The Wichita State men’s basketball team started its first full practice of the 2019-20 season Tuesday at Koch Arena.
But coach Gregg Marshall isn’t planning an all-out affair for the Shockers. Instead, Marshall said he actually toned things down this week.
That’s because WSU is so far ahead of schedule at this point of the season compared to years past. A 2018 rule change allows college basketball teams to practice four hours per week (up from two) during the summer.
Marshall said those four hours were used efficiently by the Shockers, who are transitioning six newcomers — five freshmen and a junior-college transfer — to the program.
WSU has its Saturday scrimmage at 11 a.m. on Oct. 5, then plays its lone exhibition game against Northeastern State on Oct. 29. The first regular-season game is Nov. 5 at Koch Arena against against Omaha.
“The new rule has come along at a wonderful time,” Marshall said Tuesday.
“We’re way ahead because of all of the work we’ve been able to do this summer. We’re way ahead of where we would be in the past. In the past, you did it the Friday closest to October 15 and then you just went full bore because you didn’t really have them until then.
Marshall said the rule also helped last season’s team, which had a rocky 7-5 start in nonconference play and then lost six of its first seven games in the American Athletic Conference.
WSU ended the season winning 14 of 18 games, which included a trip to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals in New York City.
“You didn’t see it early in the season last year, but by the end of the season you saw some marked improvement,” Marshall said. “Well, that doesn’t happen unless you’re able to practice a couple hours in June and July.
“We were able to do that again this year and this group of new players have picked things up very well. Maybe we’ve taught it a little slower and a little more thoroughly. Hopefully adding their talent and their understanding of what we’re trying to do, you won’t see quite as slow of start as we had last year.”
WSU is still extremely young — 10 of 13 scholarship players are freshmen or sophomores — but this season they have more returning experience.
Jaime Echenique, a 6-foot-11 senior center, averaged 9.2 points and 6.0 rebounds last season and has fully healed from a foot injury that slowed him at the end of last season. Dexter Dennis, Jamarius Burton, Erik Stevenson, Morris Udeze and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler are expected to carry a larger load this year as sophomores. Asbjorn Midtgaard, a 7-foot junior, is the longest-tenured player in the program and showed flashes during conference play last season.
The main challenge facing WSU is replacing the scoring load left by McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones, who averaged a combined 30 points. Marshall said Tuesday he isn’t sure if the answer is one or two players, but he does feel more confident having so many returning players as options.
“It takes a little stress off because we’ve got some guys who you know how they’re going to react to live bullets,” Marshall said. “Last year we just threw them in. They had never experienced Koch Arena, never experienced going on the road, never experienced college basketball. Now we have more guys who we know what to expect from when we get in real competitive situations.”
The Shockers also add an influx of talent with Marshall’s highly regarded recruiting class. Trey Wade is a junior-college transfer who is expected to soak up many of the minutes left behind by Markis McDuffie at power forward. Tyson Etienne, Grant Sherfield and Noah Fernandes are all talented guards, while DeAntoni Gordon and Josaphat Bilay are skilled forwards.
Marshall was complimentary of the talent and intelligence level of the newcomers, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been perfect. The freshmen guards in particular have drawn the ire of Marshall in recent practices after failing to get back on defense after missing a shot and allowing the other team to execute a fast break layup.
“To me, that’s just a simple knowledge of basketball,” Marshall said. “It doesn’t really make sense with the intelligence that these freshmen play with, but we just have to have them understand you’re not offensive rebounding as a point guard. You’re always back between the top of the key and the middle circle, making sure to keep everything in front of you. We call deeper than the deepest, so they don’t let them lay the ball in or dunk it. We want to make them take a highly contested jump shot.”
Marshall also updated the offseason injury report:
- Udeze has fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his freshman season. “Mo’s shoulder is fine,” Marshall said. “He’s really looking good.”
- Echenique and Midtgaard both dealt with foot injuries and “were shut down awhile” this offseason, but both are fine now.
- Etienne and Fernandes have both battled sprained ankles this summer. Etienne is fully recovered now, while Fernandes sat out Monday’s practice but Marshall said he expected him to return on Tuesday.
All in all, Marshall was upbeat and sounding optimistic about the new-look Shockers heading into the first full practice.
“But we’ve got 70% of our system in and it’s only September 24. Now it’s a matter of backing off a little bit and I’ve got to be smart because when you go a lot in June and July, there’s very little time off. I have to make sure they’re not pounding themselves too much, so we’ll do more dummy stuff and 5-on-0 stuff opposed to combat.”