A scrimmage and an exhibition give Wichita State basketball coaches two important markers to evaluate their team as the regular season starts. Much of the summer and fall seemed to be about waiting for the newcomers to catch up to the veterans.
Now coaches can look at how their roster fits together as one unit, instead of watching how the newcomers compete against veterans in practice. The 11th-ranked Shockers played TCU in a closed scrimmage in late October and defeated NAIA Northwood (Fla.) 112-55 on Saturday. With eight scholarship newcomers, six of them freshmen, the scrimmage and exhibition offered more value than in other seasons.
“I’d love to have two or three more of these, to be honest,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We’re bringing in some really good teams. This is a good start.”
For the newcomers, games offer a relief from practices where they are matched against players with much more experience in the WSU system. It can be difficult for freshman guard Corey Henderson Jr. to shine when he is trying to guard Fred VanVleet and run a team full of newcomers, while being defended by VanVleet.
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“One new guy and four returners is better than four new guys and one returner,” VanVleet said. “For them to get out there and mesh with us … it takes the pressure off them and just allows them to be able to do what they do best. It’s easy for them to let us do most of the work and let their talents come along.”
When Henderson plays with the veterans, his best attribute, shooting, can be maximized and his deficiences are covered by teammates. Freshman forward Rashard Kelly or junior center Bush Wamukota need only focus on rebounding, defense and screening when they play with VanVleet and Ron Baker. The guards will take care of almost everything else, including getting him the ball in a good position to score.
“That veteran group has a great cohesiveness, and then putting in one or two new guys with that group is fairly easy to do,” Marshall said.
Saturday’s win, while against an overmatched, travel-weary team, revealed a few items about how WSU’s rotation might shake out on Friday against New Mexico State at Koch Arena. The starting five is set and the questions revolve around how Marshall chooses to hand out minutes off the bench.
Junior Evan Wessel started at power forward and took a charge early in the game and made his only three-pointer. Freshman center Rauno Nurger earned first call among the newcomers off the bench and played hard and showed desirable offensive skills, even though he missed all three of his three-pointers. Freshman forward Kelly grabbed six rebounds in 13 minutes and redshirt freshman guard Ria’n Holland’s 16 points overshadowed an energetic defensive effort. Henderson, bidding to help out at point guard behind VanVleet and Baker, scored 11 points in 14 minutes and handed out two assists.
“(Nurger) plays real hard and tries to compete on every possession,” Marshall said. “He’s hard to guard. He can put the ball on the floor a little bit. He can score around the basket.”
Holland played 21 minutes, most of any newcomer, and made 6 of 7 shots and all four of his three-pointers. He was determined to add energy and defense to his excellent shooting ability.
“In my head, I’m thinking that it’s time to go now and I’m going to show that my redshirt year paid off,” he said. “We’re going against the same people in practice every day, so it feels good and it feels like you’re ready to go against somebody else and get after it.”
Signing day — Four athletes plan to sign with WSU on Wednesday, first day of the signing period.
Forward Eric Hamilton will sign at a ceremony at Sunrise Christian Academy on Wednesday morning. Guard Landry Shamet, of Park Hill (Mo.) and Tyrone Taylor, of Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy, will also sign Wednesday morning. Forward Markis McDuffie will sign late Wednesday morning at St. Anthony (N.J.).
WSU’s baseball program has non-binding commitments from eight pitchers and five position players. They are Heights pitcher Keylan Killgore, third baseman Clay Richards of Cashion, Okla., Savannah (Mo.) pitcher Clayton McGinness, Omaha Roncalli third baseman/first baseman Alex Bohm, Olathe South catcher Noah Croft, Maize pitcher Connor Lungwitz, DeSoto pitcher Greyson Jenista, Rockhurst (Mo.) shortstop Luke Ritter, McKinney (Texas) North pitcher Gabe Constantine, outfielder Dayton Dugas from Sam Houston (La.) High, Frisco (Texas) Liberty pitcher Robby Evans, Wabash Valley (Ill.) College Zach Lewis and Central Arizona College lefty Justin Seiwald.
Coaches are not allowed to comment on athletes until they receive a signed letter of intent.
Hamilton is one of eight Sunrise players who will sign with an NCAA Division I school. He joins Nico Carvacho (Colorado State), Matthew Neufeld (Saint Louis), Jahmal McMurray and Luis Santos (South Florida), Roosevelt Smart (Loyola), Nathan Bain (Stephen F. Austin) and Dupree McBrayer (Minnesota).