Skip to content

Gregg Marshall and his Merry Band of Misfits

Apr 5, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT

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

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Tom Izzo calls Denzel Valentine’s play during foreign tour ‘unbelievable’

    Sep 1, 2015, 8:42 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Denzel Valentine will be in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year this season.

  2. Four-star 2016 recruit Juwan Durham commits to UConn

    Sep 1, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    UConn landed its second four-star recruit in the Class of 2016.

  3. Four-star 2016 center sets four official visits

    Sep 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Jayce Johnson is focusing on five schools as he’s set four official visits.

  4. Rivalry games highlight Georgetown’s non-conference schedule

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    John Thompson III AP

    Georgetown has some very intriguing games on the non-conference slate.

  5. Report: Arkansas signee Ted Kapita signs professional contract

    Sep 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Arkansas Razorbacks Anderson looks on as his team takes on the LSU Tigers during the first round of the SEC men's NCAA basketball tournament in New Orleans Reuters

    Arkansas won’t be getting a boost from the four-star big man.

  6. Pitt adds junior college guard for 2015-16 roster

    Sep 1, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    Big East Basketball Tournament - Syracuse v Pittsburgh Getty Images

    Pitt bolsters its backcourt with the late addition of a junior college guard.

  7. Coastal Carolina moving to Sun Belt

    Sep 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Conference realignment is still happening at the lower levels as Coastal Carolina makes a move to the Sun Belt.

  8. Summer mixtape of New York 2016 guard Shamorie Ponds (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    Shamorie Ponds is one of the best bucket-getting guards in the 2016 class.

  9. Malik Monk’s highlights from Nike Global Challenge (VIDEO)

    Aug 31, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT

    (USA Baketball) (USA Baketball)

    Malik Monk is rated No. 6 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.

  10. Iowa State adds three-star power forward Solomon Young

    Aug 31, 2015, 9:44 PM EDT

    Nike Nike

    It’s the second commit in as many nights for the Cyclones.

  11. Siena applies for waiver on behalf of Javion Ogunyemi

    Aug 31, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Jimmy Patsos AP

    Javion Ogunyemi averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2014-15.

  12. Syracuse, Georgetown to officially renew rivalry on December 5

    Aug 31, 2015, 6:10 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The two teams last met in the 2013 Big East Tournament

  13. Indiana dismisses Emmitt Holt

    Aug 31, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Indiana dismissed the forward after his second alcohol-related incident.

  14. Bill Self remains “confident” Cheick Diallo will be eligible this season

    Aug 31, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Cheick Diallo is still waiting to hear from the NCAA Eligibility Center.

  15. Five-star 2016 guard Frank Jackson set to announce his decision

    Aug 31, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT

    (adidas) (adidas)

    Frank Jackson will make his college decision on Tuesday.

  16. New mixtape of five-star 2016 guard Rawle Alkins (VIDEO)

    Aug 31, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Adidas Eurocamp 2015 - Day One Getty Images

    Rawle Alkins is one of the best players to come out of New York in years.

  17. Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan makes another statement wavering on potential retirement

    Aug 31, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT

    boryan Getty Images

    Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan seems to be taking things slowly when it comes to deciding his future.