LOS ANGELES -- The big, fat numbers are not what Wichita State senior forward Carl Hall notices in his line in a box score. He focuses on the smaller ones, the ones fans might not notice.
So while everybody in Wichita is jumping up and down over the Shockers’ trip to the Sweet 16 to face La Salle on Thursday night at Staples Center, Hall is giving himself pep talks about rebounding, embarrassed by the way he went about his glass-eating business in the third-round win over No. 1 Gonzaga in Salt Lake City.
He had one rebound. One lousy rebound.
Yes, the former Bleckley County standout made a huge perimeter shot that put the finishing touch on a second-half comeback by giving Wichita State a lead. Yes, he went toe to toe with Gonzaga big guys Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, two of the most active frontcourt players in the country.
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For Hall, however, it comes back to that one rebound.
“Rebounding is my favorite thing to do,’’ Hall said. “And I haven’t done it that much the last two games. I’ve got to pick it up this game, got to get back to double-digit rebounds.’’
Hall arrived at Wichita State before the 2011-12 season as a slightly out-of-shape junior college transfer from Northwest Florida State who could muddle his way through inferior opponents without much effort.
Playing at Wichita State, he soon discovered, was different. Admitting he never got into shape last season -- “maybe 70 on a 1-to-100 scale” Hall devoted his spring, summer and fall to getting into shape.
“Me and (strength and conditioning coach) Kerry Rosenboom did some extra stuff that finally got me over the hump,’’ Hall said. “It took two straight weeks of running. I like running, I just hate getting into shape. I’d rather just stay in shape year around.’’
Hall has improved his scoring (from 8.4 to 12.6) and his rebounding (from 5.0 to 6.9) significantly because he has been able to play more minutes (22.3 to 28.7).
“Carl wasn’t a great practice player when he got here,’’ Wichita State associate head coach Chris Jans said. “He didn’t have a great approach every day. Now he’s bought into that and it’s really helped his conditioning and his ability to play major minutes.
Hall missed seven games in late December/early January with a hand injury some thought would doom the Shockers. He was averaging 13.9 points and 7.6 rebounds at the time and was coming off a 21-point, nine-rebound game at Tennessee in which he made 9-of-10 shots.
He returned a bit rusty for a Jan. 16 win over Illinois State at Koch Arena, contributing 10 rebounds but only two points.
Three days later, in a huge home game against Creighton, Hall had 17 points and 13 rebounds. But those aren’t the numbers he wanted to talk about after the game.
He was too disgusted by his 1-of-6 free-throw shooting -- many of the misses down the stretch in a tight game -- to gloat about the significant contributions he made to the win.
“I’m harder on myself more than anyone,’’ Hall said.
That’s quite a statement, considering Jans nor Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall aren’t one to treat players with kid gloves. Told that Hall was still beating himself up about getting just one rebound against Gonzaga, Marshall was pleased.
“I want him beating himself up a little bit because he didn’t rebound against Gonzaga like he could,’’ Marshall said.
Rebounds could come in bunches Thursday night against a small but quick La Salle team that isn’t strong on the boards. The Explorers, however, will try to force Hall to defend at the basket, taking his concentration away from rebounding.
But Hall is determined not to let that happen. He plans to be a rebounding beast.
The most noise Hall has made so far in the NCAA tournament is by having his long dreadlocks cut days before the Shockers’ first game in Salt Lake City against Pittsburgh.
Who does that? In a sports world driven by superstition, he chops off inches of precious hair?
“Carl marches to the beat of his own drum,’’ Marshall said. “He was good enough to have that hair when I recruited him, and I took him with the hair. So I wasn’t going to be hypocritical and make him cut it.’’
Hall surprised everyone with his decision, most of all his teammates.
“It came out of nowhere,’’ redshirt freshman Ron Baker said. “That explains what kind of kid he is. He’s kind of got that goofiness to him.’’
But Baker also called Hall the “head of the snake” for the Shockers, the toughest player on a tough team that has to go up against a group of players from the streets of Philadelphia in a battle for survival.
These are the kinds of games in which the Shockers look to Hall to be out front. He’s the toughest of their tough.
But while he was doing all of that work to get into shape so that he could spend more time in games, Hall, who hopes to coach basketball when he’s finished playing, also put at least the same amount of work into developing a more well-rounded offensive game.
Limited to scoring in the paint last season, Hall is now able to make 12- to 15-foot shots occasionally, like the big one he made against Gonzaga.
“He worked tirelessly on that,’’ Jans said. “He wanted to add some different offensive moves that would add to the bulliness he shows around the basket.’’
Hall has taken a big step this season, but he’s not satisfied. He’s never satisfied.
“You’ve got to hold yourself accountable,’’ he said. “I blame myself for a lot of things, and I’ve always been that way. In school, if I get a B or C, that’s not adequate. I’ve got to do better.’’
Always. In everything.