- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Last month, new Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall saw a player who was supposed to be wearing a Wichita State uniform this fall, die on the court right in front of him.
Monday, he watched as a former player was laid to rest wearing a Winthrop jersey after a car accident claimed his life.
The past two months have been the most tumultuous time in Marshall's life.
"I don't know how to explain it," Marshall said. "These were two very, very, tragic deals. A transition is tough enough. There are so many things that encompass moving a family and trying to get situated with a new program. And then these two events occur and make it very difficult, very sad and very tragic."
Marshall's March began with a bang, leading Winthrop to a thrilling Big South title win over VMI.
Then the upstart No. 11 Eagles, the Cinderella pick of the tournament that went 14-0 in the Big South, took out No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Spokane for its 29th win of the season. Winthrop's dream ended against Oregon in the second round, but the run ultimately catapulted Marshall to one of the hottest names in the coaching carousel.
He had a standing offer from Winthrop for a new 10-year deal that was going to bump his salary close to $500,000, the most ever for a Big South coach. Then he met with South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard. The school later flew him down to the campus, but he withdrew from that search. He was a backup choice at Arkansas and a possible fallback at Texas A&M.
Finally, once the Aggies chose Wichita State's Mark Turgeon, the door opened for Marshall to make the jump and get a deal for nearly $800,000, three times what he was making at Winthrop.
He took it. And on one of his first assignments as the new coach, he went to watch Wichita State signee Guy Alang-Ntang play at New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire on April 16. Alang-Ntang collapsed while playing in front of Marshall and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The Lord needed a point guard and certainly got one. He's got one heckuva fast break right now.
"I had just met him, and I watched it happen," Marshall said. "I didn't have a relationship yet, but it was tragic, very tragic."
Marshall dealt with that visual and tried to move on. Meanwhile, the top returning player P.J. Cousinard decided to enter the NBA draft (he is expected to withdraw within a few weeks) and his backcourt mate Sean Ogirri decided he wanted to transfer. Turgeon signees Denzel Bowles and Evann Baker decided they wanted out of their national letters of intent and were granted their releases.
So Marshall had to fill a roster. He ended up with five signees this spring, including St. Bonaventure transfer A.J. Hawkins. The other four were 7-foot Ehimen Orukpe, forwards Ejike Hart, Ramon Clemente and Mantas Griskenas.
Marshall seemed to be settling in and then suddenly he got the news. It was the kind no parent, no coach is ever prepared for. He was told that Winthrop junior De'Andre Adams had died last Wednesday from head injuries four days after a car accident. Adams had been returning home to Austell, Ga., when his car left the road, flipped over and hit a tree. He had just dropped off Winthrop teammate, Mantoris Robinson, at a relative's house.
"He was an inspiration," Marshall said. "He was a player who helped us win games, took a charge on Tory Jackson [of Notre Dame], helped us win that game, defended well and was as tough as they come."
Marshall was in Atlanta Monday for the funeral. The entire Winthrop team was there, dressed in their jerseys, Marshall said. Marshall's replacement, his former assistant Randy Peele, was in attendance too.
"So tough, so tough to deal with," Marshall said. "He touched so many people. It was a wonderful ceremony to celebrate his life and honor him. The Lord needed a point guard and certainly got one. He's got one heckuva fast break right now."
It's all contributed to a spring that has been a complete blur.
"I've never worked so hard," Marshall said. "All I know is that you have to remember these kids for what kind of people they were, what their lives were about and what was in their heart and keep their spirit alive, and we'll certainly do that.
"Wichita is a tremendous opportunity with a great program, an unbelievable facility and great support. The people there have been great. They are aware of everything that happened (with Adams), and it's been a difficult transition, the hardest I've worked and the hardest I've been through. But I didn't come here for one season. I got a long-term contract, and we're going to be the best team we can be next year."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.