By Dave Trausneck @Trausneck
Those who know me well know I’m an avid fan of “The West Wing.” In season 4 during the episode “20 Hours in America,” White House speechwriter Sam Seaborn took credit from the daughter of White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry for an enthralling speech about domestic terrorism and how it makes Americans strive for greater achievements to prove our morals and our beliefs are right. Sam said, “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great ones just steal outright.”
That’s a long walk for an opening line of a sports piece. So with an ode to all the great writers before me, I open with:
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
In the Spring of 2006 the College of Charleston parted ways with then-head coach Tom Herrion. The Cougars’ first coach since the John Kresse era led CofC to an NIT berth, and a Great Alaska Shootout victory by beating both Oklahoma State and Villanova during his tenure.
But to Cougar faithful, 17-11 wasn’t going to cut it. Neither was losing consistently to what was once thought of as inferior teams. Squads like East Tennessee State, UT Chattanooga, Wofford and an emerging Davidson would be seen as elite programs in the Southern Conference. The Cougars’ were pegged back to the level as everyone else. A change was needed.
Enter Gregg Marshall. The then-Head coach for Winthrop in Rock Hill, South Carolina guided the Eagles to consecutive Big South titles, NCAA Tournament appearances, and a national ranking. In him, Cougar fans saw a former assistant coach, and protégé of John Kresse ready to take Charleston back to its status as a mid-major powerhouse.
As an assistant for Charleston, Marshall helped the Cougars to an NCAA Tournament in 1994 and NIT berths in 1995 and 1996. On several occasions, the Cougars earned a national ranking.
On June 28, 2006, the College of Charleston formally announced Gregg Marshall was leaving Winthrop to return to his roots. He would make the three-hour drive down I-77 turning onto I-26 in Columbia. He would take the Meeting Street exit on his way to 66 George Street and a building that’s been around since the guns of Fort Moultrie fired on Fort Sumter.
Marshall said all the right things. It felt right.
The next day the Cougars basketball community woke up with a hangover the length of East Bay Street. Marshall had a change of heart. He would return to Winthrop.
All Marshall did the following season was take Winthrop to an undefeated conference record and another spot in the Big Dance. In the Tournament, the 11-seed Eagles upset 6-seed Notre Dame before falling to 3-seed Oregon in the second round.
As for Charleston, they hired Bobby Cremins out of his Hilton Head retirement community. Cremins had some success recruiting, landing Andrew Goudelock who ended up playing in the NBA, and remains one of the top performers in the NBA D-League. Charleston made consecutive appearances in the SoCon finals, but could never make that push to the Tournament. The team’s last tournament appearance was 1999, and this writer was still at least eight months away from selecting the school as my college.
Marshall left Winthrop for Wichita State following the 2006-2007 season. The Shockers just had a run of tremendous success under Mark Turgeon. They made the Sweet 16 in 2006, and the school needed to fill the void and keep Wichita State’s status as an elite mid-major program. Enter Marshall.
On March 23, 2011 the two worlds collided. The Cougars traveled to Wichita to face the Shockers in the NIT. The game stayed close, until the Shockers started pressing Goudelock in the second half, and forced several turnovers. The Shockers pulled away for an 82-75 victory. The Shockers continue to pull away today.
In the 2012-2013 season, the Cougars played what has become an average Cougars season over the past 5 years. Solid enough to have a marginally-nice season, but fall one game short to Davidson (or another SoCon team) in the conference tournament.
Wichita State did not have a banner Missouri Valley Conference season. They lost 6 conference games, and lost to top-seed Creighton in the MVC Championship game. But as Creighton got bounced from the Dance, all Wichita State did was knock off number-one seed Gonzaga, an overmatched LaSalle squad, and number-two seed Ohio State to reach the Final Four in Atlanta… a four-and-a-half mile drive from Charleston.
So while many people in Charleston have a post-celebratory beer from the annual Cooper River Bridge Run on April 6th… John Kresse will greet his former assistant at the Georgia Dome as the Shockers face Louisville.
In a comment to the press earlier this week, Kresse said, “I didn’t have a ticket or a bed, but he invited me to Atlanta and to have a spot in his hotel.”
“That’s where I will happily be, supporting the Shockers.”
Kresse’s main office for the College of Charleston is right next to TD Arena, at the corner of Meeting and George Streets. A corner Marshall knows too well.