DES MOINES — Wichita State University assistant men’s basketball coach Steve Forbes made his rounds here Saturday night following the Shockers’ 78-61 win over Drake.
Amid the cluster of black and gold that filled one corner of the Knapp Center, there were plenty of friends and family that Forbes wanted to talk to.
It’s been a long journey for the former Southwestern Community College men’s basketball coach to get to this point — sitting on the bench of the fourth-ranked Shockers in the midst of an undefeated season.
With the win over Drake, Wichita State improved to 21-0 for the season and later moved to 22-0 with a 57-45 home win over Loyola (Ill.) on Tuesday.
“It’s been a special season to this point,” Forbes said after the win against Drake. “We’ve had a really good run, but we’ve got a lot of season left. There’s a lot left out there for us to go get.”
The Shockers are coming off a season in which they went 30-9 overall and 12-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and as a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament, shocked the nation by making it to the Final Four.
Because of the level of success the team had last year, the Shockers have lofty goals for the rest of this season.
“Our goal is to win the title — the Missouri Valley title, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, get into the tournament and then make another run to the Final Four,” Forbes said. “So those things are way out there. We just have to keep getting better, and I think we have been getting better. That’s encouraging.”
Last year’s success has also brought with it a certain level of expectations for the Shockers.
But, Forbes said, it’s mostly expectations placed on the team by its players and coaches.
“I think it’s really helped us,” he said about the expectations. “I think our kids have a lot of confidence. Really, the expectations are the ones we put on ourselves, so I think they’ve handled it great. It kind of fuels their fire, because they know what’s out there. Playing in the Final Four last year, they really want to get back to that level.”
And, with the undefeated start to this season and Wichita State’s national ranking skyrocketing all the way to fourth in the nation (Associated Press poll), it’s a safe bet to say the Shockers are getting their opponent’s best shot every night they step foot on the floor.
“We had a ‘Red Out’ at Illinois State on Thursday, we had the ‘White Out’ here tonight,” Forbes said. “It’s kind of like being everybody’s homecoming game. I think we have a really mature group of guys. They’re tough-minded. They come to play every night, no matter who the opponent is.”
It’s a balanced team effort for the Shockers, who feature three players averaging in double figures for scoring with a fourth just below 10 points per game.
Senior Cleanthony Early leads the way with 16.3 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. Early threw down several high-flying dunks in the win against Drake.
Sophomore Ron Baker averages 12.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet averages 12.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 41.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
Junior Tekele Cotton averages 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Shockers.
“We have a really good team,” Forbes said. “We’re not a bunch of individuals. We share the ball. We play good defense. I think they really care about each other, which is important. There’s just a lot of great camaraderie amongst the players and the coaches.”
It came as no suprise to Forbes to see so much black and gold in the Knapp Center on Saturday.
“I think Shocker fans, they’ll go anywhere,” he said. “Being from here in Iowa, coach (Chris) Jans being from Iowa, coach (Greg) Heiar being from Iowa, we had a lot of family and friends, so that added to the crowd.”
Among those in attendance to see Forbes and the Shockers in action were former Southwestern Community College players Chad Dielman, Tom Stibbs and Jesse Cox, who is now the Lenox boys basketball co-coach.
Also making the trip were Southwestern legends Ron “Fox” Clinton and Bill Krejci.
Clinton and Krejci brought Forbes to Creston to be Krejci’s assistant basketball coach in 1989. Forbes assisted Krejci in the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons, before taking over as head coach for the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons with Bill Taylor as his assistant.
“I wouldn’t be where I am at without those two guys,” Forbes said about Clinton and Krejci. “They gave me the opportunity back in 1989-90 to be a college coach. I’ll always be indebted to them for that. Without giving me that opportunity, who knows where I would be?
“They allowed me to be myself. They allowed me to make mistakes, they helped me through those times, and I’ve made a lot of them,” Forbes said. “But through the years, we’ve stayed very close. I have the utmost respect for coach Krejci and Fox. They’re two of the best people and two of the most important people in my life.”
The Shockers return to action Saturday at home against Evansville. That game is being nationally televised at 2 p.m. on ESPNU.