Bob Lutz

Durley finally grows up

It's true, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

But in some cases, you get a first chance to make a second impression.

Wichita State junior center J.T. Durley is living proof. He couldn't have made a worse first impression with his basketball coach, Gregg Marshall.

In a meeting shortly after Marshall was hired in April 2007, Durley informed the new coach that he was only capable of doing so much because he was lazy.

Yes, he used the L-word.

Durley had just finished a redshirt season with the Shockers while rehabilitating his injured right knee and he didn't seem to be in much of a hurry to impress the new guy in charge.

"Let's just say that I wasn't overly impressed with J.T. the first time we talked,'' Marshall said. "He would readily admit to you back then that he was lazy. Now that's not something coaches want to hear. It's a word I told him I never wanted to hear again. But he seemed to be very cognizant that it was the truth and he didn't mind sharing it.''

Durley probably would have been on the first bus back to his hometown, Pittsburg, Texas, except that Marshall had little in the cupboard. So he had to stick with Durley and hope something would click.

Marshall kept hoping through countless individual meetings with Durley, during which he preached everything but the gospel.

When the 2007-08 season started, Marshall didn't see in Durley a player who was anything more than a stop-gap to help get through a difficult first season.

Durley played in all 31 games, but until near the end of the season he played just like he promised — lazy.

"Hearing somebody tell you they're lazy is a new one for a coach,'' Marshall said. "I just don't know how many coaches have heard a player utter that word.''

In hindsight, the 6-foot-7 Durley thinks he knows now what he was doing when he copped to his lethargy.

"I was crying out for help,'' he said. "That's what Coach Marshall tells me now and now that I understand things better, I think he was right.''

Durley didn't have to do too much to pile up big numbers at Pittsburg High, where he lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track. School wasn't that hard, either.

WSU was Durley's first glimpse into a faster-paced world and it almost swallowed him.

He was overwhelmed by his classes and unsure of himself on the basketball court.

Eventually, Shocker teammate P.J. Couisnard took an interest in Durley, pushing him to be something more.

Marshall kept pushing, too, and a cousin from home, Rell Porter, wasn't shy about giving his opinion, either.

Eventually, Durley's motor started. And once in a while, it even revved.

By the end of his freshman season, Durley was at least engaged. And from there, he has continued to get better and better.

It's to the point where now, heading into the 2009-10 season, that Durley is a team leader and potentially a go-to player.

"It's really unbelievable,'' Marshall said. "He's come a long way.''

Durley had a nice sophomore season, averaging 8.9 points and shooting more than 50 percent from the field. But he didn't rebound as well as he needs to and still occasionally had that defensive lapse that looked, well, lazy.

But they didn't happen often and have all but disappeared, Marshall said, during offseason workouts and early-season practices.

"I think I just grew up,'' Durley said.

Durley almost left WSU after Marshall's first season, though he had adapted some to Marshall's ways. But not enough to win over the coach, and Durley doubted how much more he could offer.

"We went 11-20 and it was a tough year, especially for me,'' Durley said. "Coach Marshall was always on me and everything had turned negative in my eyes, so I didn't want to be around it.''

Couisnard, who had just finished his eligibility, implored Durley to stay. Marshall was happy because he thought a breakthrough was coming.

Finally, Durley exorcised his laziness.

Now he's a svelte 240 pounds, primed to have a big junior season for an improving basketball team.

Marshall loves what he sees. Better yet, he believes what he sees.