After three basketball seasons broadcasting women's games at the University of Vermont, and Radford University I got my opportunity to call men's games in the fall of 2006. I was hired to be the play-by-play man at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. The Eagles were coming off of a 23-win season and a heartbreaking loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament's first round. Winthrop had never won a tournament game despite six trips to the dance in the prior eight seasons. Gregg Marshall was the coach of that team. Marshall took over a program that had gone 7-20 in 1998 and had never made the tournament. The next season Winthrop went 21-8 and reached the dance for the first time.
By the time the first practice began in October I was well versed on Winthrop's history when I started watching workouts regularly. When I entered the near empty gym, the only people there were Hall of Fame sports writer Gary McCann, and a few of Marshall's friends and family. I frequently sat next to Marshall's wife Lynn who would talk about the kids, the specials at the grocery store, and occasionally why she preferred hard hedging screens instead of switching defenders on them, or chasing them.
Lynn attended almost as many practices as the players did. The course language that Gregg used on occasion rivaled his wife's reaction to when players failed to run a play correctly, or were in the wrong spot on defense. She played basketball at Western Washington. Gregg hooped at Randolph-Macon. He liked to tell the story of getting a bloody nose once while playing and he explained that when you didn't have a lot of natural talent you could succeed by working hard and being tougher than your opponents.
That has been the method that has worked for Marshall for 15 years as a head coach. His teams rarely are brilliant shooters or picture perfect passers. They almost always dominate the glass and play with an attitude that chokes the life out of opponents. During the last three seasons Wichita State has been out-rebounded 11 times in 108 games. The Shockers have ranked among the nation's Top 15 each of the last three years in rebounding margin. When coaches and players are confident they win close games. The Shockers are 8-4 this season in games decided by six points or less.
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That first year broadcasting games at Winthrop was magical. The team won 29 games. Marshall had used the phrase “Unfinished Business” following the loss to Tennessee. During the season a Junk Yard Dog action figure found its way to the team, and Marshall ate up the fact that his team played like a “JYD.” His team beat Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and he left for Wichita after finishing that business.
When I last spoke with Marshall, the day before Selection Sunday, he told me that he would not be attending the Final Four in Atlanta this year because his daughter Maggie had a volleyball tournament that he wanted to attend. I was disappointed because hanging out with Gregg and Lynn, much like attending one of his practices, is more entertaining than any television or stage show you might find.
When Marshall is inducted into the Winthrop Athletics’ Hall of Fame later this month it will be a time to celebrate his success and remember good times. He may have a shiny new ring on his finger. That is nothing new. Long ago Winthrop made t-shirts that read “Got Rings? Winthrop” with pictures of the many championship rings the school has earned. Gregg Marshall has won everywhere he has gone and earned all of his success. His ultimate goal is just two wins away. I'll be rooting as hard as anybody for those two victories.