Wichita State Shockers' Baker celebrates while cutting down part of the net after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes in their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles

Gregg Marshall and his Merry Band of Misfits

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ATLANTA — Sitting on a chair in his locker in the far corner of Wichita State’s locker room, Ron Baker must have been thankful that he wasn’t claustrophobic. He was surrounded by reporters — print, TV, internet — from across the country, blockaded by a swarm of video cameras, bright lights, recorders and iPhones that were shoved in his face for 25 minutes. Baker was peppered with questions, the topics ranging everywhere from playing against Russ Smith to his hometown in Kansas to … what the Easter holiday means for someone of Catholic faith.

Seriously.

He was asked what Easter means to him.

At the Final Four.

And Baker handled it all like a pro, calmly, intelligently and succinctly answering every question he was asked, mixing in enough small-town, Midwestern charm to win over reporters and blind them to the fact that the majority of what he said was typical press conference generality. If you didn’t know any better, you never would have guessed that Baker was a redshirt freshmen at a school that didn’t win a league title in the Missouri Valley who opted to walk-on for a year instead of go to Junior College or accept a Division II scholarship.

“My AAU coach was at Coffeyville [CC in Kansas] at the time, and that was my second option if Wichita State didn’t give me the opportunity to pay my first year,” Baker said.

“It’s definitely overwhelming. If I looked back two years ago and you told me I’d be sitting here, I’d probably call you crazy. It’s been a good trip for me and my family and everybody back home. They’re extremely excited.”

And why shouldn’t they be? Towns like Scott City, KS, population 3,800, don’t often send players to the Final Four. But it’s those small-town roots that make Baker’s path to this stage all the more impressive. His high school graduating class was 55 kids. Scott City has two stop lights. The reason he wasn’t recruited by bigger schools? They didn’t know about him. So imagine where he would be if his family had never moved to Scott City from Utica, KS.

“It’s about 50 miles northeast of Scott City,” Baker said. “Population about 280 people.”

The best part about this Wichita State team is that Baker may not even have the best story.

Carl Hall, their 24 year old starting power forward, suffers from a heart condition known as neurocardiogenic syncope. He’s passed out three times on the court, and that forced him away from the game. Instead of chasing his dream, Hall was working the graveyard shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., at a lighting company. He painted light-bulbs for 12 bucks-an-hour before going to school during the day and, finally, taking a nap at night before heading back to the factory.

“I wouldn’t recommend that job to anybody,” Hall said. “It was just a hot, nasty job. I tell them every day to stay in school and do they work.”

That lasted for two years. Finally, doctors told Hall that his medication had started to work and he would be able to resume playing the game he loved. He wound up at Wichita State after going to a JuCo, but it was still difficult for him to resume. On the one hand, he had to learn to trust his heart again. “Once you pass out you,” Hall told reporters in LA, “you don’t want to go through that situation again.” That made it difficult for him to get in shape, and Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall found it difficult to push Hall.

That’s understandable. He once watched a kid he was recruiting die on the court during a game due to a heart condition. When you see that happen once, it makes it a lot harder to convince yourself it’s worthwhile to push a kid beyond his limit.

But Hall persevered, averaging 22.3 minutes as a sixth-man as a junior and more than 28 minutes per game asa  senior.

“I remember like yesterday telling one of the workers that I wanted to start playing basketball, try to pursue my dream, try to play in March Madness one day,” Hall said.

Hall’s here, and if that wasn’t enough, he’ll be playing a car ride from his hometown of Cochran, GA. “I grew up an hour and a half from here,” he said, “and I’ve never been to the Dome.”

It’s the stories of guys like Hall and Baker that make the Shockers so likeable. Wichita State — a No. 9 seed, a team that couldn’t win a title this season in the Missouri Valley, a team with losses to Indiana State and Southern Illinois and got swept by Evansville — wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga and Ohio State and make it to Atlanta. Ron Baker and Carl Hall aren’t supposed to be recognizable names. They’re not supposed to be giving interview after interview to the biggest media outlets in the country.

And those two are not alone.

Malcolm Armstead has played at three different colleges during his career. After leaving Oregon as a junior, he redshirted and worked at a car dealership part-time to pay his tuition. “Sometimes I had to leave practice to go to work to be able to make money,” Armstead said. Cleanthony Early played at Division III Sullivan Community College before heading to Wichita. Ehimen Orukpe is from Lagos, Nigeria, by way of Three Rivers Community College. Kadeem Coleby is a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette that is from the Bahamas. Chadrack Lufile and Nick Wiggins are from Canada, and Wiggins making the Final Four isn’t even the biggest story in his family. He’s the older brother of the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Andrew Wiggins.

