Gregg Marshall wasn't expecting to join an elite group that has won Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in back-to-back seasons, but he thinks he knows why he received the honor again Thursday afternoon.
"This is one of the more challenging years, because of the turnover going into the season," Marshall said. "And it was additionally challenging because of what happened after that."
The Shockers were already facing the predicament of replacing four starters from last season. Of their 15 players, nine had never played a minute for WSU.
Then in December, they essentially lost three more starters to injury within a 48-hour period. Carl Hall (thumb) was out for more than a month. Ron Baker (foot) and Evan Wessel (hand) haven't played since.
No matter to the Shockers, who are 24-7 and hold the No. 2 seed going into Thursday night's quarterfinal game in the Valley Tournament.
"I wouldn't have predicted it," Marshall said prior to Thursday's shooting session at the Scottrade Center. "I wouldn't have predicted it when were healthy, going into the season. It's a testament to the hard work and perseverance that the young men displayed all year long. And what we've overcome."
Marshall became the first WSU coach to win consecutive Valley Coach of the Year honors. Only three coaches have pulled that off the last 40 years. Nolan Richardson never won the honor in back-to-back seasons, and neither did coaching legends like Denny Crum or Hank Iba.
None of which caused Marshall to be impressed with himself. He was quick to credit his coaching staff of Chris Jans, Greg Heiar and K.T. Turner for landing newcomers like Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Malcolm Armstead.
When the injuries happened, Marshall said, it rattled none of them.
"We never stopped looking," said Marshall, who is hopeful to get Baker back this week. "Our staff continued to figure out ways to look how to score, how to defend better, how to utilize less depth. And the guys just continued to believe and not even be fazed by it, apparently. What we were stressing as a staff, I guess we never let that creep into their psyche. They're very confident and very capable."
Early and Demetric Williams, who were brought to the media session Wednesday, were quick to congratulate Marshall for the honor.
"He's a winner," Early said, "and that's why we come to the program."
Marshall said he's still upset over missing an opportunity to repeat as Valley regular-season champs. The Shockers have lost back-to-back games, and gave up 91 points at Creighton in a winner-take-all matchup last weekend.
"But down the road, when we're just chatting over a golf hole or over a beer at the beach, we'll look back on this and say, 'That's a pretty good year,'" Marshall said. "But we're still in this right now. It's a grind. It's hard.
"Everyone's telling me, 'Just slow down and appreciate where you are. Live for the moment.' But that's difficult for coaches and players who are trying to be the best."