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Incoming guards will get early chance for Kansas State basketball

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013, at 5:04 p.m.

— A day after Angel Rodriguez announced his intent to transfer from Kansas State, player and team began focusing on the future.

For Rodriguez, a sophomore point guard who helped the Wildcats win 27 basketball games and a share of the Big 12 championship by averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists, the future means finding a school closer to his family in Puerto Rico where he can finish his college career.

His former high school coach, Shakey Rodriguez, told the Miami Herald that Rodriguez already has a few landing spots in mind.

“He’s made it clear he wants to play in Florida, and preferably in Miami,” Shakey Rodriguez told the newspaper. “The question now is who will reach out to him? Will it be Miami, USF, the Gators? I’ll do whatever I can to help. I know he wants to do this quickly.’’

Shakey Rodriguez did not respond to messages seeking further comment. Attempts to reach Angel Rodriguez and his former AAU coach, Art Alvarez, were also unsuccessful.

For K-State, the future means adapting to a lineup that is short on experience.

With Rodriguez returning as a junior, Bruce Weber’s job seemed simple. With Will Spradling, Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson all coming back, he only needed to fill one spot in the starting lineup. It would have presumably gone to the top incoming guard. Everyone else would compete for playing time off the bench.

Now, the second-year coach has some difficult choices. Spradling, Southwell and Gipson still provide a foundation, but K-State’s reserves and an unheralded recruiting class – no top 150 prospects, according to Rivals – will need to step up.

Spradling is the only guard returning who has played meaningful minutes, which means he will need to slide over to point guard next season or a freshman will be K-State’s predominant ballhandler.

The Wildcats recently landed an oral commitment from three-star point guard Nigel Johnson, of Upper Marlboro, Md. When he committed over the weekend, many wondered if he would be able to play right away. Now the question becomes, how well will he play right away?

With fellow incoming freshman point guard Jevon Thomas ineligible until the second semester, Johnson will have to grow quickly during nonconference games.

Johnson averaged 17.9 points as a senior at Riverdale Baptist for coach Louis Wilson.

“He has so many attributes that make him standout. Where do I start?” Wilson said by phone. “As a basketball player you’ve got to be able to dribble, pass, shoot and defend. I think he does all four of them quite well. He has a great handle. Transition-wise, he gets the ball up the court extremely fast. He can play point very, very well.”

Johnson, who was lightly recruited until de-committing from George Washington last month, said he was surprised to hear Rodriguez was transferring, but it didn’t change his freshman mindset.

“I was talking to the coaches every day before they offered me and they told me I could come in right away and play a lot and make a big impact,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to that. I want to come in, practice hard every day and play a big role.”

Other incoming recruits include power forward Neville Fincher, small forward Wesley Iwundu and guard Marcus Foster.

All three have potential. Fincher offers size, and at 6-foot-7, Iwundu is capable of playing inside or on the perimeter. But Foster appears to be the gem of K-State’s 2013 class.

The 6-foot-3 Wichita Falls native was named Texas 3A Player of the Year after averaging more than 27 points and 11 rebounds as a senior. He scored inside and out.

His high school coach, Donald Hedge, says he is capable of playing everything from point guard to power forward. He might be asked to fill several holes next season. When asked to compare him to a current college player, Hedge chose Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart.

“He’s just one of those kids who can do whatever you need him to do,” Hedge said. “When they get him up there, they are going to find a way to get him on the floor. I expect Marcus to be in the NBA someday. He is that good.”

For now, Foster is simply focused on helping K-State as quickly as possible.

"I think I can fit in well with them," Foster said. "I like coming off screens and I like playing that tough defense that Coach Weber wants. I think I will be able to make a good impact.”

Reach Kellis Robinett at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com. Check his blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated, and follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

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