Gregg Marshall's success at Wichita State isn't a Shocker to him

Marshall was a good young coach with a bright future as he led 16th-seeded Winthrop, one and done in the 1999 tournament. The columnist reconnects, and No. 9 Shockers get set to meet No. 13 La Salle.

Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall can't wait to get the Shockers to Los Angeles for the West Regional at Staples Center.

His ninth-seeded team meets No. 13 La Salle in Thursday night's battle of NCAA overlooked underdogs.

Two wins in the West earns one team a trip to the Final Four.

You might expect Marshall to be nervous staring into the bright lights of our city, but, truth be told, he's already been front-page news here. His face graced the cover of this Sports section March 16, 1999.

The yellowing edition of that paper has sat in my home-office desk drawer for 14 years.

Marshall was the central figure in the most enjoyable assignment I've had in three decades working for this newspaper.

I admit now to partly rigging the story, convincing my bosses to let me shadow a No. 16-seeded team as it prepared to be pan-seared in the NCAA tournament. A No. 16 to that point had never defeated a No. 1, and still hasn't. The ledger is 116-0.

I picked Winthrop in part because I liked the sound of it — and because my older sister Laura teaches art history at the school in Rock Hill, S.C. She does not follow sports and was aware of Marshall only because he made more money than she did.

I embedded with Winthrop from the moment the selection committee announced the Eagles would play top-seeded Auburn in a first-round South Regional game in Indianapolis. Marshall gave me full access. One highlight was being allowed in Winthrop's locker room on game day while CBS cameras were turned away.

A running theme that week was Marshall's wife, Lynn, having a crush on then-UCLA coach Steve Lavin. It was luck that UCLA was also playing in Indianapolis.

Lavin was standing in the hotel lobby on game day and we all laughed because Lynn Marshall wasn't there to see him.

Before the game, in the locker room, Marshall wrote on the chalkboard: "Five guys building a wall."

Auburn knocked down the wall by the final score of 80-41.

I left Indianapolis thinking Marshall, then 36, was a good young coach with a bright future. I never thought to say, "See you in L.A. in 2013."

He took Winthrop to the NCAA tournament six more times and capped his career there in 2007 with an upset win over Notre Dame. He left the next season for Wichita State.

I had not seen nor spoken to Marshall until last Thursday, at the subregional in Salt Lake City. We reconnected, 14 years later, in the corridor of EnergySolutions Arena.

"Hey, Chris," Marshall said, "how is your sister Laura?"

That blew me away. One famous football coach whose name I won't mention didn't recognize my face six months after he left Utah to coach at Florida.

In Salt Lake, I watched Wichita State completely dismantle Pittsburgh of the mighty Big East Conference and knew immediately that top-ranked Gonzaga was in serious trouble.

Two days later, Wichita State beat Gonzaga, 76-70, the Shockers' first win over a No. 1 team in 50 years.