MANHATTAN — What once had the makings of a frustrating offseason has turned into a delight for Rodney McGruder.
After spending much of the spring wearing a medical boot and wondering who his next basketball coach was going to be, the Kansas State senior small forward is once again practicing at full speed. He dribbled up and down the court at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday with minimal pain, and made shots like he was in midseason form.
His health couldn’t have picked a better time to return. Since undergoing surgery on his foot following K-State’s season-ending loss to Syracuse in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, he has dedicated most of his time to rehab. Now, he can focus on bigger things, such as the Kevin Durant Skills Academy, which will feature McGruder and nine of the other best wing players in college basketball. The camp will be held June 24-26 in Chicago.
“I’m looking forward to that, McGruder said. “It’s a good honor. I just got to go there and try to perform my best.”
With a little more work, he thinks he will be able to excel against that competition. He certainly has the talent. McGruder led the Wildcats with 15.8 points a game as a junior, and also averaged 5.2 rebounds. He is expected to be an all-conference player this season, and one of the best seniors in college basketball.
Of course, he had a few obstacles to face before he could begin preparing for his final year.
First came the surgery, and the recovery process that followed.
“This offseason I’ve just been shooting and rehabbing, trying to get my foot stronger,” McGruder said. “I felt 100 percent since they told me I could walk, but they told me, ‘Don’t rush anything. Take time, let it got stronger.’ I cautioned my comeback a little bit. I didn’t want to comeback too early or get injured.”
Then came the departure of former coach Frank Martin and the hiring of Bruce Weber. That transition posed all kinds of questions.
“It was tough,” McGruder said. “I really cared for those guys and Frank did a great job here. It was tough. Frank was like a big brother to me. He helped me out a lot and turned me into a man.”
Still, he never thought about transferring. He didn’t want to turn his back on K-State after working so hard to become the team’s go-to player, especially with a coach he admires now helping him.
“It wasn’t really in my mind at all,” McGruder said. “Right about the time I had surgery . . .a lot was going on. We didn’t have a coach and I was a little stressed out, but the program couldn’t have landed in better hands.”
McGruder will work with K-State’s new coaching staff as much as possible in the coming weeks.
“Everything has room for improvement, I know that,” McGruder said. “I don’t want to get complacent on any aspect of my game. I just want to better every aspect of my game as much as I can. This is the best time to do that. I’ve got to take advantage of the summer.”