Kansas State’s Tumultuous Season Ends With Questions

Posted by Chris Stone on March 12th, 2015

Kansas State last night wrapped up a disappointing season with a 67-65 loss to TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. “The game was kind of a microcosm of our whole season,” head coach Bruce Weber said afterward, “a bunch of ups and downs and all-arounds.” The Wildcats have certainly been through the ringer this year. Questions began surrounding the team back in December after a late-game collapse at home against Texas Southern. That loss was followed by star sophomore Marcus Foster finding his way into Weber’s doghouse before returning to help his team upset Oklahoma in Norman. Foster would ultimately be suspended in February and then reinstated down the stretch as the Wildcats defeated Kansas and Iowa State to play themselves back into the NCAA Tournament conversation for a hot second before losing their final two games. In a word, the season has been tumultuous.

There's plenty of blame to go around for Kansas State's poor season. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)

There’s plenty of blame to go around for Kansas State’s poor season. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)

Perhaps the biggest factor in the team’s struggles has been an often volatile relationship between Kansas State’s players and their head coach. We mentioned Foster’s suspension. After the February loss at TCU, Weber pleaded with his team through the media, saying, “I just want guys that care. That is all I want, guys that care and want to play for K-State and want to play to win and will play hard.” Finally, sophomore Jevon Thomas was kicked off the team earlier this month, only to learn about his removal through social media before getting reinstated ahead of the conference tournament.

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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Down the Stretch They Come

Posted by Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) on March 2nd, 2015

We’ve arrived at the final week of the regular season and now more than ever it is crystal clear just how many Big 12 teams will make the field of 68 (yeah, right). Anywhere from five to potentially eight teams could hear their names called by CBS Sports’ Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday, but it’s reasonably safe to say that these five teams — Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor — are virtual locks. Two maybes and a long shot from the Big 12 have quite a bit of ground to make up, though, between now and the conference title game in 12 days in Kansas City. Let’s take a deeper dive look at each of those three bubble squads.

  • Oklahoma State appears to be in the best position. The Cowboys were able to notch some quality wins by beating Kansas and sweeping Baylor while also taking both games from bubbling Texas. To assure Oklahoma State’s status in the field, one of two things needs to happen. They could beat TCU and lose to West Virginia (finishing at 8-10 in league play) before winning one game in the Big 12 Tournament. After all, that is what happened a season ago. The second option is to simply win in Morgantown on Saturday, a much-tougher task. That separates this team from continuing insecurity and a sure thing.

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys are (Getty)

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys have a big week ahead of them. (Getty)

  • Texas’ situation is a little more complicated. The Longhorns sit at four games under .500 in the league with a dismal 6-10 record. Despite the ongoing Big 12 benefit of playing Tournament-caliber teams both home and away, the Longhorns have only registered one victory in 11 tries against those teams. They need to beat both Baylor tonight and Kansas State on Saturday. If the Big 12 Tournament started today, the Horns would be the #8 seed and open play against a pesky TCU team. If they were able to advance to the semifinalss with two wins, that should be enough to get them in. If they don’t do that, there’s a chance we could see a revamped roster and new head coach in Austin this fall.
  • Two weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan made the claim that Kansas State arguably has the most interesting at-large NCAA Tournament resume in quite some time. While an at-large now seems out of the question, their chance to nab the league’s automatic bid is still certainly in play. K-State’s NCAA chances are the easiest (or hardest) to draw out. Basically, win all of the games. All. Of. Them. One more loss would give the Wildcats 16 defeats on the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Selection Committee would reward an at-large bid to a team with that many losses. Georgia rolled off four wins in four days to win the 2008 SEC Tournament, and, fortunately for Kansas State, most of the teams they’d likely face in Kansas City next week are teams it’s already beaten.

Will the Big 12 get all three teams in? Probably not! But two of these clubs might! Is is Championship Week yet?

