Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Shockers’ newcomers show promise in limited playing time

Wichita State's Bush Wamukota powers up a shot despite the defense of Southern Illinois' K.C Goodwin (2) and Sean O'Brien in the second half Wednesday at Koch Arena.
Wichita State's Bush Wamukota powers up a shot despite the defense of Southern Illinois' K.C Goodwin (2) and Sean O'Brien in the second half Wednesday at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

There’s not a lot of minutes available for seven Wichita State newcomers who look like they might, in time, have a lot to offer.

That time, though, isn’t now. At least not for most of them.

On a team with veterans Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter and Evan Wessel, there’s no need to become impatient. Those five are going to play the bulk of the minutes.

But, of course, they can’t play all of them. And what we’re seeing of the young Shockers is a mixed bag. Sometimes WSU coach Gregg Marshall pulls out something really tasty, other times he has to spit out what he’s just begun to chew.

“I would love for all of these guys to play like Jabari Parker and all of those cats last year,” Marshall said after Wednesday night’s 67-55 WSU win over Southern Illinois at Koch Arena. “But it’s just not who we have. They’re going to be good players and they’re helping us win. You add them up and they’ve helped us go to 15-2 and 5-0 in the (Missouri Valley Conference).”

Seventeen games in seems like a good time to evaluate what the Shockers are getting – and what they might get – from seven of the eight first-year scholarship players. We haven’t seen enough of junior college transfer Tevin Glass to make an assessment.

Shaq Morris, redshirt freshman – The big guy (6-foot-7, 250 pounds) has easily been the most effective of the young Shockers, especially in the three games previous to Wednesday when he played 45 minutes combined against Illinois State, Bradley and Loyola. Morris had 10 points and seven rebounds, both season highs, against Bradley but was quiet against Southern Illinois with just two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.

“It wasn’t a great performance,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “I didn’t think Shaq was quite as inspired as he’s been.”

Morris raised expectations when he scored nine points in the season opener against New Mexico State. He went through a dry spell with just eights points and eight rebounds over a six-game stretch but has shown more lately. The challenge with Morris has been to keep him engaged and aggressive. He has had a tendency to not work as hard as Marshall wants him to. Then again, what freshman has worked as hard as Marshall wants him to?

Rashard Kelly, freshman – The 6-7 Kelly is no doubt an important part of the Shockers’ future. But like the rest of the newcomers, his playing time has been sporadic, especially of late. Kelly has made big shots against Hawaii and Alabama and goes after the ball on the glass, a characteristic Marshall loves. He looks like a future mainstay.

Zach Brown, freshman – Brown didn’t get off the bench in four of the Shockers’ first nine games, but his role has expanded in recent games. Against SIU, he had five points and two rebounds in 18 minutes.

Brown is a fantastic athlete and he’s playing with energy. I liked an aggressive drive he made to the basket Wednesday night, although he wasn’t able to score. Those are the kinds of plays, though, that indicate a player is beginning to feel more comfortable.

“He’s an athlete out there, a 6-6 wing player who can really impact the game,” Marshall said of the Sunrise Academy product who is from Houston.

Corey Henderson, freshman – By all accounts, Henderson knocks down shots from everywhere during practice. That hasn’t yet translated to games, when it sometimes appears the 6-2 Henderson is trying to do too much. Unlike Brown, he doesn’t have the look of a relaxed player and has made only 11 of 41 shots with just two assists and two steals.

Henderson’s production has to get better, but you can see the upside.

Rauno Nurger, freshman – The 6-10, 240-pound Estonian broke through with 15 points against Saint Louis at Intrust Bank Arena on Dec. 6 and we were eager to see what he would do for an encore.

Well, not much. He went scoreless in five minutes against Seton Hall and has been struggling to find his mojo since. Nurger didn’t enter Wednesday night’s game until the final minutes and missed the recent Illinois State and Bradley games because of illness.

The coaches, obviously, are intrigued by Nurger’s size and athleticism, but the production of late has been minimal.

Bush Wamukota, junior – The 6-11 junior college transfer has done about what was expected and provides a big defensive presence in the middle.

Ria’n Holland, redshirt freshman – Holland’s minutes have dropped off of late and you have to assume it’s because of defense. At 150 pounds, Holland struggles to guard bigger, more physical guards. He can shoot and made three three-pointers in a narrow loss to George Washington. But Holland hasn’t played more than eight minutes in a game since Dec. 23 against Hawaii.

With the five veterans, Marshall has been able to bring the new players along slowly, although he’s cognizant of not pushing them too slowly.

How they perform in practices dictates how much they get into games. They get a year to support five guys who score 69 percent of the points, grab 52 percent of the rebounds, hand out 77 percent of the assists and account for 78 percent of the steals.

But their time will come.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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