’s also cool seeing where all of these other dudes from from, like bigger cities and other countries. It’s honestly made me want to travel more when I get older to see what life is like.”
Growing up in a different culture
The hometown listed for Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler, a WSU sophomore center, is Omaha, Nebraska, but really he grew up on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.
Poor Bear-Chandler is part of the Oglala Lakota tribe and lived with his grandparents on a reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
“I did a lot of stuff that normal kids probably wouldn’t do,” Poor Bear-Chandler said. “I worked a lot outside, like hauling in wood and just becoming a man at an early age. That was a big thing they tried to teach me. Providing for my family and doing what you’re supposed to do for the elders.”
WSU freshman Noah Fernandes is another player with a hometown listed in one place (Mattapoisett, Mass.) but with a family whose background is elsewhere. While Fernandes and his parents were born in the United States, his grandparents were born in the Cape Verde islands on the Northwest coast of Africa before migrating to the New England area.
The Fernandes family made sure to keep their Cape Verde traditions and Fernandes has favorite dishes of jag (rice with beans), canja (chicken and rice soup), linguica (mild sausage) and cachupa (stew).
“It’s cool with a background that’s different, but honestly that’s why I wanted to come to Wichita,” Fernandes said. “I wanted to come to Wichita to experience something different.”
It’s a mindset that many of the Shockers can relate to, as Wichita State has seen its team chemistry continue to go up with so many players going through the same experiences.
“Of course the biggest culture you have to learn about is Wichita and America because that’s where we are,” Midtgaard said. “It’s cool to sit down and talk with teammates and we mention things and it’s like, ‘Wow, what’s going on over there because we do things different over here.’ It’s cool to see all of us come together and become one big family.”