Big 12 Summer Update: Kansas State WildcatsPosted by dnspewak on July 16th, 2012
In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Danny’s update on Kansas State.
Kansas State Wildcats
2011-12 Record: 22-11, 10-8
Last March, I watched my first Frank Martin practice at the Sprint Center as Kansas State prepared to face Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. When I arrived in the middle of drills, Martin disappointed me. I wanted to see that nightmarish glare and personality I’d seen on television so many times, but he hadn’t cursed, screamed or even raised his voice yet. That lasted all of about 10 minutes. Almost on queue, Martin lashed out like the madman we all knew and loved, directing his anger not at one particular player but at the entire team in general. It was vintage Frank Martin. This summer, though, all of those returning Wildcats who dealt with Martin’s contentious personality will have a major transition to make. Martin mysteriously and unexpectedly left for a job at South Carolina, leaving KSU’s identity as a rough, tough, aggressive program in shambles. It’s now up to Bruce Weber to continue that culture by implementing his own style of play during the offseason. A highly successful coach at Southern Illinois and during the early part of his tenure at Illinois, Weber’s main challenge is convincing a talented group of returners he’s the right man for the job after his Illini program fell apart under him at the end of his tenure.
Summer Orientation: The most important “Summer Orientation” in Manhattan has to do with Weber and his staff. Shortly after accepting the head coaching job, Weber assembled a familiar crew of assistants. Most notably, he hired Chris Lowery, an old buddy of his from SIU who just lost his job with the Salukis after a downturn in the once-proud program (which Weber helped build). The two coached together at both Illinois and Southern Illinois, but Lowery’s not the only Saluki working on staff this summer. Brad Korn, the director of basketball operations, was a main contributor at forward under both Weber and Matt Painter (who took over in 2003-04) at SIU. And speaking of former players, full-time assistant Chester Frazier started for three years under Weber at Illinois. Weber also hired Alvin Brooks III, who had been working at Sam Houston State, to round out his staff.
Right away, Weber hit the recruiting trail and found Darrell Johnson and Michael Orris. Both have already made their way to campus, according to the Kansas City Star. As late spring signees, neither player is necessarily considered a traditional blue-chip recruit, but they both had several offers from other power-conference schools and immediately establish regional recruiting ties for Weber’s staff. Orris is from Chicago, and Johnson is from St. Louis, two areas Weber and Lowery could continue to hit hard in the future. Orris, a 6’2” point guard, had signed to play with Weber at Illinois before switching his commitment. The 6’8” Johnson, on the other hand, decided to sign at KSU in April.
Looking Good: Omari Lawrence played nine games last year after transferring from St. John’s, but even in a crowded backcourt he could find himself some playing time. That’s because Weber is calling him “the surprise of the summer,” based mostly on his brand-new attitude and chiseled body. He said the 6’3” guard has lost 20 pounds and has a “better motor, he’s active, and that’s all been good.” Even though Will Spradling, Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving figure to see the bulk of the playing time in the backcourt, Lawrence might be too improved to keep on the bench. As the article points out, however, Lawrence isn’t just battling with the top three guards for time. He’ll also need to outperform Jeremy Jones and Shane Southwell this summer for minutes.
The two guys with the most work to do this summer might be Jordan Henriquez and Rodney McGruder, simply because both are so important to the success of this team. As McGruder watched this June’s NBA Draft, we’re sure he couldn’t help but wonder where his name will be called in 2013. He’s that good, and with a strong senior season there’s no reason the 6’4” returning leading scorer can’t sneak into the pros with his versatility, body frame and potential. Henriquez isn’t quite as polished as McGruder, but he is a game-changing shot-blocker on the defensive end. ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb heralded him as a breakout candidate in 2012-13, which will only happen if his offensive play becomes more consistent. As Weber’s guards continue to mature — and with the graduation of fellow frontcourt mate Jamar Samuels — the offense may start emphasizing Henriquez a little more.
Roadblocks: It’s not that Bruce Weber can’t coach. He can. That’s why Illinois reached the NCAA title game in 2005, and it’s why Weber has more than 300 career victories. Still, his Illinois program collapsed in the final few years under his control, so he’s in Manhattan as more of a reclamation project. He has a difficult task trying to follow Frank Martin, one of the most unique and recognizable coaches in college basketball. He was Kansas State basketball ever since taking over for Bob Huggins in a fairly controversial hiring. He disproved the critics by winning with the Wildcats over and over again, even though most assumed he only got Huggins’ job to keep Michael Beasley and Bill Walker on campus. Now that he’s gone, this is a critical period for Weber to establish he can continue the winning culture and tradition.
State of the Program: Martin left Weber in a very, very good spot. With the bulk of an NCAA Tournament team returning, Weber has a star in McGruder, an improving set of guards and a lot of depth. And we can only assume the Wildcats will continue to play their tails off defensively, the way Martin taught them. Martin took an average program and elevated it to a perennial NCAA Tournament squad, as the Wildcats have reached the Big Dance in four of the last five seasons. After stumbling a bit during a stretch of 2011-12, KSU won four of five to close the regular season, reach the NCAAs and carry a bit of momentum over to this year’s squad. Every single returning player on Weber’s roster knows what it takes to win and what it takes to fight in the Big 12 every night. That’s the kind of attitude Weber needs to lean on to win in his first season at Kansas State.