SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, mentor John Kresse will share Final Four fun
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall was asked Monday about his mentor. John Kresse, a reporter pointed out during a national conference call, did “great” things at the College of Charleston but never reached the Final Four.
Marshall got as defensive as a grateful man gets on his way to an unlikely Final Four appearance.
“You know, Coach Kresse spent most of his career as an NAIA coach,” Marshall said. “And he did make the Final Four; it was just in the NAIA tournament at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. In fact, he won it all (in 1983).”
Wichita State is this year's Final Four surprise story, a No. 9 seed on the way to Atlanta after NCAA tournament wins over Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State.
Kresse is happier than a Wichita State student eating free pizza. Marshall was his rising star assistant coach from 1988-1996 as College of Charleston was transitioning from NAIA power to NCAA Division I postseason regular.
“The end of the Ohio State-Wichita State game … Those were the longest minutes since I got out of coaching,” Kresse said.
Kresse worried Sunday that he might not be able to attend the Final Four. He thought he might have to give way to the oddest of basketball injuries.
“I cracked some ribs two weeks ago,” Kresse said. “I fell off my bed while I was having a dream. Usually, I have coaching dreams, but this was a basketball playing dream. I don't have those often, but I was on defense and I stole the ball and all the sudden I fell out of my king-size bed.”
Those ribs felt so much better Monday afternoon when Marshall called offering Final Four tickets. Kresse will sit with Marshall's family and stay at the team hotel.
Marshall probably won't sleep much in Atlanta.
He didn't get back to his Wichita home from Saturday's Elite Eight victory over Ohio State in Los Angeles until 5 a.m. Sunday.
Unlike most Sundays at the Marshall household, a CBS crew arrived to set up a mini-studio in the basement, allowing for a live interview with Marshall and Shockers guard Malcolm Armstead.
Then Marshall watched the Louisville-Duke game with wife Lynn, son Kellen and daughter Maggie while sorting through congratulatory messages.
But Marshall doesn't claim to be a better coach than he was last week.
“I don't think you have to make a Final Four in Division I to validate yourself as a great coach,” he said. “There are so many coaches I've encountered throughout my career at the NAIA level, Division II, Division III — I've coached at all of those levels. And there are some great junior college coaches and, I mean, some of the best coaches are high school coaches.”
It's possible that Kresse soon might be linked to Marshall's feats more than the other way around.
And the mentor is just fine with that.
“I wouldn't have been where I was without Gregg in the eight years he was with me,” Kresse said.
Kresse calls Marshall a “miracle maker” for a Final Four run after Wichita State lost its five top scorers from last year, and for reaching the NCAA tournament seven times in nine seasons as head coach at Winthrop.
Kresse knows too well what Wichita State is up against. Louisville played at TD Arena on Dec. 4. It was a nice chance for Kresse to catch up with longtime friend Rick Pitino, and for the Louisville head coach to see his daughter Jacqueline, a College of Charleston student.
Louisville clobbered the Cougars, 80-38.
“One of the most intense performances I've seen in a long time,” Kresse said.
Win or lose against Louisville, Gregg Marshall is a Final Four coach.
With, he insists, a Final Four mentor.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.