MANHATTAN — There are days when Marcus Foster makes the transition from high school to college look effortless.
The Kansas State freshman scored 20 points against Kansas, and fans stormed the court. He hit Baylor with 29 points, and Bears coach Scott Drew labeled him a future pro. He dropped 34 points on Texas, and everyone who overlooked him squirmed.
“I made my name for myself,” Foster said. “Going into next season, people are going to know me. I have a little buzz.”
Indeed, the unheralded recruit from Wichita Falls, Texas is an up-and-coming player. He averaged 15.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists on a team that is likely headed to the NCAA Tournament. He also joined former standout Michael Beasley as the only freshman in program history to earn All-Big 12 honors, landing on the second team. His potential at K-State appears limitless.
“He has been great,” K-State senior guard Will Spradling said. “The way he has improved through the year is tremendous. He keeps working at it. At the beginning of the year, he was pretty much just a scorer. Now he is rebounding it. He had a game with 10 assists. He is doing everything now.”
Still, Foster understands his future will only remain bright if he learns how to do more. That means developing into a complete player, a process that will require work and improvement. Not just as a sophomore or as an upperclassman – right now.
His big games have brought big exposure. Opposing defenses are beginning to throw everything they have at him. Though he has overcome the extra attention many times, there have been a few clunkers.
Two stick out: A blowout loss at Kansas and double-digit setback at Oklahoma State.
Against Kansas, he was nervous. He had never played in a wild road environment, and he tried too hard to upstage Andrew Wiggins, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. He ended up scoring seven points on 12 shots. He used a different approach at Oklahoma State but it didn’t matter. Marcus Smart, one of the nation’s top defenders, blanketed Foster. Smart challenged him off every screen and made it difficult for him to catch passes. Foster ended up scoring nine points on 16 shots.
That doesn’t exactly bode well for the Big 12 Tournament, where there is a high probability Foster will see Wiggins or Smart if K-State beats Iowa State in the quarterfinals. He may also encounter another elite defender in the NCAA Tournament. As good as Foster has been, he may need to be even better for the Wildcats to have a successful postseason.
“It’s not going to come easy,” Foster said. “People are going to come after me and key on me, because I am at the top of the scouting report. I have to learn to move without the ball. Instead of other people getting me open I have to do everything, the little things, guard and pass.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber is confident Foster can spin those negative games into a positive. He describes Foster as “the hardest worker on our team.” But Weber admits he had concerns as he watched them.
None were greater than Foster’s disappointing trip to Oklahoma State. Midway through, Foster seemed to give up. When Weber questioned his effort, Foster told him he was tired.
“He gave in mentally and physically,” Weber said. “There’s no doubt he has logged a lot of minutes as a freshman and had a lot of pressure on him. It’s been hard on him. But maybe that can be a teaching point where he can learn and get better. We just have to get him feeling good and happy down the stretch.”
That means lots of rest.
The two most noticeable holes in Foster’s game are shot selection (he is a 41.8-percent shooter) and turnovers (he averages 2.3), and they are most obvious when he is fatigued. His worst game, two points against Texas Tech, came in between three road games. He also faced Oklahoma State on one day of rest. But some of his best efforts, including his scoring outbursts against Texas and Baylor, came after several days off.
K-State hasn’t played since Saturday. Perhaps that is a good sign. Then again, after 31 games, Foster admits he feels drained.
“I have never been this banged up,” Foster said. “... I have never played this far into a season. It’s just something you have to get used to. I am an 18-year old freshman. Some of the guys, their bodies feel good, because they have been doing this for a couple years.”
His defensive assignments have also changed. As a high school senior, he camped out in the paint and defended post players. As a college freshman, he runs all over the court and defends point guards. The extra workload has been noticeable.
But the best players don’t use fatigue as an excuse. He doesn’t want to carry that baggage into the Big 12 Tournament.
He hopes to make the transition away from the regular season look effortless.
“It’s very hard, but I am learning how to deal with it,” Foster said. “I feel banged up and tired right now, but there is something about when I step through the tunnel and see all the people and see the lights. It’s like it all just goes away for me and I feel like I’m 100 percent.”