RH: “We All Have Completely different Paths”

The Round House | 7/8/2022 3:09:00 PM

By Paul Suellentrop

It is important to trust that a teammate will help on defense, pass the basketball to the right spot and hand out high fives when things are tough.

For Wichita State basketball, building that cohesion and camaraderie begins this summer in the Champions Club at Koch Arena on Wednesdays. Their bonding projects start with the five H’s – heritage, hero, highlight, heartbreak and hope. The Shockers – 11 newcomers among them – gather regularly for a talk and a meal designed to turn them into a team.

“I like being good teammates on and off the court,” senior guard Craig Porter said. “This gives us all a better feel for each other.”

Each Shocker opens up about his life, largely away from basketball, relating to the evening’s topic. “Heritage” details their family and background. “Hero” reveals someone important in their life and connecting that to how young fans look up to the Shockers. They pick a “highlight” of their life and discuss their biggest “heartbreak.” “Hope” allows the Shockers to describe their legacy.

“If you want to be a leader, you know what they’ve been through,” senior transfer James Rojas said. “To always check in on them, I think that will build a better bond as a team and it will work better on the court. We all have different paths.”

The Shockers are also bonding over bowling, pickle ball, and dinners at the home of a booster. Nick Jonesdirector of player development, is looking into boxing and military-style training sessions later this summer.

“This will bring them closer together,” coach Issac Brown said. “The more time they spend with each other, hopefully, this will carry over to the basketball court, that this is your brother and you’re going to go to war with him.”

Rojas talked about how his son Zayden, 2, means sometimes basketball is secondary to family. Xavier Bella sophomore transfer, told his new teammates that Drexel’s trip to the 2021 NCAA Tournament stood as his highlight.

“It’s perspective and building that team trust,” Bell said.

Porter learned that Rojas excels at cornhole, the back-yard game of pitching bean bags.

“He makes it every time,” Porter said. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen or played against.”

Jones, who organizes and facilitates the talks, introduced the “hero” topic by describing newcomer Melvion Flanagan befriending a shy youngster at camp and helping him throughout the day.

Jones said the heritage and heartbreak talks are usually the most memorable and the ones that can often reveal vulnerabilities that help build relationships. The Shockers used this exercise before the 2018-19 season, also to help a roster with many new faces. Jones remembers former Shocker Samajae Haynes-Jones telling the story of his mother’s death of her in 2014 from cancer.

“It was really good for that team,” Jones said. “Some of that stuff is not going to come up in the locker room or in conversation. Once you know someone and know their story, it’s hard not to like them.”

The Shockers will go through a lot over the next nine months – fatigue, sore muscles, missed shots, wins, losses and travel. Their hope is that the bonds built in June and July will help them navigate the tough times together.

Paul Suellentrop covers Wichita State Athletics and the American Athletic Conference for university Strategic Communications. Story suggestions? Contact him at paul.suellentrop@wichita.edu.

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