Every time I break down one of the teams in the Shocker Invitational – the 16-team tournament will commence sometime after the first of the year on a Play Station or X-Box near you – I fall in love with the team.
It’s no different with Team 3, which I believe will be viewed by most as an also-ran but is a team, with the right coach, that could make a push.
The right coach?
Let me explain.
This team includes 6-foot-8 John Smith as its center and 6-7 Jamie Arnold as its power forward. I’ve been around Shocker basketball for a long time, and these are the only two players I remember who stormed off for the locker room during a game.
Smith did it during a game against Tulsa during the 1992-93 season, a game I was covering. I’ll never forget it because I spent all of the second half waiting for him to emerge from the locker room instead of watching the second half of a game Tulsa was winning.
Arnold had two productive seasons in 1994-94 and 1994-95, but battled injuries in 1995-96, then clashed with new WSU coach Randy Smithson in 1996-97 and lasted only 22 games before being dismissed from the team. I can’t remember whether Arnold left the floor during a game or didn’t return to the bench after halftime of a game, but he was seen later eating a hot dog in the stands behind the Shockers’ bench in the second half.
I never regarded Smith or Arnold as bad guys. I regarded them as victims of some bad circumstances as they were Shockers during a time in history when the team was historically bad.
But they were good players.
Smith, a top recruit out of Columbia, S.C., averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds as a freshman in 1991-92. Good stuff. But he fell off statistically and emotionally as a sophomore, averaging 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. And then he was gone, transferring to VCU.
Arnold, from Oak Park, Mich., averaged 11.7 points and nine rebounds as a freshman in 1993-94 and improved to 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds as a sophomore. He looked to have NBA talent.
But Arnold had a mind of his own and it didn’t always mesh with what the coach was thinking. He finished his WSU career with 1,046 points and 749 rebounds while shooting 50.1 percent from the field.
Smith and Arnold, thus, are wild cards for Team 3. Can they mesh with their teammates? Are they willing to sacrifice? Or are they going to take their balls and go home if things go awry?
Their teammates are good ones.
Ron Washington, one of the most underrated Shockers in history, is at the small forward.
Washington, who played at WSU from 1965-69, played at Parker High in Chicago and put together outstanding back-to-back seasons for the Shockers in 1967-68 (20.6 points, 8.2 rebounds) and 1968-69 (20.6 points, 10.3 rebounds).
Washington was a spindly 6-5, 160 pounds but he could shoot and he was creative in finding shots. And despite his lack of bulk, he used creativity to rebound, too.
Murry, now with the New York Knicks, had an outstanding Shocker career playing for Gregg Marshall from 2008-12. He averaged 11.1 points and passed Warren Armstrong as WSU’s career leader in assists with 430. Murry also ranks second all-time in steals and 11th in points.
But the best player on this team might be its point guard, Van Eman, who averaged 14 points per game over 80 games from 1958-62.
Van Eman is famous for making a game-winning shot against Cincinnati in 1961 that ended a 27-game Bearcats winning streak. He played at a time before assists were an official statistic.
Van Eman, from McKeesport, Pa., was a career 44.7 percent field-goal shooter and made 82.6 percent of his free throws (261 of 316) as a Shocker. And he was usually at his best in Wichita State’s biggest games.
This is a good team, isn’t it? Van Eman and Murry are a terrific backcourt combination. Washington can really score and rebound.
Smith and Arnold are the wild cards. But both have the talent to really help Team 3. I know this: I wouldn’t want to draw this team in the first round, provided nobody storms off the floor for the locker room in the middle of the game.