MANHATTAN — Will Spradling laughs whenever he thinks about the first time Kansas State basketball players tried to run Bruce Weber’s motion offense.
It was a disaster.
No one was used to running so fast for so long, few understood where they were supposed to go without the ball and almost every practice featured teammates accidently crashing into each other.
The up-tempo offense, in which players and the ball are always moving, was hard to adjust to after running former coach Frank Martin’s demanding half-court sets the past few years. But Spradling enjoyed the experience all the same. Not just because the new offense built up his endurance, but because it allows players more freedom.
He also got to see how Weber reacted when things were going poorly.
“If you make a mistake, we are going to get it right,” Spradling said. “We are going to take as many reps as we need and we are going to get it right.”
A year ago, a single turnover would have earned Spradling an earful from Martin and most likely a spot on the bench. But with Weber around, he was continually greeted with encouragement and calm explanations on what he needed to improve — no matter the mistake.
Not surprisingly, Spradling is more confident than he used to be. He thinks everyone on the K-State basketball team is, and that Weber’s coaching style should allow the Wildcats to make a smooth transition into the upcoming season even though much has changed.
“I haven’t been pressing as much in practice to not make a mistake,” said Spradling, a junior guard. “Last year there were a lot of times I played to not make a mistake, because I wanted to stay on the floor. This year I’m just going out there and playing, because I know if I make a mistake I’m not going to be in trouble… it kind of feels like a weight has been lifted off your back.”
The hope is that added confidence will help K-State play high-quality basketball from the get-go under Weber.
Martin’s tough love had obvious plusses. He won 20 or more games in all five of his seasons with the Wildcats and guided them to four NCAA Tournaments, including last season’s team, which returns four starters.
But they had a tendency to start slow, often winning home games against lesser-known opponents by slim margins and losing multiple games early in conference play. Martin emphasized toughness and defense over offense, and it often took until February for K-State to start clicking and winning in impressive fashion.
With that strong defensive philosophy still in place, Weber has focused on offense by teaching his players new aspects of the game. He knows that is a learning experience, so he offered his help at all times.
“You feel good that you’re not starting over. Even though it’s a new coach and a new system and a new staff you’ve got a group that has been together,” Weber said. “We have a good attitude about these guys. They buy in.”
Results over the summer and the possibility of increased playing time are the main reasons why. Weber said he had no idea who would make up his starting five on Monday.
Most players are looking forward to a fresh start with a new coaching staff and a new mindset.
“When you go down court knowing you can play basketball and you can make basketball decisions and not have to deal with a penalty after every little mistake, it really helps,” junior guard Shane Southwell said. “It was hard last year. You take a shot and you miss and you kind of take a look at the bench instead of thinking about making the next shot. This year it’s totally different. I don’t mean you can make three turnovers and feel like you deserve to stay in the game, but as far as shots and basketball decisions, there isn’t as much pressure.”
Added Nino Williams: “With Frank, if you weren’t a top 5 guy and you had a bad practice you knew you weren’t going to play, guaranteed. It was a bad situation.”
Players said Weber’s philosophies have led to more competition in practice.
That should help when the season starts, too.
“It suits a lot of our players better,” senior Rodney McGruder said. “Some of our guys couldn’t really handle Frank. It suits us better because it’s more laid back. He cares just as Frank cares, but the language is not the same.”