The people around Wichita State basketball like to say they have a perfect record but an imperfect team, and they’re dead right on both counts because we’re 20 minutes into the open locker room and not one guy in here seems angry. Nobody has talked of being overlooked or disrespected, and that’s no small thing, because the postgame pizza looks mid-major.
Fortunately, their coach has their back. Gregg Marshall sees disrespect around every corner, under every breadcrumb, and he’s not about to change now.
“We like to play that us-against-the-world mentality,” says sophomore guard Ron Baker. “That comes from our coach.”
The nobody-respects-us thing is as much a part of the athlete life as Gatorade, of course, but it’s hard to think of many teams who’ve made it such a stubborn part of their identity as the play-angry Shockers, now college basketball’s first-ever 35-0 team after a blowout 64-37 win Friday over Cal Poly in their first game of the NCAA Tournament.
For some people, family gets them through the day. Others, exercise. Orvideos of puppies
. Maybe a cold beer. For Wichita State, by all appearances, disrespect is like protein and shelter and a mother’s love.
In the packet of news clippings Wichita State staffers put together, the first is a headline quoting an assistant coach: “Special thanks to all the haters.” The third is a column from a newspaper in Michigan about how WSU shouldn’t be a No. 1 seed in this tournament, followed by what may be the first-ever online comment included in these packets from a fan defending the Shockers.
Baker talks about being annoyed at questions that include the term “mid-major.” Marshall once responded to a mid-major question by referencing his W-2 form.
Wichita State has so embraced this image that nobody even bothers to check their work here. Are we really accepting this as fact? That nobody thinks this Shockers team is any good?
You know, this Shockers team that’s a No. 1 seed?
This Shockers team that finished the regular season No. 2 in the polls?
This Shockers team that’s been all over ESPN, the New York Times, and the cover of Sports Illustrated?
Marshall has already won a national coach of the year award. Leading scorer Cleanthony Early was named second-team All-America by one publication. Starting point guard Fred Van Vleet was named the same by another publication. Know who else was on each of those teams? Kansas star Andrew Wiggins, who might be the first pick in the NBA Draft.
Look, any story online that includes a reference to the Shockers’ undefeated record will undoubtedly draw a reference to their weak schedule. This one won’t be any different and, besides, the Shockershave
played a weak schedule — whether it’s their fault or not. But that’s life in the big city. Pull up a story about Kansas, or Duke, or any other strong program. Probably going to be some haters among the Internet’s great unwashed there, too.
You don’t think Wiggins hears people calling him overrated, or that Florida coach Billy Donovan can’t find someone doubting the top-ranked Gators because they lack a sure first-round draft pick?
If it matters, the Shockers are pickedfor the Final Four by their fair share of national experts
. Louisville gets more love to get out of the Midwest Region, but at some point Louisville became the overall betting favorite and, you know, beat Wichita State in last year’s Final Four on the way to a national championship.
Anyway, nobody should begrudge someone else for doing what they need to get through a day. The Shockers are in good company among teams listening more to doubts than compliments. If that’s what it takes for them to find their edge, to fuel a beautiful symphony of basketball, then good for them.
The NCAA Tournament is the sport’s biggest stage, obviously, so Wichita State gets every opportunity to prove itself. The Missouri Valley Conference was down this year, and a lot of people around the country will see the Shockers for the first time. Maybe they’ll be surprised with how fierce the Shockers play, at Early’s all-round skill, Van Vleet’s tough control, Baker’s smooth stroke, Tekele Cotton’s athleticism or Chadrack Lufile’s strength inside.
If it is their first time seeing the nation’s only unbeaten team, it is the Shockers’ chance to change minds. We’ll know soon enough. We’re getting closer to a tangible outcome for this haters-gonna-hate Wichita State team that that feeds on disrespect like a pack of hungry lions except, well, we made the mistake of asking senior guard Nick Wiggins about where he hears all of this horrible disrespect.
“Honestly, we get that fuel from our coach,” Wiggins says.
He goes on for a moment or two, and somewhere along the line it becomes apparent that he is not eating Twitter or bookmarking message boards in search of this fuel. Basically, he hears about it from his coach.
Other than that?
“I don’t feel disrespect at all,” Wiggins says.
Don’t let your coach hear that, kid, or you’ll ruin a perfectly good thing.