MANHATTAN — The recruiting experts think Kansas State basketball is in trouble.
Rodney McGruder is out of eligibility. Angel Rodriguez is preparing for a new start at Miami. And the freshman class Bruce Weber assembled to replace the Wildcats’ top players enters college with little fanfare.
All four of K-State’s freshmen are three-star recruits ranked outside the national top 150, according to Rivals.com. On paper, at least, the Wildcats appear to be losing more talent than they are bringing in.
We won’t know for sure until the season begins in November, but, for now, K-State coaches share a much more optimistic outlook.
“You can’t trust those rankings,” associate head coach Chris Lowery said last week at a Catbackers event in Wichita. “You can’t worry about that. It’s about what your eyes see. You have to envision guys in your program, instead of looking at rankings and trying to go and get those guys. If you do that, sometimes you realize they aren’t the players you really need. We are excited about the group we have coming in.”
K-State’s 2013 recruiting class has enough hidden potential to exceed expectations, but it will have to prove itself on the court. Will Spradling, Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson return as starters, but playing time will be available.
The Wildcats need their newcomers to produce in order to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Marcus Foster, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard from Wichita Falls, looks like the star of the class. He was an explosive scorer in high school and has picked up several awards since the season ended, including Texas 3A Player of the Year and a Parade All-American honor.
His size, athleticism and scoring abilities will allow him to compete for a starting spot right away.
Wesley Iwundu, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Houston, could also contribute quickly. He grew several inches in high school, and has the ballhandling abilities of a guard and the rebounding prowess of a forward. His outside shot needs work, but coaches expect him to score off the dribble and fight for rebounds as a freshman.
Lowery thinks Foster and Iwundu might be two of the most underrated freshmen in the Big 12 next season, but he is also high on point guard Jevon Thomas.
Though everyone associated with the program was disappointed when Rodriguez decided to transfer after a breakthrough sophomore season, coaches felt they had a newcomer ready to take his place.
“If we didn’t already have Jevon sitting there, it would have been a much bigger panic,” Lowery said. “People don’t realize how good he is, because they have never seen him. When they do, hopefully he gets to the point where it eases the pain. He won’t be as good as Angel right away, but he will be able to do some things athletically that he couldn’t.”
Thomas took an interesting journey to K-State. He was once projected to begin college in 2012, and committed to both St. John’s and Dayton. Back then, he was considered a top 150 player, but ended up at prep school before signing with the Wildcats.
The decommitments and reclassification hurt his ranking, and he won’t be allowed to practice or play with K-State until the end of the fall semester unless he can do enough during summer school to fulfill NCAA demands. Fellow freshman Nigel Johnson might have to handle the point early, along with Spradling.
Thomas has been playing pick-up games with his new teammates for months. His speed is already noticeable.
“Jevon used to be a four-star kid,” Lowery said. “… But he’s the same talented guy he always was. He’s a super athletic talent.”
K-State coaches would be even happier if they could land another big man to the mix. When Neville Fincher failed to qualify academically, the Wildcats were left without a true forward in their incoming recruiting class. K-State was hoping to land Richard Armadi, a 6-9 junior college transfer, but he reportedly committed to Oregon on Tuesday. Armadi had been scheduled to visit K-State on Wednesday.
Lowery said if K-State can’t pick up a forward in the next few weeks, it will likely use its open scholarship for the 2014 class.
Regardless, he likes the freshman class that is already campus.
“One thing that is going to standout pretty quick with our whole team is how athletic we have gotten with the people we have recruited,” Lowery said. “Our freshmen can do a lot. They are all on campus, putting in great work. We have been very pleased.”