Written by Justin Prince.
Marshall basketball hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1987 and has only been to the National Invitation Tournament twice (1988, 2012) in that time span.
It’s been 30 long years for a passionate basketball fan base in Huntington, West Virginia, but that doesn’t mean that the Thundering Herd has been totally devoid of talent over that time period.
No, in fact, Marshall basketball has still put quite a few of its players into professional leagues both overseas and here in the states. As we close the door on 2017 and push our way into 2018, I thought I’d take a look back at the three decades since the Thundering Herd last made an NCAA Tournament and put together the ultimate Marshall roster encompassing those years (1988-2017).
G – John Taft (1987-1991)
Taft is the second leading scorer in Marshall history with 2,332 points. A two time Southern Conference Player of the Year in 1989 and 1990, Taft is one of the best natural scorers to ever suit up for the Herd averaging more than 23 points per game in each of his final three seasons in Huntington. Taft enjoyed a long and successful professional career abroad after his college days. During his pro-career Taft played in Iceland, Cyprus, the Philippines and Israel in the most competitive division of each country.
G –Skip Henderson (1984-1988)
From Marshall’s second leading scorer in school history to its first, Skip Henderson was a nightmare for opposing teams during his career with the Thundering Herd. The Southern Conference player of the year in 1988, Henderson helped lead Marshall to a 14-2 record in league play and an appearance in the NIT. Skip was one of the key players on the Herd’s nationally ranked team in 1987 that was the last to appear in the “Big Dance.” Henderson was selected third in the 1988 Continental Basketball Association draft at the time the CBA had a working agreement with the NBA to be used as a developmental league to develop players and referees. Unfortunately, depression and drug use would derail Henderson’s professional career. Just three days before his CBA debut, Henderson was suspended by the league for testing positive for cocaine and eventually his drug use would derail his life. Currently, Henderson is serving life without parole for crimes he has committed related to his drug addiction.
G – Jon Elmore (Active)
Elmore is still carving out his Marshall legacy but from the time this junior stepped on the floor for Dan D’antoni’s up-tempo offense it’s been obvious he was special. An equally skilled passer as he is scorer, Elmore is a perfect guard to pair with the scoring minded duo of Taft and Henderson. In just about two full seasons of play Elmore has already climbed to eighth all time in assists in school history with 449 and currently sits just 21 helpers behind the aforementioned Henderson. Elmore also recently passed Marshall and NBA legend Hal Greer on the school’s career scoring list with 1,380 points. With a year and a half left in his college career Elmore is a real threat to challenge for Henderson’s scoring title as well as Greg White’s assists record.
F – Tamar Slay (1998-2002)
Another elite level scorer who could also play the two-guard position was a matchup problem for almost every team the Herd faced during his playing days. Slay’s combination of size and athleticism would make him a tough guard for other forwards and his ability to not only score but defend is second to none on this list. Slay is sixth on the school’s scoring list with 1,792 pints seventh in steals with 142 and 18th in blocked shots with 53. Drafted by the New Jersey Nets in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft, Slay played three seasons in the league before taking his game overseas where he enjoyed another decade of professional basketball with various European clubs.
C – J.R. Vanhoose (1998-2002)
Vanhoose isn’t the most talented center to suit up for the Herd in the last 30 years, that distinction would belong to Hassan Whiteside. But, while Whiteside left for the money of the NBA before ever reaching the full potential of his talent, Vanhoose was a four-year stalwart for Greg White’s teams at the turn of the new millennium. The Paintsville, Kentucky native brought a blue-collar toughness to some solid Thundering Herd teams including a team that went 21-9 in the 1999-2000 season. In his career Vanhoose became a fan favorite on his way to piling up huge stats. He’s fifth all time in points scored with 1,803 and second in school history in rebounds behind only the great Charlie Slack with 1,086 boards. When the other four guys on this team did happen to miss, J.R. could be counted on to clean up after them as well as provide interior strength on the defensive end.
