Sports

Marshall's outlook changed by tragedies

COLUMBIA -- Your perspective changes with the landscape, particularly when you are a college basketball coach. Competing in the Missouri Valley Conference on the high plains of Kansas means you have a higher standing than when you were in the Big South Conference while working out of Rock Hill.

But there is much more than the landscape that has changed Gregg Marshall's perspective on college basketball since he left Winthrop to become the head coach at Wichita State this past April.

"What's going through my mind these days is how fragile life is," Marshall said recently by in telephone conversation from Wichita. "You are not promised tomorrow. You must enjoy every day. You must appreciate life, look for the positive and not dwell on the negative."

Two days into his new job, Marshall watched as Guy Alang-Ntang, a 6-foot-7 forward who hours earlier had renewed his commitment to play basketball at Wichita State, collapsed and died of heart failure during a pickup game in New Hampton, N.H.

Exactly one month later, on May 16, De'Andre Adams died from injuries suffered in an auto accident in Atlanta. Adams, a backup point guard, played the past two seasons for Marshall at Winthrop.

"It will be a long time before I forget this summer, this time," Marshall said. "It will be a long time before I forget these two young men."

One month after leading Winthrop to its first NCAA Tournament victory, Marshall was introduced as Wichita State's head coach at a news conference on Saturday, April 14. His first two orders of business were to return to Winthrop and clean out his office, then begin firming up the four commitments the previous Wichita State coach had secured from recruits.

Sunday the 15th was a tearful day in Rock Hill for Marshall, who reminisced with friends and Winthrop supporters, Marvin Johnson and Jim Conrad, as he packed boxes and essentially closed the book on nine spectacular seasons that merited seven conference championships and an equal number of NCAA Tournament appearances.

On Monday, Marshall's scheduled flight out of Charlotte to Washington, D.C., was canceled because of inclement weather in the nation's capital. So, instead of visiting with recruit Evan Baker, Marshall rescheduled a flight to New Hampshire to meet with Alang-Ntang.

Upon arriving at the New Hampton School, Marshall met with Alang-Ntang in the office of head basketball coach Jamie Arsenault. Marshall was struck by Alang-Ntang's enthusiasm, and the two connected well enough for Alang-Ntang to say that he intended to honor his fall signing with Wichita State.

Then Marshall decided to watch Alang-Ntang play in a pickup game in the school gymnasium. Alang-Ntang, a native of Cameroon, was considered what college basketball coaches term a "project." He was lithe and agile, but his skills were raw and would need much refinement once he arrived at Wichita State.

Then, at about 7 p.m., Alang-Ntang collapsed.

""I thought he was kidding around at first," Marshall said. "When he fell and hit the back of his head on the floor, you knew he wasn't kidding. I thought he was having a seizure."

Alang-Ntang was dead before he reached a nearby hospital.

"I never coached him. I didn't have a relationship with him yet," Marshall said, "but he seemed like such a nice young man, a wonderful looking athlete. It was just a very, very traumatic, awful experience."

One month later, on May 12, Marshall received a phone call from a friend in Charlotte who said that Adams had been involved in a serious auto accident. Four days later, Adams was dead.

Adams' death was particularly difficult for Marshall and his family. Marshall's wife, Lynn, and their children, 10-year-old Kellen and 8-year-old Maggie, had grown close to Adams during his two seasons at Winthrop. On trips, Kellen and Maggie often sidled up to Adams in the back of the bus.

"All people were drawn to De'Andre because of his miniature status," Marshall said. "He won people over with his energy, quickness, smile, enthusiasm and competitiveness. People were kind of drawn to him."

Despite being 5-8 and weighing 158 pounds, Marshall inserted Adams into the lineup as a way to change a game's pace. Adams was particularly effective in doing just that during Winthrop's NCAA Tournament opening-round win against Notre Dame when he drew a charging foul and ignited several fastbreaks. Then, in the next round, he hit a shot at the end of the first half that closed Oregon's lead to four points in the next round.

Adams' mother died when he was 3. His father was deployed overseas for most of Adams' childhood, and he was reared mostly by his grandmother. Because of his size, he was overlooked by most college scouts coming out of South Cobb High School in Atlanta.

But Marshall saw something in Adams that others did not. He saw a young man and player who listed in the Winthrop media guide as his goal in life to "be successful."

"He overcame a lot to be a success," Marshall said. "It was abbreviated success, but he packed a lot into 20 years on earth. He was a special guy."

Marshall said he will keep photos of Adams and Alang-Ntang in his Wichita State office. Marshall said he has expanded his job to include keeping the spirit of those two alive in his teachings. He said the two can forever serve as examples for his players to follow in showing enthusiasm for the game of basketball.

As for Marshall, he says the deaths of Alang-Ntang and Adams have served notice to him to treat every one of his players as if they were a member of his immediate family. He said there will be much more hugging of players at Wichita State when practice begins in October.

  Comments