- Wichita State practiced for the final time on Tuesday afternoon, a one-hour session as allowed by NCAA rules. The players take a few weeks off before reporting back in mid-August for the start of school. Most, although not all, will head home for a few weeks. All teams practiced this summer, so WSU isn’t ahead of anybody. However, with five newcomers (plus three returners who didn’t play last season) the new rule allowing summer workouts came at the perfect time. ”We put a little bit of our offensive system in, and showed them how we want to defend,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It gives us a little bit of an advantage, with so many new guys, over starting fresh on Oct. 13.”
- Forward Cleanthony Early is WSU’s highest-profile newcomer after winning two NJCAA Division III Player of the Year honors at Sullivan (N.Y.) County Community College. Marshall describes Early as “raw” and said he made a lot of progress over the summer, in part because he had the most to learn. The task with Early, it appears will be adapting his natural talent and basketball instincts to the demands of Division I basketball. “I told him (Monday) he was probably the most improved from one day to the next, from the start,” Marshall said. “At the beginning, he may have been the worst out there. He had a considerable ways to go, but he certainly improved.” Marshall mentioned screening, cutting, defending, taking good shots as areas Early figured out over the summer.
- Junior center Chadrack Lufile, a transfer from Coffeyville, didn’t start practice until July. He impressed Marshall by showing up in shape. “He was a pleasant surprise,” Marshall said. “He’s going to have an impact. He’s in pretty good shape, and I was expecting him to come in out of shape and not ready for this. He was able to compete right away and not be a laggard out there.” First, let’s give Marshall points for using “laggard” as a description. Second, this is a significant development. We’ve all seen juco players struggle for most of their first season. Often, conditioning is one of the reasons. Lufile is ahead of the game if he can hustle and play hard for long periods of time.
- Guard Ron Baker, who redshirted last season, sat out most of July after having his appendix removed. He is cleared to shoot, so he did some things Tuesday but didn’t do any contact drills.
- Marshall mentioned several of the second-year players, such as Evan Wessel and Jake White, understanding the system and the demands of Shocker basketball better. Wessel, before a knee injury slowed him, made a good impression on coaches. “Last year, he practiced like he was going to walk out there and just dominate because he was better athletically,” Marshall said. “Then he gets here, and that’s not the case. He was able to figure that out. Now the pace of his practice, the pace that he comes off a screen, the pace that he goes into his jump shot is so much better than when he got here. There is a split-second in which you go from being unguarded to guarded, and it’s not even a split-second.”
- Freshman point guard Fred VanVleet is WSU’s top high school recruit. “Really solid,” Marshall said. “Easy to coach. He understands. Very competitive. Winner – that word keeps standing out.”
- I’ve written about Carl Hall’s improved offensive game. “Carl’s improved his skill level and his understanding from a year ago, it’s certainly apparent,” Marshall said.
- WSU will likely pair an exhibition game with a closed scrimmage, as it has done in recent seasons. Marshall wants to scrimmage Texas-Arlington in Wichita, as the Shockers did last year.
- I would call WSU’s non-conference schedule appropriate. It is a schedule that gives the Shockers a chance to win games and build, while testing them at several points. With eight players making their Shocker debut, this isn’t a team a coach wants to send to Maui in November (although a trip to VCU on Nov. 13 is no bargain). To a significant extent, WSU’s schedule is always going to be determined by its tournament and predetermined games with the BracketBusters and conference challenges. Getting Air Force in the MVC-MWC Challenge isn’t sexy. But teams can’t repeat opponents in the challenge and there are home/road matchups to factor in, so the mechanics of the series make it difficult for a great matchup every year. If you’re a season-ticket holder, unfortunately, you’re looking at seven non-conference games at Koch Arena and five appear to be games WSU should win with little suspense. The opponent who might be tougher than its name suggests is Charleston Southern, which returns four starters from a team that went 19-12. That’s not great for the ticket-buying public, but it appears to be WSU’s lot in life. It’s worth remembering two of those games are the price of admission for the spot in the Cancun Challenge.