Looking back now, it seems that Edmond Memorial forward Shaquille Morris jumped on the Wichita State bandwagon at just the right time, before the Shockers achieved Cinderella status.
Of course, it appears Wichita State got quite a steal by signing Morris last November as well.
Morris' stock rose steadily throughout the season, and shot up even more in the playoffs as he helped Edmond Memorial to the Class 6A state championship.
And obviously, Wichita State's stock is soaring, having gone from a No. 9 seed to the NCAA Final Four, where it will face No. 1 seed Louisville at 5:09 p.m. Saturday in Atlanta.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall saw in Morris a player with a lot of potential growth and development.
Likewise, Morris saw the Shockers as a program on the rise. But the Final Four?
“I actually had them going all the way in my bracket,” the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Morris said with a smile. “As I went on my visits, I saw places where I could go and be good, or I could go to Wichita State and get better. That's the part of the program I really love.”
During the recruiting process, Morris had to prove to Marshall that questions about his work ethic had been put to rest, and as Morris became a harder worker, he unleashed a new player.
Morris averaged 13 points and not quite six rebounds as a junior at Edmond Santa Fe. But this past season, he led Memorial with 17.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, along with becoming a roadblock for offenses coming into the paint.
“The kid was a sponge,” Edmond Memorial coach Shane Cowherd said of Morris. “Anything we showed him, he tried to master.
“I don't think he had a full understanding of what he was capable of. It's a credit to the coaches on our staff and his teammates who set the bar for him to strive to reach every day.
“And it wasn't just in basketball. He raised his grade-point average by a full point and his ACT score by nine points, because he came in and bought into the expectations of success at Edmond Memorial.”
Morris could have been riding the wave of another Cinderella story last month. Aside from programs like Oral Roberts and Lamar, Morris chose Wichita State over now-legendary 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast.
Instead, he'll join a Final Four team this summer. And he's not the only in-state player heading up that road.
In late February, Putnam City North guard John Robert Simon accepted a spot as a preferred walk-on with the Shockers. He and Morris have known each other for awhile and have enjoyed watching the Final Four run together — with one exception.
“We just wish we were already there,” Simon said. “But hopefully we'll make a run at it next year or the next few years.”
Simon's path to Wichita State was different than Morris'. Simon has family in the area and his mother is a Wichita native, so he had been to Shocker games long before he ever thought about playing there.
“It's unreal, that atmosphere for their games and the support they give that team,” he said. “I always dreamed I'd get a chance to play there.”
He visited at the end of the regular season and was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on.
“I decided a week later that's what I wanted to do, and what would be best for me,” he said.
He and Morris watched the Shockers' second-round game against top-seeded Gonzaga together.
“We were like, ‘How crazy would it be if we beat Gonzaga?'” Simon said. “I don't know if we thought it was a serious statement, but we were going crazy the whole game. The whole run has been awesome to watch.”