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “A lot of the talk surrounding Kansas’ games lately has actually been centered on its opponents. The losses at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State in addition to Isaiah Taylor’s last-second drive on Saturday have dominated the conversation, but there hasn’t been nearly as much air time and ink given to how well Perry Ellis has played for a team desperate for frontcourt production. Over his last five games, the junior (yes, junior, Rick Barnes) has averaged 22.4 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting to go along with 8.0 rebounds per contest. If he can keep up his torrid pace, the Jayhawks may not miss the suspended Cliff Alexander so much after all.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Oklahoma — 7 points (Brian & Chris — 2nd, Nate — 3rd) Comment: “After starting conference play 3-4, the Sooners have won eight of their last nine games. Four outings against TCU and Texas Tech have bolstered their record as they prepare to face Iowa State and Kansas in the season’s final week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  3. Baylor — 8 points (Nate — 2nd, Brian & Chris — 3rd) Comment: “It looks like Scott Drew has created some separation between he and Bob Huggins in the Big 12 Coach of the Year race. It’s fascinating to see him take a team many viewed with average talent to become an absolute match-up nightmare in March.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) Read the rest of this entry »
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Kansas State’s Season Takes Another Disappointing Turn

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2015

To say that it’s been a down year for Kansas State would be a big understatement. The Wildcats, picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 by the conference’s coaches back in last fall’s Media Day, experienced an awful trip through non-league play with losses to the likes of Texas Southern and Long Beach State. Bruce Weber was hoping for a reset in league play, but it hasn’t come; if anything, things in Manhattan have only gotten worse. Last night’s loss at TCU dropped Kansas State to 6-8 in Big 12 play and 13-14 overall, making the Wildcats the only conference team other than Texas Tech to have a sub-.500 record. There were few signs of emotion or energy from the Wildcats in Fort Worth, as they allowed an early 19-0 Horned Frogs’ run and trailed by 20 points at halftime. Kansas State regrouped to make a brief second half run, but never got closer than six points the rest of the way and ultimately lost by 14. This problem isn’t just about wins and losses in a very competitive league, though.

In a disastrous season, Bruce Weber has struggled to get what he's needed out of his team.

In a disastrous season, Bruce Weber has struggled to get what he’s needed out of his team. (Raymond Thompson/AP)

Weber is struggling to keep his team focused and motivated. Star guard Marcus Foster has hit some game-winning shots, but he’s also been benched, suspended, benched again and, most recently, muzzled. After a 1-of-6 shooting performance in a reserve role last night, it doesn’t look like he and his head coach have come particularly close to mending their fences. Those issues have kept Kansas State from maximizing its potential, and there are varying levels of responsibility with both parties. No matter how you slice it, the best solution may be for the two to simply part ways, whether that involves Foster transferring or going pro. It isn’t just Foster who has struggled to find Weber’s good graces, though. Wesley Iwundu played 18 minutes on Wednesday, the least he has logged in any conference game this season. He hoisted 11 shots during those minutes, misfiring on all but two of his attempts. The Wildcats’ lethargy was on full display in Wednesday’s defeat, and Weber’s postgame comments revealed that his frustration with the team’s lack of consistent energy may have reached a tipping point.

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Big 12 M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 22nd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Like Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU, it’s been difficult to pinpoint just how good Oklahoma State can be this season. The Cowboys had a golden opportunity to turn heads with nationally-ranked Maryland invading Gallagher-Iba Sunday afternoon but were unable to come away with a profile-building win. Kyle Porter at Pistols Firing performed the autopsy of the game, and unfortunately for OSU fans, there were some familiar themes that led to the loss. With Terps leading scorer Dez Wells sidelined with a wrist injury, this was OSU’s last shot at a quality non-conference win. KenPom has Oklahoma State’s non-conference schedule ranked at 219th with their best win against a disappointing Memphis team and a blowout loss to South Carolina who was picked to finish 12th in a mediocre SEC. That’s … not good.
  2. Heading into this week, nine of 351 Division 1 schools are undefeated in college basketball and TCU is still the Big 12’s lone representative in that respect. The Horned Frogs improved to 11-0 after thrashing Texas-San Antonio on Saturday, their sixth game won by a margin of 15 points or more. Most people are talking about whether or not Kentucky can finish the season 40-0. How long should we wait until TCU joins the conversation? (Is this thing on? *taps mic*).
  3. You might be hearing this for the first time in your life but Iowa State secured a commitment from a high-level transfer on Saturday. The transfer is Deonte Burton who comes to Ames by way of Marquette where he spent his first year-and-a-half of eligibility with the Golden Eagles. This season, the sophomore Burton averaged 6.4 points on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from three in just over 16 minutes per contest. Burton will have two-and-a-half years of eligibility remaining beginning in December 2015.
  4. Conference realignment has not stopped Texas A&M from scheduling old foes from the Big 12. The Aggies faced Baylor on December 9 and did battle with Kansas State Saturday night in Kansas City. It would be easier to say that K-State had this game won from the opening tip, shooting 61 percent from the floor, but this Vine from K-State forward Wesley Iwundu is the best recap anyone could offer. Enjoy it in all its majesty. (H/T Octagon of Doom)
  5. Texas Tech has quietly gotten off to a 9-1 start heading into this week’s Continental Tires Las Vegas Classic. The tournament, which starts tonight, is comprised of Boise State, Houston, Loyola (IL) and the Red Raiders. Sure, they have played a mostly pillowsoft schedule but considering their only loss came in overtime at LSU on November 18 (who would later beat West Virginia in Morgantown) and an overall weak field, TTU is in a position to potentially leave Las Vegas with a tournament championship. The Red Raiders play Loyola (IL) tonight and the winner of that game will face the winner of Boise State-Houston Tuesday night for the tournament title.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Kansas State Wildcats

