Rashard Kelly pursued the basketball so aggressively last season, it masked the fact he needed to get stronger. He earned significant playing time before other Wichita State newcomers, thanks to his rebounding, even though his offensive skills needed polish.
Kelly put his offseason to good use improving those deficiencies and coach Gregg Marshall considers him possibly WSU’s most improved player. He is stronger, quicker and more of an offensive threat after summer practices wrapped up last week.
“I’m trying to be more useful offensively,” said Kelly, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward. “After having one year in the program under my belt, I understand situations better and what’s going on. Last year, as a freshman, you really didn’t know what your role was right away. This year, from an offensive standpoint, I’m more comfortable and more relaxed. I’m playing basketball, now.”
Kelly, from Fredricksburg, Va., averaged 2.9 points and made 49.4 percent of his shots last season. He largely scored on dunks and putbacks, with a few awkward post moves available. Kelly and coaches agreed on a plan for him to shoot 500 jumpers four or five days a week outside of practices. He stuck to that plan and said he made a high of around 397. Extending his arm and concentrating on proper follow-through is helping his accuracy.
“The more you shoot, the more confident you are and the bigger the goal gets for you,” he said.
On Tuesday, Kelly and fellow sophomore Shaq Morris ran the ramps underneath Cessna Stadium, a sight that made Marshall happy. Kelly averaged 2.9 rebounds and his 45 offensive rebounds ranked third on the team. So while Kelly displayed plenty of hustle, coach and player agreed he needed to get stronger and in better shape for his sophomore season. His weight remains around 232 pounds, but the pounds are distributed in a more athletic way, off his stomach and filling out his chest.
“My body needed to change,” he said. “I got a lot more cut up this summer and I’m able to run and be more explosive.”
Student labor — One of the features that makes the Missouri Valley Conference’s 10-year agreement with ESPN unique is its reliance on students to help with production of the broadcasts of all sports planned for ESPN3.
Communications and journalism departments, as well as others, will provide students to run cameras, direct and work with graphics and other production jobs. On-air roles, according to ESPN’s Ilan Ben-Hanan, will likely be small. The pairing of academics and athletics was a major selling point to university presidents when MVC officials first pitched this idea.
“We are incredibly excited about the expertise that ESPN will give us and the infusion of excitement of students getting involved in more and more production,” said Drake associate professor David Wright on Thursday’s conference call announcing the deal. “This is a new era. What I really am excited about it is it will put athletes and academics together at a greater level than we’ve ever before had at Drake.”
Ben-Hanan said student-driven broadcasts will meet viewer’s standards.
“I think we have an expectation that if fans are tuning in to a game, no matter how it’s produced, that it’s credible, that it’s professional, and that it is functional and allows fans to enjoy the game every bit as much as they would otherwise,” he said.
The MVC’s package of games on ESPN3 begins with volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball this year. All 10 schools will make all home games, not shown on other broadcast outlets such as Fox Sports or local stations, available to ESPN3. As schools improve their technology and capability, they will add more sports in future years.
“We’re going to tell stories that couldn’t be told on linear networks,” MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said. “We’re going to have opportunities to talk about individuals on campus, faculty members, students that are achieving in the classroom. I just think there’s going to be a whole new wave of opportunity to market and sell our schools.”
New role for WSU — WSU’s 1982 College World Series team is renowned for its starting rotation of Bryan Oelkers, Erik Sonberg and Don Heinkel.
Those three combined for 41 complete games in 62 starts on their way to a second-place finish in Omaha. When they did need relief, WSU turned to freshman Greg LaFever, who filled the role then known as “short relief.” The job goes by a more glamorous title these days.
“He was our closer before closers were really a thing,” WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said. “He had an immediate impact.”
LaFever, 51, died last week from cancer in Midwest City, Okla.
In 1982, he recorded nine saves, then a WSU record and ranking in a tie for third nationally, with a 1.69 ERA. He moved to the starting rotation as a sophomore and earned second-team All-MVC honors. LaFever, from Putnam West in Oklahoma City, followed that by going 7-3 with a 2.81 ERA and grabbing first-team honors as a junior.
Cleveland picked him in the 14th round of the 1985 draft and he spent four seasons in the minor leagues.
Worth noting — Jordan Farris, who started 40 games at second and third for WSU’s baseball team last season, will not return to WSU. He said, in a text message, that he did not plan to play baseball. Farris, from Ventura, Calif., hit .233 with one home run as a junior, his lone season at WSU. Farris lost his starting position in late April and recorded 14 at-bats in WSU’s final 18 games.… Chase County High catcher Cassidy Kelsheimer, who will play softball for WSU this season, earned a spot on the MaxPreps Small Schools All-American team. She hit .540 as a senior with 35 RBIs.