Wichita State official would like to see upgrades in St. Louis for Valley tourney

03/22/2014 5:27 PM

03/22/2014 11:52 PM

Wichita State senior associate athletic director Darron Boatright said the Missouri Valley Conference is right to check out options for men’s basketball tournament locations.

St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Indianapolis and Las Vegas received requests for proposals from the Valley, which wants to award the 2016-20 tournaments in June.

Next season will be the conference’s 25th tournament in St. Louis. Scottrade Center, built in 1994, is primarily used as a hockey arena and is showing its age in the seating bowl, concourses and service areas.

“I think we would agree this facility is looking a little tired,” he said. “St. Louis has been a fantastic host. It’s obvious St. Louis was the best (site) for a long time, and maybe it still is. I’d like to see this facility get updated in some areas.”

Earlier this month, Valley commissioner Doug Elgin said Kansas City is an attractive option. The Sprint Center opened in 2007, and the Power Light District is adjacent to the arena. Moving the tournament 248 miles closer to Wichita State’s fans possesses an obvious attraction for the Shockers. The Sprint Center is also closer to Northern Iowa (46 miles closer), Missouri State (49 miles) and Drake (194).

“It would be something very favorable to our fan base,” Boatright said. “For the other Valley schools, it wouldn’t be a ton different than coming to St. Louis, some of them, when you look at the whole league in totality.”

Las Vegas is not as attractive. The Shockers don’t play regular-season tournaments there, unlike many schools. Boatright said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall isn’t a fan of the Vegas atmosphere.

“We generally take measures to stay out of Vegas to schedule games,” Boatright said. “You shouldn’t educate your guys on staying away from gambling and then take them to Vegas. I don’t think that’s consistent.”

Elgin said the athletic directors suggested including Las Vegas in the process. The Mountain West, West Coast and Pacific-12 conferences hold tournaments there.

“We do know that there is certainly a lot of interest from Vegas,” Elgin said. “It certainly is an interesting consideration.”

• Kentucky coach John Calipari admires the work Gregg Marshall has done this season at Wichita State, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

On back-to-back days, Calipari has complimented Marshall for the way he has managed his team during its undefeated streak.

“I have been through what he is going through, trying to keep a team focused in staying in the moment when you are undefeated and you are trying to run the table,” Calipari said. “Very difficult. He’s done a masterful job. A masterful job.

“You would think at some point they start feeling the weight of the world. They’re not. They play to win. Any time a team has made a run, you don’t see anyone going, ‘Oh, my gosh, we may lose. He’s done wonderful work.”

The closest Calipari has come to an undefeated run was a 26-0 start during the 2007-08 season at Memphis. The Tigers steam-rolled everyone they faced until Tennessee came to town for a special rivalry game. Memphis was ranked No. 1. Tennessee was No. 2.

The Volunteers won at Memphis 66-62, but the Tigers fought back. They didn’t lose again until the national championship game.

“Believe me when I tell you folks,” Calipari said, “I had three or four teams start the season with 20 wins or more to start a season and I can’t begin to tell you how much you try to push it off as nothing, and you say it’s nothing. Oh, it’s something.

“And he’s made it a blessing, not a burden.”

When told of Calipari’s kind words, Marshall deflected credit to his players.

“We’ve got great players that are easy to coach,” Marshall said, “that follow a game plan, that stay steadfast in their belief that they want to be special, and they like the winning streak continuing.”

• Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua and Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early had a nice moment in the hallway on Saturday as both teams practiced and met with the media.

“I just told him I was really excited for him, happy for all that he’s been able to accomplish,” said Antigua, who is in his fifth year as a Kentucky assistant.

Both Antigua and Early hail from the Bronx, N.Y., although Early’s mother moved him to upstate New York when he was in the eighth grade — around the same age as Antigua was when he was shot in the head near his left eye in Halloween 1988. Doctors were unable to retrieve the bullet from his head, and despite that he continued his career at St. Raymond’s High and Pittsburgh.

He’s carved out a career at Memphis and Kentucky as one of the nation’s top recruiters, consistently bringing in recruiting classes chock-full of McDonald’s All-Americans.

“Cleanthony has just done so well for them,” Antigua said. “I’m a little older than him, obviously, but he’s still another kid from the neighborhood, just like me, who got out and is doing good.”

• No sooner did Will Spradling settle in from Kansas State’s loss to Kentucky on Friday than he texted Wichita State’s Ron Baker with some observations and points about Kentucky.

And why not?

“Will’s a good dude,” Baker said. “He’s actually engaged to my cousin, believe it or not, so he’s family.”

The Eagle’s staff and Vahe Gregorian, vgregorian@kcstar.com contributed to this report

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