How boxing, military base helped Wichita State basketball build summer team chemistry

Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle

With a dozen newcomers and just four hours per week to spend together this summer, the Wichita State men’s basketball team had to get creative to build team chemistry.

Since their time on a basketball court was limited, the Shockers found ways to put their players in competitive situations outside of basketball during the summer days.

The players were challenged to go through a boxing workout at the Rogue Boxing facility in Andover in July. Then the team took a trip to McConnell Air Force Base for a military-style workout in August.

Completing unique challenges like that in the summer helped Wichita State begin building cohesion on an overhauled roster well before the team’s first practice of the 2022-23 season at Koch Arena on Tuesday.

“We did a lot of team bonding stuff that I think will be good for our program,” WSU coach Isaac Brown told reporters before the first practice. “The biggest thing with a new team is you’ve got to get those guys to trust their teammates. So we went out to the military base and did all those different drills and you have to count on your teammate to get through the drill and it was a lot of team-bonding stuff. That kind of stuff will take you a long way.”

WSU strength and conditioning coach Ryan Horn, a newcomer himself, said he did similar off-season workouts during his time at Wake Forest and the activities had similar benefits.

“I think it’s an integral part of building chemistry,” Horn told The Eagle. “In the summertime, we’re not keeping score, we’re not playing games, there’s no win-loss records, so you have to find a way to manufacture opportunities and situations for competition during the summer. That’s why we go to those different environments, something the guys aren’t used to, getting out of the grind of summer doing the same things over and over.”

The chance to lace up gloves for the boxing workout was a hit among the players, while the coaches enjoyed seeing new teammates work together to complete tasks during the military workout.

“I think it also brings out the guys who are going to lead by example,” Horn said. “How guys work together and how they pick each other up, especially when things get tough. You’re looking for individuals who not only look within, but look to help others bring them up in their situation. You only find that stuff out by putting them in those situations.”

Even with those team-bonding summer sessions, Brown is still faced with the challenge of bringing 12 newcomers up to speed on his system. It’s quite the contrast to the situation Brown was in last season when WSU returned almost all of its key pieces from a championship team.

The transition is helped by the emergence of Craig Porter as the team leader and unquestioned best player on the team. Having a veteran with those qualities as your point guard makes life a little easier on Brown.

“He means the world to this team,” Brown said. “He gets guys in the right spots and makes sure those guys are in the gym getting up extra shots. And when those guys have a tough practice, he’s able to go in the locker room and tell them the things that we expect and just being a leader in the locker room. That’s what he did all summer long.”

But there’s no doubt the next six weeks will be pivotal for the Shockers with so many first-year players learning on the fly.

The way Brown coaches and teaches WSU has to be different and while he has been happy with the progress made so far, he knows the Shockers still have a ways to go before being ready for their Nov. 7 season-opener against Central Arkansas.

“When you’ve got a new team, you’ve got to go slow,” Brown said. “You have to tone it down and make sure that those guys understand exactly what our program is about.

“We talk about competing for conference championships, so we’ve got to be able to defend, rebound and play with toughness. And offensively, we’ve got to share the basketball. What can you do on offense to help this team score without shooting the basketball? Can you set a screen? Can you get an assist and get someone a wide-open shot? Those are the things we are talking about.”