MANHATTAN — It was Kansas State's senior day, and Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were finished thanking the fans who cheered them on during a victory over Iowa State. But they still had gratitude to show.
Not for friends, family or coaches, but for Will Spradling, a freshman guard who helped them win their final game at Bramlage Coliseum by contributing 13 points, five rebounds and four assists in a 67-55 triumph.
"Will helped us in the game so much," Kelly said, "especially on our senior day. We wouldn't have wanted to come out of here with a loss on senior day. So I appreciate Will giving his efforts and doing the things he did. I hope he continues to play well."
Spradling spent six games earlier this season as a member of K-State's starting lineup, but nothing he accomplished during that stretch compares to what he's doing today.
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Just as the Wildcats have hit their stride and won 8 of 9 games to close out the regular season, Spradling, an All-State player from Shawnee Mission South, is taking his play to a higher level at the best possible time.
Since losing his starting spot because of poor defensive play and a lack of poise on the road, he has cemented himself in the playing rotation and scored nine or more points six times in his past 11 games. He has also developed a knack for hitting outside shots, draining 22 three-pointers during that stretch.
Perhaps best of all, his defense and court vision are no longer viewed as deficiencies.
"Offensively, he doesn't turn the ball over, and he gets hounded," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "You put him out there, and you put the ball in his hand, and people say, 'All right, go after him. He's a freshman.' And he won't turn it over. He had one turnover against Iowa State the other day, and I was so upset because I'm not used to seeing him turn it over."
Neither is Pullen. He was so impressed by Spradling's latest showing that he proudly pointed out his stat line to anyone willing to listen.
"Those are big numbers," Pullen said, "and he did it off the bench. So for him to come in and give us those type of minutes, when I didn't feel like I was playing well and we just were continuing to be in a dog fight, he really spread out the game and gave us life."
Martin has come to expect those types of contributions from countless players over the years, but he can't think of many who proved themselves as quickly as Spradling.
Michael Beasley and Bill Walker were the last.
"From a readiness standpoint to play college basketball he's up there, he's in that conversation," Martin said. "He was a lot more prepared for college than Jacob was, his daily understanding of the grind. They both have similar minds in their ability to learn, but Will was more mentally and physically prepared."
After 31 games, he's still one of the most fit players on the team. Martin says sophomore Rodney McGruder, Pullen and Spradling are in "by far" the best shape of anyone on the roster.
Spradling did not speak with media on Monday or after K-State's regular-season finale, but Martin said he is looking forward to continuing his contributions close to home in the Big 12 Tournament.
At the moment, his future seems bright.
"He's a confident kid," Martin said. "He keeps getting better."