Wichita is abuzz right now. The Shockers are headed to their second Sweet 16 in the past ten years, fifth all time. They just beat the number one team in the country in Gonzaga. That game will go down as one of the biggest wins in Shocker history. Unfortunately I was not there to witness it in person but was able to watch it with some of my closest fellow Shocker fans and friends in the privacy of my own home where I probably could have had at least a dozen noise complaints. It was a game where fans got to experience the highs and lows of being a fan. Fortunately it ended being on a high with that big win. I’ll be headed to Los Angeles tomorrow morning but wanted to fit one blog in before the month of March ended.
I’m going the non-food route for this blog. I reached out to two friends of mine who some of you may know but all of Shocker Nation should never forget: Paul Miller and Rob Kampman.
For the readers that may not pay as much attention to Shocker basketball, Paul Miller was with Wichita State from 2001-2006. Paul was on the team when the Shockers last made it to the Sweet 16. He’s a former first team All MVC, MVC Player of the year, and recently inducted into the Shocker Hall of Fame. Rob Kampman was with the team from 2001-2005. He is one of the Shockers best career three point shooters. He’s 9th all time on three pointers made and has a 4th best single season record of shooting 47.5% from beyond the arc. Both Paul and Rob are on the list of most games played as a Shocker. And a little known fact, both of them are both taller than me.
On with Wichita By E.B.’s first world exclusive interview:
Eddy: First question that everybody is dying to know, what have you guys been up to?
Paul Miller: The last 7 years I’ve been playing internationally. I’ve played for 9 different teams in 6 different countries. This year I’m playing for a team in Dijon, France. Overall my professional career has been great and through it I’ve been able to do and see things around the world that otherwise I never would have had the opportunity.
Rob Kampman: Most recently, I’m back in Australia playing for a team called Geraldton Buccaneers in Western Australia. It is about 4 hours outside of Perth, most of our games are played in Perth. It is my 6th season playing in Australia. Before that, I was in Iowa working with Genesis Pure and helping coach basketball at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.
Eddy: Rob, you failed to mention you guys won your first game in Australia and your stat line was 31-17-4. Looks like you haven’t lost your touch! What’s your team’s season outlook going to be?
Rob: We were picked towards the middle of the pack in a league with 14 teams, but we will be better than that. Our talent makes us a top-8 team right now and we are still going to add another American import to the mix, so we will be ok.
Eddy: It’s March so we all know that can only mean one thing: March Madness. Have you guys been able to watch any of the tournament? Thoughts?
Rob: I haven’t seen as many games as I’d like to watch, but the ones I’ve seen are similar to how the NCAA basketball season went, any team has a chance to beat anyone else in the win-or-go-home format of the tournament. That’s what makes this tournament better than any other sporting event.
Paul: I’ve been able to watch the games over the Internet and so far I think it’s been a good tournament. While there haven’t been many buzzer beaters or crazy finishes at the end of games as some years it’s been fun to watch lower seeds knock off the favorites. I really enjoyed both the Shocker games and especially the Gonzaga game. I thought it was just a really fun and entertaining game to watch and it was played at a high level. Of course the Shocks winning made it even more memorable.
Eddy: Rob, were you able to watch the Gonzaga game? If not, what did you do after you heard WSU beat the number one team in the country?
Rob: I was following it on my phone and the page couldn’t refresh itself quickly enough. I felt relief when I saw the “Final” title above the score line. I didn’t go crazy though…I had a certain expectation for them to win and still do in the next round.
Eddy: Awesome. I love the faith you have in this year’s team.
Eddy: Paul, can you explain what’s going through the thoughts of the players having been to a Sweet Sixteen back in 2006?
Paul: Well much like back in 2006 the Shockers play a team that’s a lower seed and a team that most people didn’t expect to be in the Sweet 16. So the thought that you could realistically make the Elite 8 is definitely on the team’s mind. I can remember feeling a little pressure in 06 because we weren’t playing a North Carolina or Duke where it would be understandable to lose to a better team. The guys know they have an unbelievable chance to win and advance and with that, there is more pressure mentally than playing a number 1 seed like Gonzaga where you are playing as an underdog. I’m sure some of these thoughts are on their minds. At the same time it’s a great feeling to be in the Sweet 16 and the whole experience is a lot of fun so I know they are having a good time.
Eddy: The players and coaches are on big media tours now. Did you have any memorable appearances or interviews that stick out?
