SALT LAKE CITY — Malcolm Armstead is an unusual basketball player. Not so much for how he plays on the court, but for how he keeps the game in perspective.
The Alabama native gave up a scholarship to Oregon in hopes of finding a better fit for his senior season as a college basketball player. Earlier this season, he left his own team's huddle to offer a younger opposing player some tips on better ball-handling techniques. And when his coach tried to put him in for a teammate who was on a hot streak in another game, he politely declined.
"Malcolm Armstead is one of the more interesting and neat kids I've ever coached," said Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall. "He's been a great young man to coach. I'm pleased we're advancing in the tournament for guys like him, (who've) sacrificed quite a bit to be in this situation."
Armstead will lead the No. 9-seeded Wichita State Shockers against the country's No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs Saturday night. This is, undoubtedly, the biggest game of Armstead's college basketball career, but he answers questions about the tough task facing the Shockers with the same upbeat, matter-of-fact demeanor that he's discussed every competitor in his senior season.
"You know, I'm just trying to look at it one day at a time," Armstead. "We don't look at who we are playing against, but play against Gonzaga, they're a great team. But you got to go out and do what you do. You can't get caught up in the hype because at the end of the day it's just basketball."
Marshall can't help but smile when asked to describe what it's been like to coach Armstead, a player whose composure helped the Shockers overcome poor shooting in their first-round win over Pitt Thursday. He finished with a game-high 22 points and five assists.
"We recruited him out of Chipola Junior College," said Marshall. "We tried really hard to get him. He goes to Oregon with a buddy, Jeremy Jacobs, and plays one year as a starting point guard."
A coaching change meant changes in the program that didn't suit Armstead as well. He has said throughout his career, he just wants to enjoy the experience of playing basketball.
"I knew I only had one year left of eligibility to play, so it was a matter of finding a good situation," Armstead said. "I had a relationship with all of the coaches, so I felt like that was the best thing possible for me to do. ... I felt like leaving was maybe something I needed to do to clear my head, get a fresh start. Seemed like it was a better situation (at Wichita)."
He felt so strongly, that when Marshall told him he didn't have a scholarship available for him, his family took out a loan and he found a part-time job just so he could sit the bench.
Much of Marshall's joy comes from seeing Armstead succeeding. He rattles off multiple examples of his point guard's unique acts of selflessness.
"Here is a guy who never stops talking," he laughs. "There was one time early in the season, he was talking to the other guard on the other team, and I finally said, 'Malcolm, I'm trying to get your attention and you're talking to this other kid. What are you telling him?' He goes, 'Well, coach, I had just taken the ball from him and I was trying to tell him he can't dribble the ball so high.'"
When Marshall asked why he would help the opposition, Armstead didn't hesitate, "He's a nice kid and I want to see him do well."