G – Damier Pitts (2008-2012)
Pitts was brought to Marshall by coach Donnie Jones and along with a solid core of recruits that would become the nucleus for the first two years of the Tom Herrion era, Pitts would help push Herd basketball back to relevance. During his time running the show from the PG spot the basketball program would enjoy its most success since the 1980s. Marshall had three straight 20-win seasons, a CUSA championship tournament runner-up finish and a NIT appearance. As an individual Pitts finished his Herd career 13th in scoring (1,551) and 5th in assists with 517. The undersized guard was lightening in a bottle and one of the most clutch performers in school history. His 384 made free throws are seventh all time and foul shot percentage of 80.8 percent is good for six. But, what made Pitts clutch was that in the final two minutes of games his average from the charity stripe ballooned to over 90 percent.
G – Keith Veney (1995-1997)
Had Veney played his entire career for the Thundering Herd he probably would have been a first team selection. This sharp shooter is one of the best from deep in not just Marshall history but NCAA history. Veney began his career at Lamar where he scored 809 points in his first two collegiate seasons before transferring to Marshall. Once he joined the Herd, Veney continued to score buckets racking up 1,125 during his time in Huntington good for 38th all-time. His 15 made 3-pointers against Morehead State in 1996 is still the record for most made threes in a single game in NCAA history. Ironically, second on that list is another Herd player, Ronald Blackshear who made 14 against Akron in 2002. In his two seasons at Marshall, Veney sunk 241 threes good for third all time. But, his 409 made in his full college career put him at 12th on the NCAA’s all-time list and would easily give him the school record if they’d all been made in a Herd uniform.
G – Shaquille Johnson (2008-2012)
Another player from the Jones/Herrion era that helped the Thundering Herd gain back a measure of respectability in the world of college basketball. Johnson was an iron man player who played in a school record 134 games during his Marshall career making 98 starts. A n excellent on ball defender many Herd fans will probably gleefully remember Johnson’s head to head battles with UCF’s Marcus Jordan (the son of NBA legend Michael Jordan). Johnson frustrated, rattled and shut down the son of his “Airness” in several rivalry games between the Herd and the Knights. But, his defense wasn’t just saved for special occasions, Johnson ranks 12th all time with 125 steals and was also a solid offensive contributor. His 1,240 points are good for 29th all time and his 300 assists are good for 13th. During his time at Marshall the Herd went 82-53 and made the NIT in 2011. Despite the success it also feels as if this group spearheaded by Johnson and Pitts could have and should accomplished even more.
F – Ryan Taylor (2013-2017)
Taylor is the most inconspicuous player on this list. In no single season did he ever average more than 14.4 points or more than 8.6 rebounds. He wasn’t flashy and far better athletes have stepped on the floor of the Henderson Center. But, very few players ever out worked Ryan Taylor. A true small forward by nature at 6-5, 225 pounds Taylor was often forced to guard the other team’s center and that led to career long foul trouble that really cut into his minutes on the floor. Still, with his lunch pail mentality and all around hustle Taylor became one of the best players to ever suit up for the Thundering Herd. He finished seventh in Herd history in points with 1,778 and third in rebounds with 985. Every team needs a Ryan Taylor, an over achiever whose effort and upbeat attitude elevate those around him. Taylor is currently playing professionally overseas in Iceland and is the second leading scorer in the Icelandic League.