The Shockers embody the underdog story, Marshall’s Merry Band of Misfits. And somehow, despite having a locker room full of pieces that didn’t fit somewhere else, the Shockers have made it work.

“A lot of people probably think I wouldn’t fit in with these guys,” Baker said with a laugh. “There’s a bunch of crazy men on this team.”

The craziest part is that they are now someplace no one ever thought they would be: 24 hours away from playing in the Final Four.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Auburn players Shamsid-Deen, Reed won’t return next season

GAINESVILLE, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Tahj Shamsid-Deen #13 of the Auburn Tigers inbounds the ball around the defense of Dorian Finney-Smith #10 of the Florida Gators during the first half of the game at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on February 19, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen is ending his college career because of injuries and center Trayvon Reed also won’t return.

Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said Friday that Shamsid-Deen won’t play his senior season after battling shoulder problems. He had surgery on both shoulders after his sophomore season and played only five games last season, when he separated his right shoulder on Nov. 27 against Northwestern State.

“Tahj gave it all he had,” Pearl said. “He continued to fight and come back many, many times and that shows how tough he is. The doctors say he has been though a lot, and it is time. He is a true student-athlete with the student being first.

“There is no telling what kind of a season we could have had had we not lost our starting point guard, our best perimeter defender and a true leader.”

Reed, a 7-foot-2 sophomore from Mobile, Alabama, played in 23 games as a freshman but was redshirted last season after rejoining the team in December. He received a 15-day sentence in Maryland in 2015 for a misdemeanor assault charge.

Shamsid-Deen said he’s on track to graduate in December with a finance degree and will pursue an MBA.

He had missed the final 11 games of the regular season as a sophomore. Shamsid-Deen started all 30 games as a freshman in 2013-14.

“It has been tough,” Shamsid-Deen said. “It is probably my first injury I ever have had. For those to be the first injuries and to end my career is pretty devastating. My parents built the foundation where school would always be a backup plan for me.”

Report: Washington hires Michael Porter Sr. as assistant coach

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Washington made a huge splash in recruiting on Friday, but it wasn’t for landing a commitment from a player. The Huskies have hired Missouri women’s basketball assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. to be an assistant on the men’s team, according to a report from Eric Bossi of Rivals.com.

This is important because Michael Porter Jr. is a five-star prospect and the potential No. 1 player in the Class of 2017. He’s a dynamic wing at 6-foot-9 and he can score at all three levels of the floor. With the addition of his father to the Washington coaching staff, it would look like the Huskies are the strong favorites to land Porter Jr. as he could play for his father in what is likely to be his only year of college basketball.

Jontay Porter, a Class of 2018 forward and the younger brother of Michael Jr., is also committed to Washington already so this makes sense for beyond the one season Michael Porter Jr. would play college hoops.

We’ve seen this sort of move from a coaching staff before when Memphis hired Keelon Lawson to be an assistant coach in part to entice two of his sons to join the program. When head coach Josh Pastner took the Georgia Tech job this offseason, Lawson was given a new role in the Memphis program.

 

Rodney Purvis will return to UConn for senior season

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Rodney Purvis #44 of the Connecticut Huskies shoots against Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk #10 of the Kansas Jayhawks in the first half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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UConn got a major boost to its roster on Friday as guard Rodney Purvis announced that he is returning for his senior season.

The 6-foot-4 Purvis has been a double-figure scorer for the Huskies the past two seasons since transferring from N.C. State and sitting out a transfer season. During his junior season, Purvis averaged 12.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range.

The former McDonald’s All-American led the Huskies in scoring last season as he was one of the three UConn players to leave early and test the new NBA Draft process. Daniel Hamilton has hired an agent and will remain in the draft while center Amida Brimah is still up in the air.

Oklahoma center suspended indefinitely following fight with football player

Texas guard Kerwin Roach Jr. (12) falls to the court after he is fouled as he drives to the basket against Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) and center Akolda Manyang (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 76-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Oklahoma’s Akolda Manyang has been suspended indefinitely from the team following a fight with a football player that resulted in two broken teeth and a bloodied lip.

