The gamble Gregg Marshall decided to take in recruiting Carl Hall has worked out nicely for Wichita State.
Marshall really wanted the athletic junior college forward, but Hall came with a potential deal-breaker. A heart issue had forced the 6-foot-7 Georgian to miss almost two seasons in junior college, but not before his five-year eligibility clock had started running.
Marshall knew if he offered Hall a scholarship for the 2011-12 season that it could be the only season he'd play for the Shockers. In order to get him a second season, Wichita State would have to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility for Hall.
“There was a risk because if we'd lose the appeal to the NCAA,” Marshall said, “we'd have him for just the one year. But in my opinion, the risk was worth it.”
Hall had a strong impact last season, playing as the sixth man on a veteran team that won the Missouri Valley regular-season championship and played in the NCAA tournament. He's been the Shockers' best player this season, even though a broken thumb forced him to miss seven games.
He returned in mid-January and helped the Shockers move to the top of the Missouri Valley standings. His 17-point, 13-rebound performance was a huge factor in the Shockers' 67-64 victory over Creighton on Jan. 19.
Hall has averaged 8.6 points and 8.2 rebounds while playing as the sixth man since returning from the thumb injury. Overall, he leads the No. 15 Shockers in rebounding at 7.9 per game while averaging 12.7 points.
“It was very unfortunate because he was playing some of his best basketball when he hurt his thumb,” Marshall said. “He was the best player on the floor in our game at Tennessee, and Tennessee had a guy on the Wooden (Award) watch.
“Carl was dominant in that game, but then got hurt the very next day.”
Hall is not Marshall's most talented player, but no Shocker plays harder than he does. That intensity was what caught Marshall's eye when he saw Hall play in the national junior college tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
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Hall originally had started junior college at Middle Georgia College in his hometown of Cochran. He played the first three games of the 2007-08 season before a heart arrhythmia ended his season. He did not play basketball in 2008-09, then transferred to Northwest Florida State Community College, where he played during the 2009-10 season.
He did miss two games that season after fainting on the court but was cleared to return to playing. Marshall said Hall's history of heart problems didn't scare the coach away from recruiting him, but it did make Marshall wary.
Shortly after taking the Wichita State job in 2007, Marshall flew to New Hampton, N.H., to meet with recruit Guy Alang-Ntang. He had committed to the previous staff, and Marshall wanted to make sure the player was still on board despite the coaching change.
“My first act as the coach here was to meet with Guy,” Marshall said. “I wanted to make sure that he still wanted to come here. We both agreed that I wanted him and he wanted to come here. We shook hands on it.
“Thirty minutes later, he died of a heart attack in front of me. It was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life, and I didn't want it to happen again.”
Alang-Ntang died while playing a pick-up game. Marshall admitted his memories of the incident left him uncertain how to handle getting Hall into playing condition before the start of last year.
“I had that mental image and fear in the back of my mind,” Marshall said. “And I think there were times when Carl was afraid to push himself. There were times where, during conditioning, he'd just go and sit down. That's not the way we normally do it here.
“I had to give and he had to give.”
After the NCAA granted Hall an additional season of eligibility last spring, Marshall met with the player to talk about getting ready for this year.
“I told him I don't want to be the guy to get you in shape,” Marshall said. “I don't want to be the guy to push you. I told him he knew his body and he knew how he felt. We made a deal that he was going to get himself in shape.”
Hall spent hours in the summer and fall running on the track and the treadmill and riding a stationary bicycle. He told the Wichita Eagle that he wanted to be tired when he reported for practices to add another layer of conditioning.
All along, he knew he wanted to show himself that his heart condition wouldn't hold him back.
“He did it better than I did the previous year,” Marshall said. “He took it upon himself, coming back for a sixth year, wanting to play at the highest level of professional basketball that he can, to get in great shape. And he worked on his game as well.”
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