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NCAA Tournament: Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead relishing final days

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wichita State Shockers guard Malcolm Armstead (2) shoots over Pittsburgh Panthers center Steven Adams (13) as the Panthers face the Shockers in the NCAA tournament at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday, March 21, 2013.

By Christopher Kamrani

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 22 2013 03:45PM
Updated Mar 23, 2013 11:26AM

Malcolm Armstead phoned the folks at Wichita State and informed them of his wish.

Years after being recruited to be a Shocker, he wanted to be a Shocker.

He had one year of eligibility left after two seasons playing for the University of Oregon and one year of junior college, and wanted to find the best situation for himself.

So Armstead told the powers-that-be at Wichita State he wanted to be in Kansas. But there was a problem: no scholarships were available for him.

"We told him that," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.

It didn’t matter to Armstead, the 6-foot lefty who, two years later, has the Shockers one win away from the Sweet 16 in a matchup against the No. 1 team in the country, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Saturday evening at EnergySolutions Arena.

He took out loans. His family took a financial hit. He got a part-time job.

"He’s probably still in debt to this day," Marshall said.

Malcolm Armstead may be in debt, but at this point in his career, 40 minutes away from reaching the West Regional in sunny Southern California, it was all worth the risk. The Shockers have won 27 games with Armstead — he’s played all 35 this season — and he’s averaging 10.7 points per game, four assists, 3.7 boards and nearly two steals.

Asked if the reality of his long and winding road — from high school in Alabama to his JC days at Chipola College, to Eugene, into Wichita and now in Salt Lake City — has hit him, Armstead responded like any fifth-year senior would.

"No, not really," he said, "but in a way, kinda."

Due to NCAA regulations, he had to sit out the 2011-12 season, a year in which the Shockers won 27 games and earned a No. 5 seed in the tournament. But Armstead wore a shirt and tie and sat. He was the leader of the scout team. Redshirt freshman guard Ron Baker was there with Armstead, whose main jobs were to help the starters be better in practice.

"We’re in position, you know, to do what we wanted to do last year," Baker said of the duo.

That’s win. That’s play basketball. And Armstead’s on-court savvy and leadership have helped the Shockers, who had to replace their entire starting five from a year ago.

"Malcolm Armstead is one of the most interesting and neat kids I’ve ever coached," Marshall said, noting that his guard also never stops talking.

In a game earlier this season, Armstead consoled an opposing point guard who was struggling to keep Armstead from stealing the ball from him during a game. Marshall was trying to get his senior’s attention, and when he finally did, Armstead explained that the opposing player was a nice kid and he wanted him to do well, but he was bouncing the ball too high, making it susceptible to being swiped.

"He’s very unique," Marshall said.

You wouldn’t guess that hearing him talk about basketball.

Armstead’s responses throughout the week have been very simple: He said the game is nothing more than another 40 minutes, and while his collegiate career is on borrowed time, the soft-spoken, on-court yapper that is Malcolm Armstead is happy to be in Salt Lake City with a shot to keep playing — against the nation’s top dogs, no less.

"You got to go out and do what you do," he said. "You can’t get caught up in the hype because at the end of the day, it’s just basketball."

A game that has pinged Malcolm Armstead around the country, doing what he does best.

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