Arguing any college basketball program has had a more prosperous offseason thus far than Wichita State is tough. Sure, other programs are putting together star-laden recruiting classes of NBA-destined prospects — some destined for the pros earlier than others — while Wichita State checks in on 247Sports’ rankings at a modest No. 55.
But as head coach Gregg Marshall explained to Sports Illustrated last summer, the Shockers are not built on 5-star talent.
“I don’t know that we’re on any five-star guys,” he said. “At least I don’t think so.”
Wichita State is built on overachievers like Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, two players who have developed into possible NBA talents, but are opting to return to college for their senior season. The backcourt pair gets support upfront from the program’s biggest offseason recruit, Cleveland State graduate transfer Anton Grady.
And, of course, Wichita State’s key win was retaining head coach Gregg Marshall despite rumors of deep-pocketed bids from power programs willing to empty the bank for his services.
With so much going the Shockers’ way so far, the 2015-2016 team may be the program’s best yet — no insignificant distinction, given Wichita State is a month removed from the Sweet 16, a year from a perfect regular season and two years from a Final Four appearance.
Wichita State already had one of the best backcourt tandems in the nation last year with VanVleet and Baker. The two work seamlessly together, with Baker’s outside jump shooting and ability to get to the rim complementing VanVleet’s playmaking.
VanVleet is one of the more competent floor generals in the game, making just about everyone surrounding him better. His presence next season elevates the rest of the Wichita State roster — which already got a significant boost last week, when Grady announced his transfer.
Grady’s arrival from Cleveland State more than compensates for losses from the Shocker frontcourt, as Marshall explained via GoShockers.com:
“Anton certainly fills a need within our program with the departure of Darius Carter. He can score the ball inside and out, is a relentless rebounder, and is also a very good defensive player. We feel like his maturity along our front line will be very beneficial.”
Marshall’s return to the Shocker sidelines is the final piece of another possible Final Four puzzle.
The talent both returning and coming into Wichita State ensures next year’s team is the frontrunner in the Missouri Valley Conference, regardless of who is coaching. Moreover, recent history suggests the Shockers would have continued to succeed in different hands. Marshall succeeded Mark Turgeon, who has Maryland looking very much like a Big Ten and national championship contender next season. The duo’s success certainly makes Wichita State an attractive job for a fast-rising coach.
But with Marshall at the helm, Wichita State has gone from thriving mid-major program to nationally recognized heavyweight. There is nothing “mid” about the Shockers any longer, as their run over the last three years transcends conference affiliation — much in the same fashion Gonzaga established itself as a program
And, like Mark Few at Gonzaga, Marshall is proving committed to keeping Wichita State on college basketball’s top tier, entering his ninth season despite the temptation of huge paydays and football-funded facilities elsewhere. Next season is Marshall’s ninth at Wichita State, and his best there is still yet to come.