Paul: I can remember doing 2 or 3 radio interviews right after we beat Tennessee and I remember going on a couple KC sports talk shows leading up to the Sweet 16. My cousin is a host on the Sports Animal out of Oklahoma City and I was on the show with them a couple times during the tournament and it was a lot of fun.
Eddy: Rob, While unfortunately you just missed out on the NCAA Tournament during your Wichita State career, you were definitely one of the guys responsible for helping build back the program to what it has become. WSU basketball was in a pretty rough state before you came on, what made you decide on Wichita State?
Rob: Coach Tad Boyle, now HC at Colorado, was the one who recruited me and a guy I have a lot of respect for. He is sincere and honest and competitive. He told me where the program was currently and talked about the recruiting class they had coming in, and when he talked about being part of the rebuilding process it was exciting. I wanted to be a part of that.
Eddy: That’s awesome. As fans, we were definitely glad you chose the right school. Do you still keep in touch with Tad Boyle? Tad has done a great job at Colorado and is already the winningest postseason coach in Colorado history.
Rob: Coach Boyle is a busy man! Yes I keep in touch with him, but Jean Prioleau and Mike Rohn are assistants at Colorado and were also coaches for me at WSU, so I keep in touch with them a little more than Coach Boyle.
Eddy: Gregg Marshall has done a great job taking over the program after Mark Turgeon left. I think Turgeon doesn’t get enough credit for putting the program back into prominence. Fans are sometimes fickle to only remember how he left than what he did. How far did the program come along due to Turgeon in your years with WSU?
Rob: It was different than it is now. Imagine putting yourself on one of the bottom-half teams in the conference right now…they don’t get a lot of respect and have to work extra hard for everything they get. That was where we were at back then. Having said that, Coach Turgeon always used to say “it’s easy to be bad, it’s not easy being good.” I think what’s even tougher is being great, and that’s where Shocker basketball is trying to get to right now.
Paul: I think a lot of people remember how he left and the couple tough years from 06-07 to 09-10. I’ve always thought that if people didn’t like a coach they wouldn’t be upset when he left so I think there is a little bitterness with fans simply because he left. Coach Turgeon took WSU from a doormat in the Valley to a contender and eventually Valley Champs, a Sweet 16 and the best coaching job in the Valley outside of Creighton. He was part of Koch getting renovated, chartered jets for travel, and getting the Shockers more TV games and national exposure. So he was instrumental in what WSU has become today.
Eddy: Rob, you mentioned earlier, you spent some time coaching when you were back home. What do you like about the style of Gregg Marshall’s coaching?
Rob: I like his intensity and how he gets his guys to play a certain way to control the tempo. There aren’t too many teams who can beat Wichita State at our own game–defense and rebounding.
Eddy: Getting back to this year’s team and your own experiences as a player, is there any advice you could offer the players in what they are going through?
Paul: Just enjoy it. They are one of 16 teams left playing and the whole nation is watching. Most players will never get the opportunity to play in a game this big. There is a reason they have made it to this point and don’t feel like you have to be something different now. Focus on what the game plan is and go out and play with confidence and all they got.
Rob: Trust yourselves and trust each other. Your routines have gotten you this far, don’t change them now.
Eddy: It’s very true that all eyes are on the Shockers especially in Wichita. From what you’ve been able to see, are there any personal fan favorites on this year’s team that stick out for you?
Rob: Not really, they are all so important in getting to this point! Carl Hall is most valuable because they don’t get to this point without him, but they can win without him and have done so through injuries and foul trouble. Also, Demetric Williams doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.
Paul: I’ve enjoyed watching Carl Hall play this year he’s an extremely hard worker and he never gives up on a play.
Eddy: Is there any single moment that sticks out in your Shocker career that every time you think back makes you smile?
Rob: A single one? That’s tough. As weird as it sounds, the Florida State game in the NIT will always be remembered. As a player, it had a different atmosphere and maybe that was because some different fans were offered the chance to buy tickets to that game. Maybe it was because we stood toe-to-toe with a solid program and it took a ridiculous individual performance for them to beat us. I was EXHAUSTED after that game! Honorable mention goes to numerous road wins over the years. That’s when the team really came together and grew, on the road it was us against the world and we liked that feeling.
|MVC Regular Season Champions|
Paul: Outside of the Sweet 16, cutting down the nets after winning the Valley Championship on senior day. That was a big moment for me.
