MANHATTAN — Bruce Weber isn’t the type of basketball coach who relies on assistants to handle out-of-state recruiting trips.Even now, he makes at least one a week.
“If we’re going to compete with the big boys I’ve got to get out and see kids,” Weber said. “I’m not sure my wife likes it, and I have a lot of 4 a.m. wakeup calls. I don’t get sleep. But it is part of the job.”
Few could fault Weber for taking a break from the recruiting trail and focusing his energy on Kansas State’s important stretch of upcoming games. The No. 13 Wildcats are tied for first place in the Big 12 and are trying to win their first conference championship since 1977.
Some coaches defer the bulk of their recruiting responsibilities when stakes like that are involved. But Weber’s approach is too hands-on for that. He tries to plan for the future and focus on the present at the same time, going out of his way to arrange K-State’s practice schedule so he can recruit on his players’ off day and be back in time to prepare for games.
Following a loss to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum, he boarded a plane in Des Moines and went recruiting while the Wildcats traveled home. After a loss at Kansas, he boarded a plane in Kansas City on another recruiting trip instead of riding the team bus back to Manhattan. He arrived home from his latest recruiting trip on Wednesday, upset bad weather prevented him from staying out longer.
“The system is usually set up for the assistants to do the leg work and for the head coach to come in as a cleanup hitter,” associate head coach Chris Lowery said. “But he wants to find the right fit. He wants to be out there building relationships, because when the head coach can connect with a player as well as the assistants can, you are going to have a strong relationship.”
Weber used the same system during previous stops at Illinois and Southern Illinois, but not to this degree.
In his first season with the Wildcats, he thinks it is imperative that he makes himself visible with recruits.
“You’ve got to see as many kids as you can,” Weber said. “Last year we were scrambling just to get whoever we could. I thought we ended up with pretty good players, but we are trying to work a little bit ahead right now.
“I always thought that was important at Illinois, but it is more important here in a new league, I don’t think there is any doubt. We are kind of off the beaten path, whether we are going to Florida, Texas, California or the Northeast. We have got to get our faces out there. We have got to get people to know us.”
So far, the returns have been positive. The Wildcats have signed small forward Wesley Iwundu and shooting guard Marcus Foster for the class of 2013, and have picked up verbal commitments for their two remaining scholarships from power forward Neville Fincher and guard Jevon Thomas.
They are now concentrating on the class of 2014, which is projected to be made up of three players, watching prospects in both games and practices. Though K-State hasn’t picked up any commitments, Weber said a handful of recruits have taken unofficial visits and watched games at Bramlage Coliseum. Lowery said K-State has offered roughly 10 players scholarships.
Weber hopes the combination of K-State’s successful season and his persistent recruiting approach will be enough to win some of them over.
“We have been fortunate,” Weber said. “Now that you’re up in the top 20 you’re on TV and all these people are talking about you. That is important. Now, if you can back it up and be around and be out and show your face that is a real positive.”