The school announced the suspension on Thursday. According to the AP, Manyang has been charged with aggravated assault after an incident on Campus Corner in Norman. Court documents state that Manyang punched former football player Tyler Evans in the mouth after he was told to stop pursuing women that were with Evans.

“We are aware of the matter, and Akolda has been indefinitely suspended from the team,” the statement from the athletic department read.

Manyang, who is Sudanese by way of Minnesota, was a role player for the Sooners this past season. He had a big game in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Cal State-Bakersfield, but he did not play for the Sooners again. He returned to Minnesota following his brother’s suicide, which was discovered during that first round game.

Manyang has two prior offenses on his record, according to the Duluth New-Tribune. In 2010, he was arrested for second-degree burglary and in 2009 he was cited for giving a fake name to a cop and charged with felony theft.

Looking Forward: Here’s what the Atlantic 10 has in store for the 2016-17 season

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Atlantic 10 over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Hot coaching names stay put: The A-10 doesn’t lack for quality coaches, with some being discussed for major coaching vacancies on an annual basis. Two that fit the mold are Dayton’s Archie Miller and Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley, with the latter facing some questions in regards to the Rutgers opening earlier this spring. Hurley decided to stay put in Kingston for another season, choosing a talented roster that’s approaching full strength after an injury-riddled 2015-16 instead of taking on a major rebuilding job in his home state. Miller, whose name seemingly comes up regarding every major opening, also has a deep roster to work with next season at Dayton. Unless the opening is a truly elite one, why mess with happiness? VCU’s Will Wade also opted to remain in Richmond. He was targeted by Vanderbilt after Kevin Stallings left for Pitt.

2. The conference’s battle for respect is a continuous one: For those who watch the Atlantic 10 on a consistent basis, there’s no doubt that this is a quality league. But Selection Sunday left a bad taste in the mouths of some, the result of VCU getting a ten-seed or regular season tri-champion St. Bonaventure being left out of the field completely. It would be nice to say that the remedy is to simply win more games, but when it comes to getting teams in the NCAA tournament field who really knows what it takes when discussing a conference like the Atlantic 10 (and the league rated well in out of conference RPI and strength of schedule). The good news for the league is that it has multiple teams capable of playing their way into the national polls and staying there, with Dayton and URI leading the way.

3. Saint Joseph’s getting used to life without top three scorers: Phil Martelli’s Hawks won the Atlantic 10 tournament title and gave top seed Oregon all they wanted in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles leading the way. But those two, along with Aaron Brown, have all moved on meaning that Saint Joseph’s will have to account for the loss of their top three scorers from last season. The positive is that there are options, including guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble and forwards James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva, to call upon. But making that jump from supplementary piece to key cog in the attack can be a difficult one for some, and how the returning Hawks handle that shift will have a major impact on their season.

4. Incoming transfers will have a significant impact on the conference race: Many Atlantic 10 programs benefitted from the transfer market, whether it was the more conventional transfer (sit out a year before playing) or those of the grad student variety. Dayton (power forward Josh Cunningham) and Rhode Island (shooting guard Stanford Robinson) will both have transfers available, as will teams such as La Salle, George Washington (see below) and Duquesne. Duquesne’s most noteworthy transfer additions are of the grad student variety, with Kale Abrahamson (Drake) and Emile Blackman (Niagara) needing to be key contributors from the start with the Dukes losing the productive tandem of Micah Mason and Derrick Colter. Also adding immediately eligible transfers were George Washington (Patrick Steeves, Harvard) and Fordham (Javontae Hawkins, Eastern Kentucky).