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 3rd, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas State. 

Kansas State

Looking back at last season, I’m sure most Kansas State fans would say they were somewhat satisfied with how the year turned out. The roster faced major turnover as guys who had shared a Big 12 regular season title the year before either graduated or transferred out of Manhattan. The Wildcats were young and it showed early in non-conference play, with losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte to go along with Georgetown. Once they returned to the mainland from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, however, the Wildcats found a star point guard, reeled off 10 wins a row, won all but one of their home conference games, and wound up facing Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. With seven of their nine rotation players back, Kansas State has the opportunity to disrupt conference hierarchy again and perhaps look forward to a March worth remembering.

A big season could be on the way for Bruce Weber and the Wildcats. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

A big season could be on the way for Bruce Weber and the Wildcats. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Strengths: The star point guard is, of course, sophomore guard Marcus Foster. Foster’s rise last season was almost impossible to predict, but there he was knocking down jumpers and bulldozing through traffic to get to the cup. If that doesn’t sound appetizing enough, throw in transfer Justin Edwards — who put up some big numbers at Maine (16.7 PPG in 2012-13) — and you’ve got a lethal duo of guards who can go toe-to-toe against any backcourt in the Big 12. Another advantage this season is greater depth at the forward positions. Most starting lineups last year featured the 6’7″ Thomas Gipson playing the power forward slot. Not so this season. Help comes in the form of 6’11” Stephen Hurt, a JuCo transfer who spent last season at Northwest Florida State College. Hurt began his college career at Lipscomb, where he won the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year award by averaging 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Brandon Bolden, a 6’11” transfer from Georgetown, will also be eligible this season to provide more frontcourt depth.

