Native sons of the Shockers

When Scott City’s Ron Baker andWichita Heights’ Evan Wessel were introduced as starters Monday night for Wichita State’s basketball team in an exhibition game against Pittsburgh State, I was excited.

There was a time when Shocker basketball had a strong mix of Wichita-area and state players. But those times came and went. Since

Cleo Littleton, from Wichita East, is the leading scorer in Wichita State history. He played for the Shockers from 1951-55 and is regarded as the greatest home-grown WSU player in history. Fellow Wichita native Antoine Carr would be in that argument, too.

Randy Smithson left as coach following the 2000-01 season the number of native Kansans on the Shockers’ roster has dropped off. And that has especially been true of Kansans who play key roles on the team.

I started going back through time to look for the last time two local players were in the starting lineup together regularly and came up with 1998-99, when Wichita South’s Darrin Williams and Wichita Collegiate’s Maurice Evans were starters. Evans averaged 22.6 points per game as a sophomore that season, which was his last in a Shocker uniform. He ended up transferring to Texas. Williams, the Shockers’ starting center, averaged 6.7 points.

To find the last time that two products of Kansas high schools averaged double figures together for Wichita State, you have to go all the way back to 1982-83. That’s when Wichita Heights products Antoine Carr and Aubrey Sherrod – Carr a senior and Sherrod a sophomore – averaged 22.6 and 15.3 points, respectively. Carr and Sherrod were also double-figure scorers on WSU’s 1982-83 team that went 25-3 but was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.

Kansans, of course, have been instrumental for the Shockers through the years, but definitely some years more than others.

Randy Smithson recruited the state’s high schools and junior colleges heavily. Eddie Fogler, who coached the Shockers to two NCAA Tournaments and one NIT during the late-1980s, did not. Turgeon tried to develop a Kansas pipeline, but with only sporadic success.

Current Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has also been serious about trying to get something going with close-to-home recruiting and is starting to show some success. Baker, a red-shirt freshman, and Wessel, a sophomore who did not play much last season, look to be cornerstone players for WSU in the coming years.

Ralph Miller, still regarded as the most successful Wichita State coach in history, was a great believer in local talent that he supplemented with the likes of Dave Stallworth and Nate Bowman. Wichita State’s 1964-65 Final Four team included five Kansans – Jamie Thompson (Wichita East), Kelly Pete (East), Dave Leach (McPherson), John Criss (Wichita Southeast) and Vernon Smith (Newton) – in key roles.

Thompson and Pete rank amongst the greatest Shockers ever and Leach is in that next tier.

Miller’s teams from the early- to mid-1950s were loaded with Wichita and Kansas players like Al Tate (Coffeyville), Ev Wessel (Wichita), Joe Stevens (Wichita), Don Lock (Kingman), Garry Mann (Wichita), Bob Hodgson (Scammon) and of course the great Cleo Littleton (Wichita).

There were many others.

It’s a bygone era thanks to national recruiting budgets and what seems like a stronger desire by local players to leave the area and the state.

There was a time when playing basketball at Wichita State was a dream-come-true for kids who grew up here or in the state. They knew they would be playing in front of packed houses and for teams that would be nationally recognized.

When that tradition slipped, more and more local players started leaving.

That’s why it was so refreshing to see a couple of Kansans in the starting lineup for the Shockers on Monday night. It was obvious from the crowd reaction that the Shocker faithful liked seeing the home-grown players, too.

Marshall understands the importance of keeping good local players at home and has done his best to recruit them. He went hard after Perry Ellis and Conner Frankamp, both of whom decided to stay in the state, but up the road in Lawrence. That’s good, too. It’s more special, I think, when one of the Kansas teams do well with at least a sprinkling of Kansas players.

Six outstanding Shocker home-grown duos

1. Antoine Carr and Aubrey Sherrod (1981-82, 1982-83)

2. Kelly Pete and Jamie Thompson (1964-65, 1965-66)

3. Cleo Littleton and Paul Scheer (1952-53, 1953-54)

4. Cleo Littleton and Bob Hodgson (1953-54, 1954-55)

5. Bob Hodgson and Joe Stevens (1955-56)

6. Terry Benton and Preston Carrington (1969-70, 1970-71)