“I don’t think we’re a Cinderlla at all.” Thus spoke Gregg Marshall, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Wichita State University, which most bracketeers did not expect to see at the Final Four in Atlanta this weekend. Wichita State, a No. 9 seed, beat No. 1 Gonzaga and No.2 Ohio State to reach the Final Four. Austin Colbert of The Sunflower, Wichita State’s student newspaper, joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the Shockers’ run.
BL: Had you been tempted to argue with Coach Marshall when he told you the team was no Cinderella?
AC: Yeah, I guess I was a little bit. I mean, I’m not one to argue with Coach ever; he seems to be doing things all right. It’s part of his plan to get rid of that whole name tag. I’m all right with him going up there and saying, ‘Hey, we’re not a Cinderella story.’ I mean, we haven’t been getting lucky by any means. We’ve been, you know, really beating teams pretty badly in this tournament, but to the rest of the nation, we are a Cinderella school — we’re going to be, we’re always going to be, despite what Coach says.
BL: The last time Wichita State made the Final Four was in 1965. So unless the college has some professors who refuse to retire, nobody on campus remembers that achievement. What has it been like in the run up to Atlanta?
AC: It’s been pretty crazy. I mean, we’ve been to, like, two tournaments in 20 years. I mean, forget even the Final Four in ’65 – we barely make the NCAA tournament. We went last year and got bounced in one game, so I personally was just happy to get through one game, but it’s just escalated pretty quickly – into the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight, now we’re going to the Final Four. I mean, they’ve been selling t-shirts by the tens of thousands around here. We had these Elite Eight shirts that we were selling. We weren’t expecting to go to the Final Four either, so now we have all these extra t-shirts and Sweet Sixteen shirts and we don’t know what to do with them all. It’s been chaos.
BL: Florida Gulf Coast University was the story of the first two rounds of the tournament, and shortly after they made the Sweet Sixteen they lost their coach to a bigger, much-wealthier USC. Any worries that Wichita State’s success will inspire athletic directors from schools with marquee basketball programs to being calling up Coach Marshall?
AC: That’s always the money question. It’s not like it hasn’t happened, I mean he’s had offers the last few years – NC State was one of ‘em. I think it would take a big name to get him away from here. You know, I’ve seen lots of quotes from him, I’ve heard him talk a lot. I mean he’s happy here. He loves it here. He gets whatever he wants. He’s proving right now that he can win even on a national level, even at Wichita State. So, I mean, unless Coach K retires tomorrow, and Duke [comes calling] – I mean, he’d be stupid not to take that job, of course, but… Five years down the line, who knows, but, you know, like he said, don’t mess with happiness. His family loves it here, he loves it here. He’s got a great young group of players. I mean he could win for a long, long time. Why mess with that?
BL: This may be a difficult question to focus on at this point, but of course what happens to a lot of successful college teams is guys leave early and go into the NBA. Any problem with that at Wichita State or will the important guys, undergraduates, stick around and make a good team of it next year?
AC: One thing that a lot of the big teams have been saying, a lot of these coaches, is that we don’t have any NBA talent on this team, and I don’t think that’s right. I mean, a lot of people see Cleanthony Early as a potential NBA pick, but we’re not getting four or five star, blue chip recruits here or anything. These aren’t one-and-done players. I mean, Coach Marshall’s getting these smaller kids and building a team. I don’t think that will be an issue. If Coach Marshall wants to stick around, he’s going to have this same group of kids for three or four years still, and he’s going to be able to win a lot of basketball games.