Pieces fit to perfection for Shockers

Wichita State's smooth blend of non-star talent produces sweet season

NCAA men

Ncaa Tournament


Shockers' blend is winning recipe Wichita State had just posted its biggest basketball victory in 25 years, one that advanced the Shockers into the Sweet 16 in the Washington Regional, and sophomore guard Matt Braeuer was asked if he had ever visited the nation's capital.

"I've never been there," Braeuer said, "but I'm sure it's gonna be a lot of fun."

Braeuer is a 5-foot-11, 157-pound, 19-year-old cherub. His giddiness was a rare moment of innocence in an era when rising high school juniors absolutely must do Vegas on the AAU circuit. But don't be mistaken: He plays for a Wichita State team that has been around the block.

Massive center Paul Miller, whose father played soccer at the Naval Academy, is a fifth-year senior who turned that extra season into a Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year campaign.

Kyle Wilson, a 6-8 forward from Dallas who can post up or hit the three, came off the bench last year as a transfer while his former team, Illinois, went to the NCAA final.

Karon Bradley, the sixth man who made the go-ahead jumper against second-seeded Tennessee, was a freshman on the Marquette team that went to the 2003 Final Four. He prepped in Houston, along with P.J. Couisnard, a versatile wing who redshirted as a freshman.

The coach who brought them all together is Mark Turgeon, a Topeka, Kan., native who was the junior point guard for Kansas in 1986, when the Jayhawks went to the Final Four.

Fresh out of college, he was on the Kansas staff in 1988, when Danny Manning keyed an NCAA title and coach Larry Brown began to put the peri in peripatetic by going back to the NBA.

After seventh-seeded Wichita State put away Tennessee last Saturday, Turgeon's wife, Ann, hopped a railing and they shared a smooch and a hug. The Shockers faithful are wondering if they'll be kissing Turgeon goodbye, as he could be a very hot commodity in the Big 12 Conference. Missouri, for instance, could do a lot worse in its coaching search.

Wichita State hired Turgeon in March 2000 after a lost decade in which it barely won 40 percent of its games and baseball carried the campus, thanks to Gene Stephenson, the second Division I coach to win 1,500 games.

Turgeon has gradually rebuilt a program that had last gone to the NCAA tournament in 1988 and is decades removed from its finest hour.

The Shockers might have fared better in the 1965 Final Four had Dave Stallworth not run out of eligibility in midseason. He played for the NBA-champion Knicks in 1970, and was on Baltimore's last NBA team in 1973-73, before the Bullets fled town. Cliff Levingston, Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel also played for the Shockers.

This team has no stars of that magnitude, and no single go-to guy. Four Shockers average in double figures, and six have led the team in scoring this season. Miller was on the bench for much of the game-winning run against the Volunteers. As Turgeon prepared to talk to CBS afterward, he was flanked by his entire team.

With 340,000, Wichita is twice as populous as the second-largest city in Kansas. As talent such as Tahj Gray left town to go to such Big 12 schools as Oklahoma, Turgeon made do with second-tier recruits and castoffs.

Sean Ogirri, a sophomore who's made 45.3 percent of his three-pointers, was a steal out of Denver. Wilson left Illinois after appearing in 18 games as a freshman. Braeuer never got a chance in a major conference. Growing up north of Austin in a Texas prep Class of 2004, he wasn't in quite the same demand as Longhorns star Daniel Gibson. His other big offer was from Texas State of the Southland Conference.

"That's sort of been our motivation," Braeuer said of the collective chip on the Shockers' shoulders. "Not necessarily in the tournament, but in how hard we all worked in practice."

Miller could have gone to Texas Tech in the pre-Bob Knight days, but understood his limitations.

"I wouldn't say I was highly recruited," said Miller, who broke a foot three games into his freshman year and took a redshirt. "I was one of those guys that needed to get better, needed to develop. Sometimes you go to a bigger program, but the exciting thing about Wichita State was that I was able to not just be part of a team, but to be a big part of a championship team."

Wichita State was senior-oriented last season. This group was picked to finish fifth in the MVC, and Turgeon said there were days when "I didn't think we were any good as a team." A one-point loss to Illinois in November was a good sign, and the Shockers meshed in MVC play, going 14-4 and taking the regular-season title in a league that had a record four NCAA teams. On Friday, they can avenge a Feb. 18 loss to George Mason.

It's an eclectic bunch. A hunter, Miller sought quiet in the woods in the 12 days between his team's elimination from the MVC tournament and the NCAA opener. Wilson got his aviation license last year and pilots single-engine Cessnas, fitting for a team that's going places.

"It's a very big deal, but you don't know the impact until after the season," Wilson said of a landmark year. "I don't want the aura of being in the Sweet 16 to affect us."


Moving up

Wichita State has shown steady progress under sixth-year coach Mark Turgeon:

Season .............................. Record

2000-01 ................................. 9-19

2001-02 ............................. 15-15

2002-03 ................................18-12

2003-04 ............................... 21-11

2004-05 .............................. 22-10

2005-06 ............................... 26-8

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