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Big 12 M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 7th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Adidas revealed new uniforms that 10 of its member institutions will wear just in time for the NCAA Tournament. Two of those schools participating will be Kansas and Baylor of the Big 12, assuming the Bears get in. Cool, huh? Because it gets progressively worse from here. Kansas’ uniform looks similar to a look the Jayhawks have worn in the past, but Baylor’s jersey is perhaps the worst of all — highlighter yellow, which has become an unofficial school color in recent years. But here’s where it gets loony: Their familiar “Sic ‘Em Bears” slogan is scrawled across the front. Then there were these photos of ex-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III “rocking out” the new look on Twitter. To borrow a line from Golden God Dennis Reynolds, everyone at adidas was on the gas and nobody was on the brakes. I mean, Indiana and Notre Dame are getting NCAA Tournament jerseys? Have they even looked at the Big Ten or ACC standings? Major face-palm, guys.
  2. First he told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he might come back for a sophomore season. Now Joel Embiid took to Twitter on Thursday to reflect on Wednesday’s win, saying he “can’t wait to be a senior.” Embiid doesn’t seem like the trolling or misleading type, but we’re so used to college players changing their minds that we expect it to happen every time. What if he’s actually serious and he does come back for a sophomore season? Then a junior year? And a senior year? Two things will happen: We’ll be treated to several more years to watch a blossoming player become great, and in the end, we’ll feel like cynical jerks for ever doubting him. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound so bad. I’ll take more college Embiid and the accompanying cynicism, please.
  3. Things could get weird Saturday as Iowa State plans to have its “Senior Day” to honor players which include once former and current guard Bubu Palo. However, the Des Moines Register talked to Palo and he’s taking a mature approach towards the situation, which has understandably put coach Fred Hoiberg in an awkward spot heading into the game against Oklahoma State. “Coach Fred has been great throughout this,” Palo told the Register. “I wouldn’t want people to think that he’s depriving me of a senior moment.” Another reason Palo would be fine with not playing Saturday is because he’s seeking a potential sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Playing any minutes from now until the end of the season could severely lessen his chances of getting an extra year on the team. With Kane departing, Palo could be the starting point guard next year if Hoiberg doesn’t have anyone else coming in.
  4. It’s hard to believe, but Scott Drew is tied for the second-longest tenured head coach in the Big 12. Drew went on CBS Sports Radio Thursday morning and said that this conference season is the best he has “been a part of” in his 11 years at Baylor. It certainly beats his first few seasons in Waco. All kidding aside, Drew is right. There’s a strong possibility that the league can get seven teams into the field of 68 this year, and that would tie a conference high that was set when seven of 12 teams made the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 has had at least four teams make the NCAAs in each of the last 17 years. None of the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10/12, Atlantic 10, SEC, Mountain West and Missouri Valley conferences can make that claim. But seven making the Dance in the current 10-team format would be all the more impressive.
  5. The r/CollegeBasketball page has brought this video to our attention. In it is a slow motion replay of Marcus Smart attempting to slap Wesley Iwundu after the two unintentionally bumped chests during Monday’s Kansas State-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater. It appears Smart had clear intent to slap Iwundu but he just missed as he was trying to get open elsewhere on the floor. It isn’t known if the Big 12 is reviewing this play or whether the league will hand down a punishment on the matter, but it’s one thing if the conference comes out and says they didn’t find anything incriminating on the play and quite another to not comment on it at all. It wouldn’t reflect well on the Big 12, however, if the league remains completely quiet about this.
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Big 12 Team Preview: Kansas State Wildcats

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Kansas State.

Where We Left Off: As he did at Illinois, Bruce Weber took the wheel of a new program and immediately led it to a regular season conference title. Despite an unimpressive defense and an offense that relied heavily on crashing the boards, Kansas State outperformed preseason expectations on its way to a 27-8 record and sharing the conference crown with Kansas. The postseason wasn’t so kind, however. Kansas State bowed out to the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament final, losing to Bill Self’s team for the third time in 2013, and followed it up by dropping a heart-breaker to 13-seed La Salle in their NCAA Tournament opener. KSU had a tough offseason as well, losing Angel Rodriguez to Miami and Adrian Diaz to Florida International, while also waving goodbye to graduating seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez. Weber’s most prominent players still figure to be those recruited by former head coach Frank Martin, but he’ll look to begin shedding the reputation he garnered in Champaign as a coach who struggles to win without the previous regime’s holdovers.

Bruce Weber needs Shane Southwell to be the next Alpha Dog (er, cat) in The Little Apple. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Bruce Weber needs Shane Southwell to be the next Alpha Dog (er, cat) in The Little Apple. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Strengths: Last season, Shane Southwell was one of the most improved players in the Big 12, as he doubled his scoring average and then some, going from 3.2 points per game in 2011-12 to 8.4 last season. Where Southwell especially shined was beyond the arc, where he connected on 44 percent of his 110 attempts after hitting just 25 percent over the prior two seasons. Kansas State figures to rely on Southwell heavily this season, as the Wildcats’ trademark of cashing in on second chance buckets is destined to take a hit with a smaller lineup. KSU will need to score on its first attempts, and one man who can help take the pressure off Southwell is junior Thomas Gipson. At 6’7″ and 265 pounds, the big guy knows his way around the basket and takes up a ton of space. He’ll be counted on to flourish in a more significant role on both ends after averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game in each of his first two seasons. Farther out, Will Spradling is one of the Big 12’s more familiar faces. While the senior is far from automatic, he shoots the ball well enough from beyond the arc to command the respect of opposing defenders.

