The day is coming when Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Evan Wessel will be former Wichita State basketball players.
As a Shocker fan, you’ve thought about this inevitability, even when your brain doesn’t want to.
Baker and VanVleet have been transformative players and Wessel is a hometown kid with a knack for winning.
If anything can slow down the Gregg Marshall Express, isn’t it losing three players like this?
Maybe. But don’t bet on it.
“The last time we lost five seniors,” Marshall said, “we went to the Final Four.”
Sure, the Shockers have another glorious season ahead with the three seniors. There are fans marking days off the calendar until the Nov. 13 opener against Charleston Southern at Koch Arena. But the excitement is at least a little bit tempered by the looming end of the college road for three special players.
Marshall talked about the future, and a lot of other things, last week. There are probably coaches who would start to forewarn a fan base about the heavy losses to come.
Not Marshall, riding high with success and confidence.
“We’ll be losing five seniors this year, too,” Marshall said. “Besides Ron, Fred and Evan, Anton (Grady) and Bush (Wamukota) are seniors. But we have some good young players. The question will be whether they can rise to the level of some of these guys.”
In veterans Shaq Morris, Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown and Rauno Nurger, there is a foundation for the post-Ron/Fred/Evan era.
In transfers Conner Frankamp and Peyton Allen, there are promising wings waiting in the wings.
And with freshmen Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie, Eric Hamilton and Ty Taylor, there is an influx of young talent.
Marshall knows how to build. And no one has yet discovered how to tear the Shockers down.
“These freshmen are pretty talented,” Marshall said in his most under-selling tone.
But it’s difficult for him to contain his excitement over the players fans haven’t yet seen in a Shocker uniform.
Marshall’s eyes light up at the prospect of the 6-foot-8 McDuffie. He utters a few “oohs” when he talks about Shamet and compares his poise and maturity to that of Baker and VanVleet.
“He wants to be great,” Marshall said.
Frankamp, who transferred from Kansas after the fall semester in 2014, has only been able to practice so far. And practice. And practice some more.
He’ll make his WSU debut on Dec. 12 when the Shockers play Utah at Intrust Bank Arena.
I wondered what it was like for Marshall to coach a Wichita high school legend like Frankamp, who at North became the City League’s career scoring leader.
“Maybe a little different, I suppose,” Marshall said. “Probably like coaching your sons a little bit.”
Marshall said Frankamp’s offensive game is as good as ever.
“It’s the other parts we’re working on,” he said. “He hits three threes in a row down there, but what are you doing up here? So he’s working on the defensive end, the toughness aspect. He listens, he tries. The thing is holding him accountable every possession at the defensive end. But he’s been great, great to work with.”
Marshall said he has encouraged Frankamp to hang around Baker, VanVleet and Wessel as much as he can, thinking he’s bound to pick up some extra toughness through osmosis.
He also encouraged Frankamp to emulate departed Shocker Tekele Cotton, who just may get into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame someday because of his defense.
“What I told Conner this summer was that Tekele isn’t nearly the offensive player you are,” Marshall said. “But on the other hand, you’re not nearly the player he was defensively and from a toughness and rebounding standpoint. So here’s what you should do, in my opinion. Continue to develop your offensive game, sharpen it up… but look at the things (Tekele) did to help us win and try to implement some of those into your game.”
Marshall also talked about the hiring of former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted as an assistant. He knows some wondered about bringing on a high school coach – it’s the first time he’s hired someone without Division I experience – but Marshall loves the recruiting upside, recognizing the unique nature of the choice.
“Yeah, maybe I’m full of myself or I’m overly secure or overly confident,” Marshall said. “I don’t need someone to call timeouts – we can take care of those things. What I do need is players.”
Lindsted’s connections, made while recruiting internationally for Sunrise, already have paid off in the commitment the Shockers recently received from guard C.J. Keyser, who played for Lindsted before moving to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for a post-graduate season in 2015-16.
“Here’s a guy,” Marshall said of Lindsted, “with a multitude of players that could have helped our program the past 3-4 years and we weren’t getting the pick of the litter. All of a sudden, he’s got players going to Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona.”
Marshall made no bones about being high on the list of Sunrise’s best players when he hired Lindsted. And he doesn’t expect that pipeline to dry up soon.
“Now there’s a very well-stocked pond that we have a tremendous hook to fish in,” Marshall said. “And it’s already paying off.”
Marshall said there’s not a lot of news to report about scheduling. There’s been no communication with Kansas, Kansas State or Creighton.
If there is to be, it won’t happen until Baker and VanVleet are gone, Marshall surmises.
He admitted it’s been hard to attract high-quality post players to Wichita State, although he believes Grady, Morris, Wamukota and Nurger will team up to provide myriad problems for opposing teams.
“It’s a little more difficult to get those aircraft carriers,” Marshall said. “The last couple of years we’ve kind of had to figure it out inside. With Shaq, there’s a little different mindset this year. And Bush has gotten much better. So has Rauno. It could be fun.”
The 6-7 Kelly, coming off an up-and-down freshman season, is Marshall’s pick for most-improved Shocker.
And Marshall was thrilled to land Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady, a 6-8 redshirt senior who will also be a key part of the Shockers’ interior game.
“When Ron and Fred decided they were coming back for their senior years, we knew we had that one scholarship available,” Marshall said. “I determined to try and do the best I could to give those guys an opportunity to go out with a crescendo, as high a note as they could possibly go out on. So we were thrilled to get Anton rather than a transfer who had to sit out or a freshman probably not ready to be a prime-time player.”
Marshall believes Grady is ready to be that.
“He’s not a Darius Carter-type, he’s different,” Marshall said. “He’s not as long. This kid has had two knee surgeries, so he plays more of an old-man game. But he uses his body well. He gets angles and he can use either hand.”
The crescendo is building.