Fall 2017

Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz '84 takes as his subject for his Fall/Winter 2017 Shocker sports column Coach Gregg Marshall's successful tenure at WSU.

Gregg Marshall, we’ve learned, is a basketball-coaching beast. He’s taken Wichita State to new levels of success and managed to keep the Shockers in the stratosphere. When successful players finish, new and often more successful players take their places.

Marshall, in his 11th season and with potentially his best team since arriving from Winthrop in 2007, obviously knows the game. He can strategize and pick apart game film and teach the nuances of playing sound basketball. But that’s not what sets him apart. And distinguishing the character traits and abilities that set him apart has always been one of the fascinations of his success.

He is ultra-competitive. In fact, if there’s something beyond ultra-competitive, he’s that. And even beyond that, whatever it is. Let’s just say his competitive nature is infinite. He can find a perceived slight in a haystack. He carries a perpetual chip on his shoulder. He can find motivation in the most innocuous places and seethes with a desire to prove naysayers wrong, even as their numbers dwindle.

Under Marshall’s guidance, Wichita State dominated the Missouri Valley Conference so completely that the Shockers had to find a new place to compete and this year joined the American Athletic Conference. Wichita State has been to six consecutive NCAA tournaments after making it to only eight before Marshall. The Shockers played in a Final Four in 2013, losing to Louisville in the semifinals. They were in the Sweet 16 in 2015 and have won NCAA tournament games in each of the past five seasons.

The Shockers have been a mainstay in the Top 25, turned out NBA players and upped the ante in recruiting. Marshall will lose six key seniors after the 2017-18 season, but it would be silly to expect much of a downturn because of his track record. He has a way, but defining that way has been slippery.

What does he have that other coaches don’t? Why is he able to consistently get the most out of players? Why is it that so many Wichita State players have bought into his aggressive coaching style?

Marshall misses nothing as a coach. Make a mistake, even one that none of the 10,000-plus fans who pack Koch Arena notice, and he pounces. It’s that attention to detail, I believe, that helps set him apart. Also, he doesn’t bury his players. He might get angry and react by pulling a player from a game with a glare and some chastising. But that player always gets a reprieve and is motivated not to displease his coach a second time.

Marshall’s practices, by all accounts, are as tough as imaginable. He believes in building toughness and requires his players to put defense above everything else. You don’t get on the floor in a game unless you’ve convinced him that defense is first, second and third among the most important things in your basketball life.

He doesn’t relent. He builds deep rosters, intent on using as many players as he can. It’s rare that a Shocker player consistently plays more than 30 minutes per game and even more unusual for a player to consistently score in big numbers. Only one of Marshall’s players, Cleanthony Early, has averaged more than 14.7 points per game for a season. Early averaged 16.4 points in 2013-14.

Marshall played at a small college (Randolph-Macon) and coached at small colleges (Marshall, Belmont Abbey, Randolph-Macon, College of Charleston, Winthrop) before arriving at WSU.

He’s often remarked about how he lacked ability as a basketball player, but made up for that with tenacity and a hard-nosed work ethic. He’s determined and haunted by the possibility of not winning. So much so that it doesn’t even seem like much of a possibility now. In his mind, losing is a byproduct of becoming lazy, letting things slip through, getting comfortable, buying into the hype. So he doesn’t. In many ways, he’s the same guy who scrambled for his spot on the Randolph-Macon basketball team in the mid-1980s.

In Marshall’s mind, nothing is guaranteed. But everything is attainable.



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Bob Lutz

Columnist Bob Lutz '84 says Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall has a formula that is built to last.