MANHATTAN — Before they became the most successful senior class in Kansas State history, Rodney McGruder, Martavious Irving and Jordan Henriquez had a choice to make.
Stay or transfer?
They pondered the question a little more than a year ago, when former coach Frank Martin left for South Carolina. Two other members of their recruiting class— Nick Russell and Wally Judge — transferred when they were sophomores. After so much change, they wondered, was it time for them to look elsewhere?
No, they wanted to stay. They weren’t about to abandon each other.
“We all got through it together and talked about it,” Henriquez said. “Rodney, at the time, was hurt a little bit. But we knew what his plans were pretty quick. We decided to ride it out together. That’s what brothers do.”
They came to that decision as a family. They held a short meeting when they learned Martin was leaving. They didn’t know who their next coach was going to be, but they knew they would have each other. That was enough.
“We’ve been here together for a long time,” Henriquez said. “Even through a coaching change, we all came together and chose to ride it out. We could have left or gone to South Carolina with Coach Martin, but we came here together and we wanted to finish together.”
That choice has led to a successful final season that they will momentarily reflect on during senior day ceremonies before No. 9 K-State takes on TCU at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum. At 24-5, they have helped Bruce Weber become the winningest first-year coach in program history. At 13-3 in Big 12 play, the Wildcats are two wins away from claiming a share of their first conference championship since 1977. And with 98 career victories, McGruder, Irving and Henriquez make up the winningest senior class in program history.
They have been to the Elite Eight. They will soon become the second class in K-State history to play in four straight NCAA Tournaments. They aren’t ready for the ride to end.
“We just built a great relationship, a great bond, a brotherhood,” McGruder said. “That is what has kept us together. We believe and trust in one another. We’re great friends.”
Their skills also blend on the basketball court.
McGruder has led the team in scoring in back-to-back seasons and also led the team in rebounding as a junior. He is the second player in program history to rank in the top 10 in both career scoring (eighth with 1,461 points) and rebounding (10th with 619) and he is the first player in school history to top 1,400 points, 600 rebounds, 150 assists and 100 steals.
He is a candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year, and has been a constant for the Wildcats in a time of change.
His decision to stay at K-State meant a lot to his teammates.
“I had been here for three years,” McGruder said. “It would have been pretty messed up to leave what I built in this program. I wanted to finish what I started.”
Weber is glad he did.
“He’s the face of the program,” Weber said. “For him to buy in right from the get-go and believe in what we do and not really rebel at all, if anything he just jumped on board. That was really … You have got to appreciate that … You have got a kid that really exemplifies what a true student athlete should be about. You hope everyone appreciates that.”
Irving has been a role player throughout his time at K-State, but coaches have always been able to count on him as a defender. And fans will remember him as the creator of the tunnel dance. Ever since he boogied with a camera in front of him as a freshman before the start of a game against Xavier, the majority of K-State home games have started with players dancing in front of applauding fans.
He is averaging 4.4 points, and is coming off one of his best games. He scored 11 points and kept standout point guard Pierre Jackson in check during a win at Baylor on Saturday.
“It will be an emotional night for me,” Irving said. “I’ve been thinking about it for the past month or two. I’m never going to play at Bramlage again after that day … I’ve been with these two guys for four years. We have been through a lot of ups and downs. Everything is going to bring back a lot of memories.”
Henriquez will be remembered for both his ups and downs. He played a pivotal role in K-State’s late-season surge as a junior, struggled through a mostly disappointing senior campaign and now seems to have things back on track.
He had a double-double in K-State’s first game against Baylor and nearly had a second in the rematch.
He will also leave K-State as the program’s leader in blocked shots. But not until he says goodbye with two of his best friends.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Henriquez said. “I love playing in Bramlage. I still remember stepping on the court for my first time as a freshman. I had butterflies in my stomach. I’m sure I will have butterflies again Tuesday.”