Wichita State's baseball team stole a lot of bases last season — 106 to rank in a tie for 14th nationally.
A repeat performance might cost Billy Hall a few bucks.
Hall is WSU's new student coach, and running the bases is his specialty. He led the NCAA in steals with 59 in 1991. He added to that resume with 591 in 14 minor-league seasons.
His expectations are high for WSU in 2012. His buddies in pro baseball are also expecting big things on the basepaths — or they get dinner at a restaurant of their choice.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"If WSU doesn't lead the nation in stolen bases, I lose a bet," Hall said. "They'll take me some place I'll have to spend $200 for dinner."
Hall isn't inheriting a bunch of plodders. Speed appears to be WSU's top offensive asset. Kevin Hall (24 steals), Don Lambert (20), Tyler Coughenour (11) and Walker Davidson (10) return.
Hall is excited to pass on his secrets, learned during a career that got him to Triple-A. Speed isn't everything.
"The speed factor, later in my career, had nothing to do with it," Hall said. "I was injured, and still able to steal bases."
Hall said former big-leaguer Otis Nixon turned him into a serious student of steals during a spring-training game in 1994. Nixon told him he was going to steal second and third off pitcher Rick Helling — and he wanted Hall to watch and tell him how he did it.
Hall said Nixon stole both bases without drawing a throw. After he scored, he quizzed Hall.
"Now I'm terrified," Hall said. "I didn't see nothing."
Hall confessed. Nixon instructed. Hall dedicated himself to watching pitchers and learning their tells.
"That whole spring training, I figured it out and I said I was going to be the best in baseball at this," Hall said. "There are little keys, that if you pick them up, you'll know what the pitcher is doing, going home or to first."
WSU coach Gene Stephenson talked to Hall, who played for Northwest High and Butler Community College before WSU, for several years about finishing his degree. Hall is 10 hours short. The timing is right, and Stephenson is thrilled to have his former All-America second baseman back. Hall, 42, spent recent years teaching baseball in New Jersey. He often returned to work WSU camps.
"We've had a lot of guys fast, and a lot of those guys didn't have a very good feel for the game," Stephenson said. "Perhaps, he can help give a little bit different perspective about what to look for and how you handle yourself."
Hall played little as a junior at WSU, waiting his turn behind future major-leaguers P.J. Forbes, Mike Lansing and Pat Meares. He surprised everybody the next season with a star turn. If there's a current Shocker who feels buried on the bench, Hall can relate. After the 1990 season, he played summer ball and came back a different player for 1991. Stephenson said Hall improved as much as any player did in a short time in his tenure at WSU, largely because he learned so quickly.
"I had a plan," Hall said. "I know what it's like to go from nothing to somebody everybody is counting on every day."
That background gives Hall an affection for the game Stephenson will welcome into the dugout.
"He is very self-motivated," Stephenson said. "He understands the sacrifices you have to make to be a great player. He understands the great joy, and love, you must have for the game. He'll be fun."
Close to home — Heights senior forward Gavin Thurman is moving deliberately in his search for a college basketball future.
Wichita State is high on list. Thurman (6-foot-7, 205 pounds) will visit Iowa on Sept. 3 and Colorado State on Sept. 10. He wants to take three other visits, one to WSU and perhaps Oklahoma State and Nebraska.
"Right now, I'm trying to take it slow," he said. "At times I really like having the attention and the calls and recognizing that my hard work is paying off."
Other times, the demands are a hassle.
Thurman knows what he is looking for in a school. He wants coaches who will be there for his career. He wants to know how many other players they are recruiting at his position.
"I want to make sure I'm going to get down there and play," he said.
Thurman wants to stay close to home, and his list of favorites backs that up.
"I like having my parents come and watch me play," he said. "It's real important."
WSU is on his list for more reasons than location. He is a regular at games and grew up watching the excitement surrounding the Shockers rise.
"I like how it's a program that is in a building process, getting better and better each year," he said.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery also made a good impression. McCaffery is in his second season after moving from Siena.
"I like their coaching staff," Thurman said. "I feel like I can fit right in."
Thurman, who transferred to Heights from Southeast, averaged 18.5 points and 6.2 rebounds as a junior.
Exhibition season — Four MVC schools, besides Wichita State, took foreign tours this summer.
* Creighton went 4-0 in the Bahamas, playing without center Gregory Echenique, who is with the Venezuelan National team. Sophomore Doug McDermott averaged 26 points. Redshirt freshman center Will Artino averaged 10.3 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Avery Dingman finished up with a 24-point effort and averaged nine points and five rebounds.
* Drake went 1-3 in Australia and New Zealand. Sophomore guard Rayvone Rice dominated the scoring for the Bulldogs, averaging 20.7 points. Center Seth VanDeest, recovering from a shoulder injury, did not play.
* Illinois State went 2-2 in Canada. Junior guard Tyler Brown, a transfer, averaged 11.5 points with highs of 19 and 16.
* Northern Iowa went 5-0 in Brazil, not playing common opponents with WSU.