Shockers win first-ever American Athletic Conference regular-season title


Khánh Nguyễn/ The Sunflower

Head Coach Isaac Brown cuts the net celebrating Wichita State first AAC regular season tittle on March 6 at Charles Koch Arena.

The Wichita State men’s basketball program has won it’s fair share of conference championships over the years, but the one that was clinched inside Charles Koch Arena on Saturday was unlike any other. With an 80-63 win against South Florida in their regular season finale, the Shockers won their first ever American Athletic Conference championship. 

The team faced adversity throughout the year with six players transferring this offseason, an investigation into their former head coach and complications that came with the COVID-19 virus.But on Saturday, this year’s team became the first to win an AAC title since joining the conference in 2017. 

“I’m so happy for the guys because they came here because of the winning basketball tradition, the tradition that all those former Shockers set by going to the NCAA Tournament, winning basketball games and that’s the reason they came here,” Head Coach Isaac Brown said. “Those guys had a chip on their shoulder all year long when they got picked seventh. They wanted to compete and they wanted to battle and they stayed together through all that adversity and we were able to pull out a championship this year.”

Out the gates this season, the Shockers dealt with complications from COVID-19 and started out the season 1-2 with losses coming to Missouri and Oklahoma State after being limited to eight players. 

Brown said that the leadership shown was critical in the conference championship becoming a reality.

“The leadership and staying together after losses, I think that was huge,” Brown said. “Nobody pointed fingers going back to the Mizzou game, the Oklahoma State game. Those guys came back in the next day ready to work and we kept learning from our mistakes.”

Since joining the conference in 2017, the Shockers had some talented teams including the 2017-18 that made the NCAA Tournament as a four-seed but none were able to complete the championship. 

Brown said that it was special for this group to become the first to achieve this feat.

“I think this team is really special. It’s the first team that we’ve had here that’s won an AAC Championship,” he said. “We’ve had some good teams over the years, we didn’t win it. This team, the way they stayed together, the leadership. I’m just so proud of those guys and I’ll never forget about this.”

Sophomore Tyson Etienne led the way for the Shockers in the victory with a game-high 21 points while going 6-15 from the field.

Etienne said he hopes this year’s team can become trendsetters for the program in future years.

“It feels great,” Etienne said while holding the trophy. “There’s been a lot of historical events happening for us this season and for us to raise the first banner in this conference at Wichita State after the lineage they had in the Missouri Valley. It’s definitely something that’s beautiful. We hope to set the trend for many years down the line for this school in the AAC.”

The Shockers were picked to finish seventh in the league’s preseason poll which helped give them some added motivation. 

Etienne said that despite people doubting the team, winning a championship remained the goal.

“The goal is to win championships. It’s not to be No. 1 in January, it’s not to be No. 1 in December. I believe that the leaders and the coaching staff continue to harp on that every single day, not being complacent, not taking a shortcut. I think that’s what paid dividends for us to stay locked in, especially dealing with all the cancellations we had to deal with during the last stretch in the season. For us to be able to do that was big.”

Junior Dexter Dennis along with Etienne were two of the six players that ended up returning this year, after the mass exodus in the offseason. In total, six players transferred out of the program along with the graduation of Jaime Echenique. 

Dennis said the close relationships he’s made will be what he remembers the most from this year’s team.

“After last year we had four or five scholarship players left, a new group that came together so fast, a lot was riding on this year. IB got the coaching job, COVID, COVID cancellations. I think through all of that we just bonded a little bit better and faster than normal. I think I’ll just remember the relationships the most.”

Even with the turnover in the roster this offseason, the Shockers were able to quickly form a tight bond and brotherhood within the group.

“I believe it’s a genuine brotherhood, genuine friendships that we have on this team,” Etienne said. “We all know that we had one goal and that goal was to win. Everybody supported each other, even when stuff was going a little bit left, we stayed together and knew you had to go through hard times to get to better spots.”

With the conference championship, WSU has earned the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament. The Shockers opponent is yet to be determined but there game is slated for 11 a.m. on Friday. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story falsely titled Issac Brown as Interim Head Coach. As of March 1, he is the full-time head coach of men’s basketball.