Gregg Marshall is a lot of things: a master motivator, an excellent rap dancer, and the first mid-major head coach to have a double-keg installed in his living room. As of ten months ago, after coming up short in his first six attempts, he's also a member of the NCAA Tournament victor's club -- joining 438 other Division I head coaches who've won games on the Big Bracket. That historic 11-over-6 upset win for Winthrop over Notre Dame, the first non-play-in game W for the Big South Conference, helped Marshall land a job in Hoops Nation's premier mid-major league: the Missouri Valley.
But within a month of each other, WSU recruit Guy Alang-Ntang collapsed and died during a pickup game -- right in front of Marshall's eyes -- and DeAndre Adams, one of his key role players at Winthrop, died as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident. Along with the logistical struggles of moving with his wife and two kids to the Great Plains after nearly a decade in Rock Hill, S.C., it's been a difficult summer.
On the court, though, Marshall's Shockers are 4-2 on the young year, and they're already showing the same kind of tough and energetic play that thrilled Winthrop fans and annoyed opposing Big South coaches for nine seasons. After using a blistering 7-0 run out of halftime to beat Appalachian State 62-53 last night, Coach Marshall was kind enough to hold up the team charter so we could catch up. We discussed his transition to life in the Valley, what there's to do in Wichita, and his son's Pop-A-Shot prowess.TMM: So, Coach, how did the move go? GM:
Moves are tough. Transitions are hard. But change is good. I still have a house that hasn't sold in Rock Hill... I had my inlaws in one house, we lived in another. Lynn and I sold the one we lived in. Then we had two tragedies this summer, DeAndre
, and that made it even tougher. It hasn't been easy, and it hasn't been fun, none of it was. It's been a hard transition, but the change will be good.
Uprooting the family after nine years has been very difficult, but we couldn't be more well-received than we were in Wichita. The people are great, the administration is great, the kids have been very receptive to a new system and to our style of coaching.TMM: Your son Kellen clobbered me 60-39 in Pop-A-Shot, a loss that's haunted me for almost a year now, but I know how none of your players at Winthrop could top him either. Have you found anybody in Wichita who can beat him?GM: Matt Braeuer
beat him once. And, actually, this is a great story... one of our commitments that we got is a kid who had 14 offers coming out of the summer. Six-foot-11 and a half, 225 lbs, his name is Garrett Stutz
. He can shoot it. He had Iowa State, Kansas State, and he kept on eliminating teams until it came down to us, SMU and Kentucky. Then he eliminated SMU, and his family went on their official visit to Kentucky... the weekend they beat LSU in football, in three overtimes
! We were real nervous after that, every time I had a conversation with him, I kept expecting he was going to tell me he was going to Kentucky.
The kid calls one night, and he asks, "Can I speak to Kellen?" 'Cause they had played Pop-A-Shot on their visit. And I look at Lynn, and she looks at me and says, "He wouldn't give bad news to an 11-year-old!" And I say, "I don't think so, Garrett's a great kid, he would never do something like that."
So we give the phone to Kellen, and Garrett says, "Kellen, would you ask your dad if it's okay if we have Pop-A-Shot competitions for the next four years?" And that's how he commits. Isn't that great?TMM: Wow, I think I'm going to cry now. That's a movie scene right there. You actually have two 7-footers coming in next year, right?GM:
Kid from Nigeria, name's Ehimen Orukpe, we're still waiting on him. There are these exit exams, and people down there are taking their sweet time with the results. He's a fine student, but he took those exit exams in June, we're still waiting for the results to come back. Can't do anything about it.TMM: So sell me on Wichita, the city.GM:
It's the largest city in Kansas, about 500,000 people live there. It's got a great entrepreneurial spirit, there's all kinds of companies that have been founded there that still have their headquarters there, and it's the aviation capital of the world! Thirty-eight percent of the airplanes in the world are manufactured in Wichita. Great restaurants, wonderful arena, wonderful people.TMM: Biggest media market in the Valley, too.GM:
Wichita State is the Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA. The Shockers are all of those things in one in the city of Wichita. These people love their Shockers! There are 700 people on a waiting list to buy season tickets. The school makes $3 million a year in season ticket revenue. Every game is sold out, you can't walk up and buy a ticket.
So all I've got to do is get these kids to play our brand of basketball, get the athletic talent where we need it to be, and who knows, it could be this year. But my goal in the very near future is to get back to that NCAA Tournament and get in the mix, get in the fray.TMM: OK, so you win a game at the Tournament after years and years of trying and missing. Other than getting this job and moving, has anything else changed? Are there people who will talk to you now who wouldn't give you the time of day before? Is there a gold key or a membership card that you get for breaking through at the NCAA's?GM:
I think winning a game at the Tournament does give you some recognition, referees recognize your work, people know who you are... That's just the way it works.TMM: So what are your impressions of life in the Valley so far?GM:
I'll admit that I don't know anything about the Valley yet. I'll know in late December, when we play Drake.TMM: I'll be there.GM:
Will you? You'll have to stop by. It's 39 degrees that time of year, they tell me.TMM: Balmy! One last one, Coach... Do you keep in touch with the folks at Winthrop at all? I know you were on opposite sides of the bracket at the Paradise Jam.GM:
Heck, yeah! I went to all their games in the Virgin Islands. I went to the Baylor championship game, we played at 2 o'clock... I could have been partying with the Wichita people, but I went to the game, supported those guys. Randy Peele and I talk all the time on the phone. And there were 50 people from Rock Hill right there in the crowd tonight, too. We left 86 tickets at will call, 15 of those came up with us on the charter, and the rest of them were from around here. Those were my people.And with that, Gregg Marshall smiled, bumped his chest with a clenched fist while repeating "my people," and ran to catch the bus that would take him and his new team to the airport for a quick two-hour flight home. Wichita State will be playing Maryland-Baltimore County at the Charles Koch Arena next Tuesday, and there are no tickets available. Sorry.