From Thursday's WSU Press Conference:
COACH MARSHALL: Well, it was a little bit of a pleasant surprise. Not winning the league championship as Mac did, and we had a lot of other coaches like Geno Ford with the great turnaround at Bradley, Paul Lusk coaching those great freshmen. Barry Hinson with the job he's done since midyear getting that group together and winning so many games.
I thought it was a tribute to these young men and their perseverance and toughness and the way they've just not allowed any adversity to get in our way this year because we've certainly had our share after replacing five seniors. And then having three starters out for a long period of time.
They just continued to believe in one another and achieve some very nice levels of success. Here we go with another opportunity.
Q. Coach, I know you mentioned all the other coaches, Coach Lusk and Coach Hinson, but how humbled are you personally winning back#to#back Coach of the Year honors?
COACH MARSHALL: From a personal perspective, there's very good coaches and good programs in this league. I just think that it comes down to the fact that our team was able to do better than they were predicted to do. I think that's all there is. We were in contention for a championship. We didn't finish the deal.
This was a trying year, there's no doubt about it. We knew going in. We talked about how we were going to have to be tough to defend and rebound, which is nothing new, as Demetric can tell you, being a four#year senior. But we really pounded that home in the fall.
These guys were tremendous. You get off to a 9#0 start and lose a couple of starters and lose Carl, who's a third starter, and we had to reinvent ourselves as a coaching staff. They never missed a beat. They were so resilient. Next man up basically.
We got Carl back after 4 1/2 weeks with a broken thumb. We still have two guys that we're starting at the beginning of the year out and hopefully can get Ron back this week. I just can't say enough about them. I'm just along for the ride. I get the opportunity to be the jock. We've got some stallions. We've got some really, really tremendous athletes that did some incredible things together, not giving in.
The Southern Miss Game, the Illinois State game on the road, those are games that 99 percent of the teams don't win. Somehow they just find a way. And we've got to find a way this weekend.
Q. Gregg, other than Missouri State, not many teams in this conference are playing a lot of freshmen. With the real experience and the older group, do you think that's producing a lot of the parity and the evenness this season?
COACH MARSHALL: I would say that's probably part of it. And my guys have heard this before. I just ## the margin for error is so small, from 1 to 10.
We go to Southern Illinois and lose, and they jump start their season. Creighton goes to Drake and loses. On the road, it's very difficult to win. The margin for error, literally the old cliche, the team that plays the best that night usually wins.
There's some times where that's not exactly true, but by and large, this conference exemplifies that.
Q. Coach, you talked about last Saturday just coming up a little bit short. How has it been this week bouncing back? And how is it for a team starting a whole new season over here in tournament play?
COACH MARSHALL: They know that there's an opportunity to win a championship here in St. Louis, as well as the automatic bid that goes along with that.
I think our practices this week have been much like our season: Really good, then not so good, then really good again. It's just the nature of the beast. We've got nine guys going into this year that have never played one second of basketball for Wichita State University on our 15#man roster.
I've got Demetric, the old head, and Carl Hall and a couple of guys like that, but most of these guys are going through every experience for the first time.
I haven't told them this, but what I'm going to tell them as we start practice today is the cream usually rises to the top. If we're, in fact, one of the better teams, then it's time for us to be that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll move to questions for the student#athletes, Demetric Williams and Cleanthony Early.
Q. How deserving is Coach Marshall to win the Coach of the Year award?
CLEANTHONY EARLY: He’s a winner. That’s what he does and that’s why we come to the program.
DEMETRIC WILLIAMS: Just the drive that he instills in us, the will to win. The way his motto goes for himself, that he stands for himself, bleeds out to his players. So he comes ready every day to coach us hard and it just pays off for him.
Q. Guys, it's been, I think, 26 years since the last Wichita State team won a Valley tournament. What makes this team different that they will win as opposed to the last 26?
DEMETRIC WILLIAMS: Myself included, since I've been here as a freshman, my freshman year, I think we went to the championship game, and then the next two years we went to the semifinals. Going into St. Louis my freshman year, I think we were the underdogs. And the next two years we were projected to win it.
So in my eyes, it doesn't matter if you're projected to win it or lose it. It's whoever plays the best some days. Just try to lead my team and let them know that any team can be beat no matter if you're supposed to win or not supposed to win. You've just got to go out there and play your heart out and listen to Coach and understand the game plan we have and lay it all out there on the line.
Q. How excited are you to be here as your first time to play in St. Louis?
CLEANTHONY EARLY: Just take advantage of the opportunities. It's a lot of our first times in the tournament. Just going to have to come ready to play. Got leadership trying to get us mentally ready and our coaches trying to get us physically ready, and we've just got to go out and do what we do.
Q. Are you feeling any pressure?
CLEANTHONY EARLY: I wouldn't say pressure. Malcolm (Armstead) always tells us that pressure can burst pipes, but it can also make diamonds. We just got to do what we do.
DEMETRIC WILLIAMS: There's no pressure on myself. It's just being focused every day, being a leader and showing my teammates how this opportunity is so special. Being here is a great experience, and it's win or go home.
They can mean our chances to be in the NCAA or not. Just see how hungry we are and how much we want it.
Q. What will it take to go all the way?
CLEANTHONY EARLY: Just got to play together, play tough, play smart. Execute the defense. And just play basketball, man. Have fun.
DEMETRIC WILLIAMS: Mainly, I feel, getting back to playing defense, how we was early in the year, not letting teams score over 60 points on us. So just getting back to defense and rebounds.
Q. Gregg, three games in three days. Obviously, that makes anything unique because you don't play three games in three days any other time during the season. Can you just talk about ## obviously, you'd love that challenge. Can you just talk about how difficult that process is for any team coming in and winning three games in as many days.
COACH MARSHALL: You hope you get that opportunity to get a chance to play a third game in three days. We've got great athletes. We've got very good depth, and getting Ron back, which I anticipate him being cleared this weekend, gives us 11 very talented, athletic players to use.
Last year in the quarters, we played Indiana State and just blitzed them. I don't know what the score was, but it was 20#something to 2 at one point, and then we come out flat in the semis. So I don't think being able to rest our guys in the first round to save them for hopefully Sunday, I think that's a little overrated.
We're going to sub freely. I'm going to believe in my bench, which I've done all year, and I don't think there's any better example than I've got a first team All#Conference guy that comes off the bench. Demetric has got to spread the word of what it's going to take to get to Sunday, which he's experienced, and he's been great leading our team in the last months of the season.
So we're just going to go play hard. I'm going to sub. I don't know how long I'm going to leave any individual out there, but I'm just going to ask them to go as hard as they possibly can for four or five minutes and then get a blow. And hopefully the 11 guys we have can make enough plays to get us to the next game.