C- Hassan Whiteside (2009-2010)
Whiteside’s spectacular freshman season at Marshall wasn’t enough to put him ahead of J.R. Vanhoose’s total body of work but, the 7-footer is simply too talented to keep off the list entirely. The Herd also hasn’t had many other dominant centers, as most of the Herd’s success in the post over the last 30 years has came from players who are really forwards. Whiteside wasn’t the total package as a freshman; his game had its flaws. His spindly frame at times made him susceptible to bigger bodied players and his rawness on offense kept him from being the scoring threat he could have become with another year or two in the college ranks. But, his potential was immediately recognizable and at time that God given talent was awe-inspiring. In his lone season with the Herd, Whiteside scored 447 points, grabbed 303 rebounds and blocked 182 shots. The rebounds are good for the 17th best single season in Herd history and the 182 blocks are a single season record in Conference USA and also puts Whiteside atop the school’s all-time shot blocking list. After, a spectacular season in 2010 Whiteside chose to turn pro and became the first Marshall player taken in the NBA Draft since Tamar Slay in 2002. His immaturity and lack of strength proved that Whiteside probably should have stuck around Huntington a bit longer. But, after a few seasons of bouncing around the NBA D-League and overseas, Whiteside added the muscle and maturity he needed to play at basketball’s highest level. He now stars for the Miami Heat and is one of the best traditional centers in the NBA with career averages of 13.6 points, 11.5 boards and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
G – DeAndre Kane (2010-2013)
Had Kane finished his collegiate career at Marshall he would have been higher on this list. But, in three seasons the Pittsburgh native still managed to place himself 16th all time in scoring, eight all time in assists and 10th all time in steals in the Herd record books. Until Jon Elmore’s triple-double earlier this season the only other Thundering Herd player to register a triple-double with points, assists and rebounds was Kane who has 33 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds in a 2012 overtime loss to Hofstra.
G – Jason Williams (1995-1996)
The flashy point guard who could wow the crowd and puzzle a defense with his handles only played a single season in Huntington before leaving with Coach Billy Donavan to go to the University of Florida. He would play only one season with the Gators as well before going on to the NBA. In his lone season at Marshall the West Virginia native averaged more than 13 points and six assists per game. His 178 assists during the ’95-96 season are the 12th most in a single year in Marshall history.
G – Ronald Blackshear (2001-2003)
Another player who didn’t spend his whole career with the Herd as Blackshear transferred from Temple with two years of eligibility left. The Georgia native made an immediate impact with the Herd averaging nearly 20 points per game in his first season at Marshall. He followed up that year with an even stronger final season as he eclipsed the 20 points per game while adding four rebounds and two assists per game. He’s 47th all time on the school’s scoring list and sixth in 3-pointers made with 195.
F – Markel Humphrey (2005-2009)/Tyler Wilkerson (2006-2010)/Tirrell Baines (2007-2011)
Coming into the program in three consecutive years were three undersized forwards who would leave Marshall after making big impacts. Humphrey was a lone bright spot at times during his career with little help around him but that didn’t stop him from scoring 1,415 points, good for 19th place in Marshall history. He also grabbed 674 rebounds (14th all time) despite only being listed at 6-6. Wilkerson, the tallest of the three was possibly also the rawest. The Lexington, Kentucky native made little impact as a freshman only making one start and scoring just 2.6 points per game. But, he improved every year he was at Marshall and by the time he was a senior was averaging 14 points and 7 boards a night. He finished 46th on the school’s all time scoring list and 17th in rebounds. Baines was listed at 6-6 but probably was closer to 6-4 or 6-5. His lack of height didn’t equate to a lack of strength however and he was often able to bully players several inches taller than he was. A hard-nosed player who didn’t care to mix it up in the paint, Baines was a fan favorite and with good reason. He finished his Marshall career 31st on the school’s scoring list and 16th in rebounds. All three of these former Herd greats are currently playing professionally for teams in different foreign countries. Okay, maybe I cheated a little bit, but there is no way I could make this list and leave any of these three off of it.
C- Tom Curry (1984-1988)
Like Skip Henderson, Curry barely qualifies for inclusion as Curry was on the ’87 team that last went to the NCAA tourney but also played his final season in what would become the first year of the drought. For his career Curry scored 1,535 points (15th in school history) and snagged 620 rebounds (25th all time).
So, there you have it. If I were to make a team of the best 15 Marshall (17 since I cheated) players since the Herd started its 30 year NCAA tournament drought this is what it would look like. I’d love to see some of the names you think I left off or players currently playing that have an argument for inclusion. Personally, I think both C.J. Burks and Ajdin Penava will have a case once their careers are over but, hopefully those guys are part of the team that ends the drought. Also, who do you think would coach this team? Comment below and let us know!