MANHATTAN — Spring basketball banquets are a time for players and coaches to reflect on the season that was, and Kansas State did plenty of that on Tuesday, but the Wildcats also looked ahead.
As proud as they were of a 20-win season and NCAA Tournament berth, they seemed more focused on what they can accomplish next year.
“Win the Big 12 and make a big run,” said leading scorer Marcus Foster when asked about expectations for the 2014-15 season. “Today I was watching Jacob Pullen and the run he made to the Elite Eight and it inspired me to want to do that.
“I want to beat KU twice. I want to beat them away and at home. I have big dreams for next season. It’s fun. We have all the pieces to make this happen.”
K-State certainly figures to be an improved team. How much depends on a flurry of offseason factors. Though the Wildcats will surround Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson – a core of returning starters – with more athleticism and size, they will lack experience.
Coach Bruce Weber is high on transfers Justin Edwards and Brandon Bolden, who sat out this season, as well as incoming recruits Stephen Hurt and Tre Harris. He is expecting big things from all four of them next season, but all four are unproven at the Big 12 level.
“We have a lot of nice pieces,” Weber said. “You feel good about the young guys. Now, how bad do they want it? They really have to put their foot to the metal this summer and develop some leadership. That will be key.”
For now, optimism rules.
Foster, who is coming off an impressive freshman season in which he averaged 15.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists, said he expects Edwards to lead K-State in scoring next season. It is a possibility. Edwards, a Maine transfer, led the America East in scoring with 16.7 points as a sophomore.
“So much pressure is going to be on guys like me and Wesley, Nigel (Johnson) and Jevon (Thomas), all the guys who have been there and played,” Foster said. “Not many people have seen him. He is going to be able to get loose and score and have an amazing year.”
Weber chuckled at the thought of Edwards surpassing Foster so quickly, but he does think Edwards will bring a new dynamic to K-State’s lineup. Edwards excelled in preseason scrimmages. He can play shooting guard or small forward. He could take pressure off everyone on the wing.
“The first thing you will see is that his jumping ability is off the charts,” Weber said of Edwards. “He has gained somewhere between 16-20 pounds, all muscle. The thing we didn’t really expect is that he really shoots the ball well, especially from the three-point line.
“He was a tough opponent on the scout squad. A lot of the TV people who prepped the day before, the first thing they would say was, ‘Dang, that guy is good.’ ”
Bolden also received positive reviews. The 6-foot-11 Georgetown transfer is a skilled shot-blocker, capable of playing power forward or center.
“Brandon is as talented as anyone we have,” Weber said. “He can run very, very fast and he can jump very, very high.”
But Bolden has barely played since leaving high school. Hurt, a touted junior college big, will face a similar transition next season. His minutes were down this season at Northwest Florida State College.
Still, combined with forward D.J. Johnson and Gipson, K-State will finally have options inside.
That wasn’t the case this season, when the Wildcats put Gipson in the paint and surrounded him with a small lineup. It also hurt, Weber said, that Gipson (shoulder), Johnson (foot) and Williams (knee) got hurt late in the season and required postseason surgery. He expects all three to be sidelined until “mid-summer.”
“This year we knew we were in a danger zone with only two bigs,” Weber said. “We made it until the last couple weeks, but those guys did not practice near the end. D.J. got hurt against Kansas and had very few reps the rest of the year.
“Thomas, his shoulder started popping out with a couple weeks left. We didn’t practice him at all the week before the NCAA Tournament. I didn’t think he would make it through the game.”
Gipson did, but K-State lost a low-scoring game to Kentucky, which went on to beat Wichita State and reach the national championship game. K-State ended the season with a thud, losing four in a row. Weber had hoped for more for seniors Will Spradling, Shane Southwell and Omari Lawrence.
“We didn’t have the best matchups at the end of the year,” Weber said. “Three of our last four losses were to NCAA teams and a team in the NCAA championship.… We probably ran out of gas a little bit, but you’re still proud of the guys that they battled.”
The season just ended, but the Wildcats are already hoping for more.
“It is going to be a way different team, just because we are bigger and more athtletic,” Foster said. “Our guards are going to be able to get out on the wings and run, because we have big guys to rebound. Guards won’t have to go in there and rebound. We are going to be way more athletic. I think this team is going to be able to run motion very well, but also be a very fast-paced team.”
Awards — K-State handed out several awards at its banquet on Tuesday. Foster led the way with three awards. He won top offensive player and top newcomer honors and shared MVP honors with Gipson.
New recruit on the way? — The Wildcats have one open scholarship to use for the 2014 season. Weber said he has been recruiting a number of players, and he is hopeful he can land a commitment in the next 10 days. He said he wants to add a tall, versatile player capable of playing either forward position. One option appears to be Malek Harris, a four-star small forward from Orland Park, Ill. Harris is the nation’s No. 77 overall player, according to Rivals. He recently de-committed from Marquette and will take an official visit to K-State, according to his Twitter account.
Schedule update — K-State is close to finalizing its nonconference schedule for the 2014-15 season, and it moved a step closer on Tuesday. The Athens Banner-Herald reported that K-State and Georgia are close to a home-and-home series. An open records request revealed that the Bulldogs have signed a contract to visit Bramlage Coliseum on Dec. 31 next season with a return game scheduled for Dec. 22, 2015. The deal won’t be complete until K-State signs the contract. The Wildcats will also play in the Maui Invitational next season. The tournament will include Arizona, BYU, Missouri, Purdue, Pittsburgh, San Diego State and host Chaminade. Dave Odom, the tournament’s chairman, said Tuesday that it is unlikely K-State will face Missouri, Purdue or Chaminade in the opening round of the tournament. He said tournament matchups will likely be announced in July.