Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Evan Wessel and all of the Wichita State Shockers gave Margaret Litan’s father a second chance to see the team in the Final Four before he died at age 101.
For that, she and her family will be “forever grateful,” she said Saturday.
“They brought so much joy,” Litan said, unsuccessfully fighting back tears. “It’s very tough.”
They brought so much joy. It’s very tough.
Margaret Litan, unsuccessfully fighting back tears during WSU’s senior day celebration
Senior recognition ceremonies at basketball games are, largely, emotional only for the families of the players involved.
But when your seniors include arguably some of the most iconic Shockers of all time, things are a little different.
During their careers, the Shockers – led by seniors Baker and VanVleet – went to the Final Four, had an undefeated regular season, and executed a fan-satisfying win over the University of Kansas.
In the process, the team’s off-the-court demeanor has endeared it to the entire community, fans said Saturday.
“These are some of the finest young men I’ve ever seen, and that all goes back to how you recruit,” said Steve Cohlmia, who said he has attended Shocker games for more than 50 years. “They’re a great testimony to the university.”
Saturday’s rout of Illinois State was the last time this senior class – which also includes senior transfer Anton Grady and Bush Wamukota – will play in Koch Arena, but fans said they are confident the team will make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in March.
I have a feeling in about a month or so we’ll be back here for a big celebration.
Bob Litan, Wichita State fan
“The season’s not over yet,” said Bob Litan, Margaret’s husband. “We have games to play.
“I have a feeling in about a month or so we’ll be back here for a big celebration.”
Postseason play begins Friday, when the Shockers compete in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis.
In a video at halftime of Saturday’s game, the players thanked the Wichita community.
“Thank you for embracing me and making me part of this family,” said Grady, who transferred to WSU after playing four seasons at Cleveland State.
“I’ve been around the Valley for five years and seen a lot of arenas – I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Wessel said in the video.
Baker thanked the Shocker program and the city of Wichita for making his family feel at home.
“There’s been a lot of bumps in the road,” said Baker, a native of Scott City. “They’ve really appreciated my success here, and I owe a lot to them.”
Margaret Litan said she has seen Baker “as the son I never had.”
“It does feel like you’re losing family,” she said. “I know they’re all ready to move on with their lives and their basketball careers, but for me, I just want them to stay here until they’re 35. They could get a coaching job or something.
“I don’t want to see them leave home.”
VanVleet, Baker, Wessel, Grady and Wamukota received framed jerseys after the game as they walked across the court with their families.
Even the fact that WSU has five seniors speaks to the type of program the university has, fans say.
“We don’t have one-and-dones here,” Cohlmia said, referring to players who compete one year at the college level before leaving to play professionally.
Bobbye Coleman, who said she was one of the founding members of the “Shockettes” spirit group from 1972 to 1974, said she has faith that the Shockers’ younger players will step up next year.
“They’re not going to have Fred, they’re not going to have Baker, not going to have Wessel … they look up to these guys and they want to prove it continues,” she said.
“We’ll continue to follow our Shockers.”
About five minutes before the game ended, WSU coach Gregg Marshall had his five seniors playing together. Then, one by one, they were substituted out for bench players so each could be recognized by the sell-out crowd of 10,506.
VanVleet was the last to go.
When the seniors once again took the court, this time to be recognized for helping transform the program, there were tears in the arena.
A lot of them.
Betsy Gwin, a WSU alumna, said she had to “go for the tissues.”
They’ve become a part of who we are as a city and as a university, so it’s hard to see them go.
Betsy Gwin, Wichita State fan
“It’s like part of your family’s moving on, isn’t it?” Gwin said. “You get so attached to them, whether you really know them or not.
“They’ve become a part of who we are as a city and as a university, so it’s hard to see them go.”