Wichita State is having its best practices at the right time


Selena Favela

Wichita State’s Jaime Echenique answers questions during an interview with The Sunflower at the Marriott Marquis in New York on April 1, 2019.

NEW YORK CITY — Wichita State players and coaches arrived late to a media luncheon held Monday in New York City.

It was a near 40-minute late arrival for Dexter Dennis, Markis McDuffie, Samajae Haynes-Jones and Jaime Echenique. Gregg Marshall pushed the Shockers in an early 8:30 a.m. practice in the Barclays Center practice facility. Too hard, one could argue.

“It was a good practice,” Haynes-Jones, a senior said. “Everybody was locked in from the start.”

Marshall has noted these practices are some of the team’s best all year. It wasn’t always that way. Players know, although Marshall is thrilled to have taken a team to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden, his excitement will be shadowed by his overwhelming intensity.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State videographer Marcus Wright follows closesly as senior Samajae Haynes-Jones is interviewed by a member of the media in the New York Marriott Marquis on April 1, 2019. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

“He expects highly of us,” Haynes-Jones said. “He’s vocal when he’s mad. When we’re not playing the way he wants us to, he’s going to get angry at us.

“We have to pick it up every day.”

A good practice is dependent on good energy, McDuffie said. There were times, he said, when he was the only one bringing his goofy, happy-go-lucky attitude into practices. Echenique remembers when Dennis was quiet, now he struggles to control the talkative, always-moving, energetic freshman. Today, nobody is a shy freshman.

Charismatically, McDuffie laughed with reporters. Dennis, a freshman, took over a television reporter’s microphone and jokingly interviewed his teammates. To a blind eye, few could tell the intensity of practices — the will, determination and fight the Shockers have put in to win 14 of its last 17 games.

Selena Favela
Wichita State’s Dexter Dennis interview Jaime Echenique at the Marriott Marquis in New York on Apr. 1, 2019.

It was a turnaround from early in the year when Marshall demanded that his team of six freshmen and collection of junior college transfers learn the fundamentals of his program.

“We don’t want to run,” Haynes-Jones said. “If we make too many mistakes, we’ll run.”

Nobody likes sprints. It leaves the players dog tired, gasping for air. It is, however, what put Wichita State, a team with an 8-11 record in January with no visible chance of postseason play, in position to compete in March and now April.

“When we make a mistake, in a bad practice we’ll put our heads down and start running,” Haynes-Jones said. “We’re making dumb decisions and not playing as hard as we can. That’s what makes coach angry.”

At one point early in the season, Marshall cut practice short and left. He didn’t like the way things were shaping up. Too many mistakes were happening. No matter who is on the court, Marshall maintains the same principles, McDuffie said, and guys weren’t getting the message.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall addresses media at the New York Marriott Marquis on April 1, 2019. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

“There were times I didn’t think we’d be invited to our conference tournament,” Marshall said jokingly of the team’s pre-turnaround faults.

Wichita State hasn’t had a bad practice in a while, Haynes-Jones said.

“We’re playing at a high level, and taking it serious,” Haynes-Jones said.

“We’re enthusiastic and engaged,” McDuffie said. “With the team we have — so many young guys and six freshmen, it’s inspiring what we’ve done this year. It just shows, whenever you struggle, you keep your head high.”

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State freshman Dexter Dennis jokingly interviews senior Markis McDuffie in the New York Marriott Marquis on April 1, 2019. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).