Looking up and down the Marshall roster, one notices that the Thundering Herd might not have been the first choice for most of the players.
Justin Coleman originally committed to Louisville before being ruled a non-qualifier; DeAndre Kane (partial qualifier) and Jamir Hanner (prep school) were once pledged to Seton Hall; Robert Goff was an Oklahoma commit before heading to junior college; J.P. Kambola was a non-qualifier; and Yous Mbao is a Marquette transfer.
Head coach Tom Herrion doesn’t mind being something of a second-chance opportunity for his players.
“Not every place is the perfect place for a kid,” Herrion said by phone. “I think there’s an indictment or a stigma that kids who are partial or non-qualifiers have baggage. I don’t think that’s fair.”
If everything comes together this season for Herrion and his team, Marshall could be a Conference-USA contender and an NCAA tournament team. There’s talent across the board; it’s just a matter of everyone playing to their collective potential.
While there might be some rust due to some of the players sitting out, Herrion expects his players to be motivated to prove the doubters wrong.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “You’re truly taking away the game from those young men for a year. It makes them humble, hungrier. And we want them to be hungrier.”
Marshall returns its top two scorers from last season, in Kane (15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.4 apg) and senior Damier Pitts (16.2, 4.7 apg). Senior guards Shaquille Johnson (8.7) and Dago Pena (7.2) are also back on the perimeter. Fourth-year junior Nigel Spikes (5.1, 5.9) will attempt to anchor the frontline.
What has everyone excited, though, is the influx of newcomers Herrion is welcoming into the fold. Chief among them is Coleman, a five-star recruit out of high school who didn’t qualify at Louisville and sat out last season. Mbao and Goff are expected to split time at center, while junior college transfer Dennis Tinnon is a big-time rebounder who should make an impact. Four other freshmen are also going to contribute.
With experienced veterans returning and loads of firepower coming in, Herrion will have to handle playing time problems as they come along.
“You coach attitude and chemistry everyday,” he said. “We have improved our talent level from top to bottom in a very short time, and these kids have thrived in this environment. I like where we are and where I think we can go. Roles will continue to shake out. You’ll have guys that have to figure it out. Guys will make the decisions for you.”
The perimeter trio of Kane, Coleman and Pitts could be one of the most explosive in college basketball – if everyone’s personalities mesh well. Kane is known for playing too emotional at times, while Pitts missed the first exhibition game due to coach’s decision.
Herrion said Kane is maturing and embracing being a leader, while Pitts is adjusting to potentially not being the leading scorer for the Herd. Coleman was ranked on our top 30 freshmen list, checking in at No. 23. He could be the key to Marshall’s success.
“He’s inch-for-inch, pound-for-pound, as talented a guy as I’ve been around,” Herrion said. “He’s a 6-foot-5 athletic stud. As he continues to figure it all out, his God-given ability will come out.”
Herrion has his work cut out for him – but it’s problems most coaches would like to have: a huge influx of talent mixed with several top returnees, leading to questions about playing time. With games on the docket against Cincinnati, Syracuse, West Virginia, Iona and Belmont (twice), the Thundering Herd will get a chance to make some noise immediately.
“We’re going to be tested from the tap,” Herrion said. “We want to put ourselves in position. We haven’t done a whole lot, but there’s been talk about us. It’s a long road, and we have things to prove.”
Fortunately for Herrion, he has loads of talent to help him change the culture -- even if they are "second-chance" players.
Photo: US Presswire