WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall abhors excuses, so when asked what needs to change to get his team back on track, he first mentions creating better shots and defending better.
Then, almost as an aside, he adds: “I hope we’re done with injuries.”
Perhaps no other team in major college basketball has weathered more of them during the first few weeks of the season. Star point guard Fred VanVleet is hobbled by a hamstring, backup Landry Shamet had a stress fracture in his left foot that landed him on crutches and forward Anton Grady may never play the game again after a frightening injury during a tournament in Florida.
No surprise that the Shockers, ranked 10th in the preseason poll, have lost four of their past five games to drop out altogether. Their only win during that stretch came against Emporia State, a Division II school not far from their campus in southeastern Kansas.
“We are missing a lot of key guys,” said Markis McDuffie, a freshman forward. “But we’re not going to sit here and say the whole (reason for the losses) was because of injuries.”
That wouldn’t be the Wichita State way.
The Shockers have made a habit of overcoming adversity the past few years. They’ve rattled off three straight 30-win seasons, each capped by an NCAA Tournament trip, even though it has only been recently that many have begun to give Marshall and his troops credit for their accomplishments.
Another 30-win season is a longshot at this point. Instead, the Shockers (2-4) are just hoping to get healthy enough to make a run in the Missouri Valley Conference, and earn another trip to the tournament in the final season for Baker, VanVleet and the rest of their seniors.
“We’re not performing to our capabilities, even though we’re missing a lot of key guys,” McDuffie said. “We’re going to keep fighting and practicing, and we’re definitely going to knock off this losing streak. It’s a wake-up call. No one expected this.”
VanVleet dealt with an ankle injury at the start of the season before the hamstring issue cropped up. He missed the entire Advocare Invitational in Florida – the Shockers lost all three games – and was still hobbled in practice this week. His status for Saturday’s game at Saint Louis remains in question.
“He’s doing stuff on the side during practice,” Marshall said. “He’s running a bit and working with the trainers. It’s protocol to get as conditioned as possible without harming the hamstring. I don’t know (if he’ll play Saturday). There’s a chance, but I don’t know.”
There is no chance that Shamet will be on the court anytime soon.
The talented freshman guard averaged 8.7 points in the Shockers’ first three games. He complained of pain on the outside of his foot for about a week before the fracture was discovered.
Marshall indicated the timetable for recovery is 10 to 12 weeks.
Asked about the state of his backcourt, Marshall replied: “Depleted, short-handed, inexperienced other than Ron. We’re moving small forwards into the backcourt just to have enough guys. … To have Fred and then Landry go down is a lot for us to overcome.”
Then came the injury to Grady, by far the most serious.
The transfer from Cleveland State collided with an Alabama player in the final minutes of their game last week. Grady took a few steps before falling to the court, and teammates heard him say that he couldn’t move. He was loaded onto a stretcher and transported to an Orlando hospital, and CT scans and an MRI exam revealed that he had sustained a spinal concussion.
Grady was able to fly back to Wichita with the team, and the senior hopes to continue playing basketball. But for now, his immediate future involves rehabilitation.
“I don’t know if he’ll play again, or if so, then when,” Marshall said. “I’ll leave that up to the doctor’s decisions – his family, trainers and him.”
For now, the Shockers are forced to press on without him.
Without Shamet and VanVleet, too.
“Once we know who’s going to be out on the floor,” Marshall said, “we’ve got to come up with an attack that’s going to create easier scoring opportunities than the ones we’re getting. We’ve got to shoot the ball better and execute better. I hope we’re done with additional injuries. It seems like we’ve been going backward for a while.”