CHARLESTON, S.C. -- For eight seasons, Gregg Marshall drank in everything College of Charleston coach John Kresse had to offer. Still, he needed more.
"Everyday I worked for that man he was preparing me for what this is about, going to the NCAAs," said Marshall, Kresse's former assistant who has taken the Winthrop Eagles from seven wins a year ago to the NCAA tournament in his first year.
"I watched him every day and worked to do what he taught me," Marshall said.
The two shared the NCAA experience in 1994 when the Cougars were the tournament's biggest longshot. Now they'll share it by telephone and through news reports.
Charleston is heading for the East Regional as the eighth seed. Winthrop's first bid is as a 16th seed matched with top-seeded Auburn in the South Regional.
"I am very proud of my wonderful assistant," Kresse said. "Gregg did a yeoman's job at Winthrop. In one year's time he took them from a last place type team to the Big South Conference championship."
Marshall's style, mannerisms, manic gestures at games and practices, even sharp catch phrases like "You're more likely to get an MBA than play in the NBA," come straight from Kresse.
"He's baby Kresse," Winthrop star Tyson Waterman said.
Marshall is not ashamed of the comparison. He watched every move Kresse made during Charleston's rise from the NAIA to NCAA Division I. He saw Kresse handle media and organize practices and schedule games and knew one day, Gregg Marshall would get his own team and do things just about the same way.
"He's played such a big part in molding me," Marshall said.
Just the way that Kresse says he was molded at St. John's by Joe Lapchick and Lou Carnesecca.
"Gregg's taken some of our system with him and it's worked for him," Kresse said.
The two hoped the NCAA selection committee would give them another special moment, seeding them in the same region and letting them swap inspirational talks to each others' teams.
But Winthrop travels to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, while Charleston goes to Charlotte, N.C.
From the start, Kresse saw a spark in Marshall and let him run with it. Marshall was a raw talent who had no Division I coaching experience at Belmont Abbey and Randolph-Macon.
But Kresse's style gives assistants great freedom to teach, control practices and coach games. Marshall stretched it as far as he could.
"He had very good suggestions and I paid attention to them," Kresse said.
So did recruits, who were caught in Marshall's spellbinding stories and fervent, excited talks. He helped lock up players like Marion Busby, Anthony Johnson and Thad Delaney -- all Trans America Athletic Conference players of the year -- who led the Cougars to prominence and more victories since 1994 than any program in the country.
After 1996, Marshall left Charleston for an assistant's job at Marshall. He remembers how his new team, favored to win the Southern Conference title, lost its NCAA bid in the game's closing moments.
As he drove back to Huntington, W.Va., he called to congratulate Kresse and the Cougars, who reached the tournament Marshall so desperately wanted to be part of. "That was a hard thing to do," Marshall said.
Their phone call Saturday was more joyous. Even though Kresse had just returned from his mother's funeral in New York, he was upbeat about Winthrop's turnaround.
"When he said, `Gregg, I'm so proud of you ... " Marshall said. "Obviously, no one's as good as him, but if I could just be nearly as good as him. He's the best in so many ways."
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