Eddy: Speaking of big moments, anything that involved Creighton was always a big deal. What’s your take on them leaving the Missouri Valley for the Big Least…..sorry I mean Big East.
Rob: Good riddance! But seriously, I wish they were staying around for many reasons. I hate their guts, can’t stand losing to them, and loved beating them. But as hard as it is to admit…man I hate them…they suck…and their fans are the worst…can’t believe I’m letting you print this………..some of that hatred comes from wanting what they have. They’ve built a consistently good program at the top of our conference that competes nationally. If we weren’t talking about Creighton, most Shocker fans would agree.
Eddy: I totally get what you mean. I cannot stand Creighton for the life of me but if they were a bottom feeder in the Valley, our opinions of them would be totally different. I’ve been to games in Omaha and St. Louis and they have some pretty bad fans. There are times you run into some good fans but in St. Louis, my experience has most been the former. It’s pretty annoying.
Paul: I think it’s sad they are leaving considering they are the other top team in the conference. Definitely makes the conference worse. I hope they can find someone to replace them that is good.
Eddy: So switching gears, we’re all NBA fans. Who’s your NBA Finals and Champion pick?
Paul: I think it’s going to be a rematch of last year’s finals with OKC matching up with the Heat. But the West is a little bit of a mystery right now so i could see the Spurs or Grizzlies making a run. Either way the Heat will take the title this year. They are too good defensively and they have the best player in LeBron.
Rob: I’m going Miami beating Oklahoma City. Not very original, but in 7-game series the better team usually wins. LeBron is at another level and has developed that will to win only the greatest players possess.
Eddy: Smart money says Heat will win it all for sure. People shouldn’t sleep on the Indiana Pacers. I know I’m biased and a big Pacers fans but watch out. If it’s anybody that poses at least a slim chance of an upset, it’s Indiana. And speaking of the Indiana Pacers, you may have heard that my childhood idol and greatest three point shooter of all time, Reggie Miller, will be calling the Wichita State games at the Staples Center. Rob, yourself being a great three point shooter in Shocker history, where you do you rank Reggie in the all-time greats of long distance shooting?
Rob: Stats say he is 2nd best long distance shooter of all time and I agree. I like him better than Ray Allen, but you have to give Allen the nod as best because of his longevity.
Eddy: I think Reggie deserves some credit for playing with the same team his entire career and not having the surrounding cast that Ray was able to have.
Rob: I knew there would be feedback on the Reggie answer!
Eddy: So rank the three of us and Reggie Miller in a three point contest.
Rob: As for the 3-pt contest rankings, don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answers to…
Eddy: We’re friends, shoot me straight.
Rob: 1. Reggie 2. Rob 3. Paul 4. Eddy
Eddy: WHAT?!?!?!?! Paul, you agree with that?
Paul: He’s probably right; although I think out of 10 times I would get him 2 or 3 times. Haha.
Eddy: Have you guys seen the movie Little Giants? Don’t count out the little guy!
(Go watch Little Giants if you have never seen the movie, pretty good kid’s flick)
Eddy: So as you know, this is mainly a food blog. So I have to ask. When you’re in Wichita, what are your favorite restaurants to hit up when in town?
Paul: Red Rock Canyon Grill is probably my first choice, ever since going there on my recruiting visit back in 2000 it’s been my favorite.
Eddy: Good call. Plus they have the best deviled eggs in all of Wichita.
Rob: Outback Steakhouse is my favorite by far. After that, anything goes. I always liked going to Il Primo for heart-attack breakfast sandwiches after a night out on the town. Red Rock Canyon Grill, Il Vicino on north Rock Road, Chipotle, Jason’s Deli…this list could go on and on!
Eddy: There’s just something about the north Rock Road location being better than the east Douglas location these days. I think it’s the management or something.
So I really want to thank you guys for your time. Hope to see you both soon. Any final thoughts?
Paul: Go Shocks!
Rob: As corny as it was when Jim Schaus used to always say “It’s a great day to be a Shocker” it really is right now. He deserves some credit in this as does former president Don Beggs and his wife Shirley. They were some extraordinary people who built the foundation for where we are at now. Lastly, being in the Sweet 16 rocks but the player in me asks why stop here? I hope the team, support staff, and fans are focusing on winning this next game and doing some more damage!
Eddy: And with that all said, yes, Go Shox!