Davidson's Jack Gibbs (12) tries to drive past Iowa's Mike Gesell during the first half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in the Round of 64 in Seattle, Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Davidson’s Jack Gibbs (12) (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • La Salle’s transfers: The Explorers’ lack of depth last season placed too much upon the shoulders of Jordan Price, with the team struggling to get wins in spite of his lofty point totals. Dr. John Giannini won’t lack for option in 2016-17, thanks in large part to the transfers who will be able to take the floor. Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson, Demetrius Henry and Tony Washington will all be eligible after sitting out last season, and Arizona State transfer Savon Goodman is eligible to compete immediately as a graduate student. The question: how well will the pieces mesh together?
  • Jaren Sina, George Washington: Another transfer, the former Seton Hall guard will be a key figure for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. As a sophomore Sina averaged 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game, but with Alex Mitola out of eligibility and Paul Jorgensen transferring he’ll be asked to run the show for a team that welcomes back Yuta Watanabe and Tyler Cavanaugh.
  • DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham, Massachusetts: The two Louisiana natives wanted to attend college together, and in the end their desire to do so benefitted the Minutemen. Of the two Jarreau may be the more important figure early on, as the four-star guard will be asked to help fill the void left by the departures of Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds on the perimeter.
  • De’Riante Jenkins, VCU: Will Wade landed a quality four-member freshman class, with the 6-foot-5 Jenkins being the crown jewel. Ranked 60th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, Jenkins is the second-highest ranking incoming freshman in the Atlantic 10 (Jarreau is 39th). And with Melvin Johnson graduating, there’s room for the athletic wing to have an immediate impact at VCU.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • L.G. Gill, Duquesne: Not sure how surprising this move truly is, especially considering the current transfer climate. Gill graduates this spring, and with the rules being what they are he can use his final season of eligibility at another school. But the loss of his team’s leading rebounder from a season ago means that head coach Jim Ferry will have to account for the departure of his top three scorers from last season (Derrick Colter and Micah Mason being the others).
  • Paul Jorgensen, George Washington: With Alex Mitola and Joe McDonald both out of eligibility, it appeared as if “Prince Harry of Harlem” was in line for an increase in playing time (averaging just over 15 mpg as a sophomore) in 2016-17. Instead Jorgensen decided to transfer, as his style didn’t always seem to mesh with what GW wanted to do offensively, and he’ll complete his final two seasons of eligibility elsewhere. The move leaves Mike Longeran’s team with even less experience on the perimeter, with Jaren Sina competing with underclassmen such as sophomore Jordan Roland for the point guard spot.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Travis Ford, Saint Louis: After a busy spring in 2015 the Billikens made the lone coaching change in the Atlantic 10 this spring, with the former Oklahoma State head coach replacing the dismissed Jim Crews. Ford has his work cut out for him too, as SLU’s talent issues that resulted in Crews’ firing won’t be remedied overnight. Of Saint Louis’ top five scorers from a season ago three have moved on, with Mike Crawford (10.3 ppg) and Jermaine Bishop (8.9 ppg) being the leading returning scorers. Ford attracted his fair share of talented recruits while in Stillwater, and the hope at SLU will be that he can do similar things while also developing that talent into a team capable of winning in the Atlantic 10.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

G Jack Gibbs (Davidson) – Player of the Year
G E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island)
G Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
F Charles Cooke III (Dayton)
F Hassan Martin (Rhode Island)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

1. Dayton: The Flyers return most of their key cogs, and a Charles Cooke III withdrawal from the NBA Draft would make them a Top 25 team.
2. Rhode Island: Health issues were the biggest problem for Rhody. With Matthews, Martin and Terrell among those back, URI can make a run at the A-10 crown.
3. VCU: Losing Melvin Johnson hurts, but VCU returns both experience and talent. They’ll be fine.
4. Davidson: Led by one of the nation’s top scorers in Jack Gibbs, the Wildcats return forward Peyton Aldridge as well.
5. Richmond: This is a big year for Chris Mooney, but he’s got some key pieces returning led by T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones.
6. George Washington: The Colonials have some key losses to account for, but returning Watanabe and Cavanaugh will help.
7. St. Bonaventure: Yes they lose Marcus Posley and Dion Wright. But Jaylen Adams returns, and it’s time to stop overlooking the job Mark Schmidt’s done as head coach.
8. Saint Joseph’s: Losing your top three scorers would hurt any team. The good news for SJU is that they’re rising sophomores are pretty good.
9. La Salle: The depth issues of last season have been remedied by the influx of transfers. But will all the pieces fit together?
10. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer has a budding all-conference player in Joseph Chartouny at his disposal, but the loss of Ryan Rhoomes hurts.
11. Massachusetts: The freshman class will help the Minutemen down the line, but this team needs to defend far better than they did a season ago.
12. Duquesne: Abrahamson and Blackman were productive stats-wise at prior stops, but can they help vault Jim Ferry’s team up the A-10 standings?
13. George Mason: Losing Shevon Thompson doesn’t help Dave Paulsen’s rebuilding efforts, but give him time. He’ll get Mason headed in the right direction.
14. Saint Louis: Speaking of needing time, Travis Ford is faced with quite the rebuilding project at SLU given the departures and their recent struggles.