Weaknesses: Despite Spradling’s experience and ability to knock down set shots from distance, question marks abound in the backcourt, assuming Southwell spends most of his time on the wing this season. Spradling is hardly a sure thing and Weber will need to find a solution at the point among a glut of unknown commodities such as freshmen Marcus Foster and Nigel Johnson.  The Wildcats may also struggle down low until a capable complement to Gipson emerges. Sophomore D.J. Johnson is the only player taller than 6’7″ (6’11” Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden will sit out the season, per NCAA rules), so the Wildcats will field a frontcourt rotation that’s much smaller than what fans are used to seeing.

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Big 12 M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 4th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas State took down Pittsburg State 75-54 in exhibition action on Friday night. The only problem was the Wildcats were hobbled in doing so. Bruce Weber said earlier in the week that guards Will Spradling (0 pts) and Shane Southwell (10/5 asts) as well as forward Nino Williams (13/13) were all battling injuries despite playing more than 20 minutes apiece. Thomas Gipson, who is expected to be more of a force on the offensive end, did not play either due to an unspecified injury. Another headline came from the three freshmen thrown into the action. Point guard Marcus Foster turned in 13 points, five rebounds and four dimes, while fellow Texan Wesley Iwundu scored 10 points in 17 minutes, and Nigel Johnson poured in 15 and nine boards in Gipson’s place. While it’s important to get your starters as healthy before the season tips off, it’s nice to know you have options down low and in the backcourt if you’re a K-State fan.
  2. News came down late last week that Melvin Ejim would be out several weeks with a hyperextended knee and bone bruise. But Ejim is hoping he can return to the floor sooner than expected. “I don’t think it’s going to take as long. Hopefully it doesn’t take as long,” he told the Ames Tribune. “It’d be the best if I took a couple weeks, and I could play right away, but we’ve still got to be smart and it’s something if I do play on it and it’s not properly healed, it’s potentially something that could hurt me down the line.” Smart is right. Adrian Peterson certainly set a precedent for athletes and how much time they can take to rehabilitate their injuries. And sure, Ejim’s feeling pressure to be rushed back considering 60 percent of Iowa State’s starting lineup wasn’t there a year ago. It’s also not a bad thing to go the Derrick Rose route and make sure your mind and body are in sync with each other before returning to action. Get well, Mel.
  3. They’ve got a shiny new top 10 ranking and lofty expectations at the national level, but believe it or not, Oklahoma State won’t be talking about a national championship this season. According to the Tulsa World, Travis Ford had his players study up on the six Cowboy teams that previously made it to Final Fours for a team dinner weeks ago. “We wanted them to learn about the tradition but also the championship-type teams,” Ford said. “We’ve talked a lot about trying to get to that point, trying to get our guys throughout the summer and a little bit of preseason thinking in terms of trying to motivate them to win a championship. Once the night was over, I told our guys, ‘Now we’re done talking about it.’ I don’t want to talk any more about it. I don’t want to pinhole it.” Interesting approach from a man who hasn’t done a whole lot in his time in Stillwater; but hey, the more Big 12 teams at the 2014 Final Four in Dallas, the better.
  4. TCU had its own exhibition game on Friday night and they were able to come away with a 81-74 over Arkansas-Fort Smith. Karviar Shepherd, the top prospect from the Horned Frogs’ 2013 recruiting class, shined with a 16-point, 10-rebound outing. After missing the 2013 portion of last season, senior Jarvis Ray scored 18 to lead all scorers. TCU is slated to tip off its season Friday against crosstown and old Southwest Conference rivals, SMU. Let’s hope that Trent Johnson will have a healthy roster to work with in 2013-14.
  5. The mother of Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith passed away last week. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and later confirmed by the school’s athletic department, Parthenia Smith died late Wednesday. She was 92. Tubby’s father, Guffrie, passed away just before the start of the 2009 basketball season at 88. It’ll be tough to concentrate on coaching this week, but our thoughts and prayers go out to Tubby and his family through this trying time.
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