MANHATTAN — During his short time at Kansas State, Will Spradling has played his way into the starting lineup and established himself as a dependable point guard.
He has asked for the ball in the closing moments of tight games, bragged about his ability to make free throws and accepted the difficult challenge of following Denis Clemente in the Wildcats' backcourt.
All the while, he has kept a smile on his face and made his share of highlight plays.
On Thursday, while speaking with the media for the first time as a college student, Spradling was asked if he had a favorite moment yet. The freshman guard from Overland Park pondered the question, shrugged and talked in generalities. But what he said spoke volumes about why he has exceeded expectations during his first semester on campus.
"Taking charges," Spradling said. "That's one thing I like to do."
Before he ever tried on a K-State uniform, Spradling realized the importance of defense. He took pride in it. And when he made bi-weekly trips to Manhattan as a high school senior to watch practices during his free time, he realized K-State coach Frank Martin put an emphasis on it, too.
Spradling joined the Wildcats as a skinny, highly-touted outside shooter — an intelligent player who understood how to run an offense. But he knew it would take more than that to see significant action as a freshman. For that to happen, he would need to gain muscle, prove himself as a defender and show Martin the whole package.
"It's my job to get us into our offense," Spradling said. "To share the ball, to knock down shots when I'm open and also to play defense and get stops."
A wise strategy, as it turned out.
Spradling is yet to "shoot the cover off the ball," as Martin predicted in the preseason, and he's averaging a pedestrian 4.9 points and 2.2 assists per game. But he has gained 20 pounds and learned to do the little things well. He's taking charges, limiting his turnovers and gaining Martin's trust more and more each day.
"He learned terminology, he paid attention and understands rotations and the things we demand," Martin said. "He gets to the right spot, and Will is a fighter. He's a competitor. When he gets in the right position, he's ready to fight and go make a play."
Sophomore guard Martavious Irving remembers the first time he met Spradling on the practice court. He instantly realized he had the two traits necessary to quickly earn the respect of his teammates.
"Will is a very smart player and he works on his game a lot," Irving said. "When you work on your game and you're smart, you're going to be a good player."
Spradling started the season coming off the bench, but has started the last two games. And while Martin says the combination of Spradling and senior guard Jacob Pullen has a long ways to go before it equals the success Clemente and Pullen found last season, he doesn't envision the starting lineup changing anytime soon.
That has led some to begin comparing Spradling to Pullen, who was the last freshman to run an offense under Martin.
"Will has a better understanding of team basketball," Martin said. "Will, his understanding of concepts are better. Jacob was very ball dominant as a freshman. He only knew how to play with the ball in his hands. Will understands how to play with the ball out of his hands. But I'd say they are similar to one another."
Spradling hopes the comparisons to Pullen continue throughout his career. He was asked if he had a plan to make sure they do and to keep on impressing his coaches and teammates.
Once again, his answer was telling.
"Just work hard everyday," Spradling said. "And show them that I was meant to be here."