Will Spradling had two choices as he approached the rim on a fast break Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum: Lay the ball in for two easy points or pass to Adrian Diaz, who was open to his right.
During his first two years at Kansas State, Spradling hasn’t been known as a risk-taker. But he went for style points at the beginning of this practice. He bounced the ball high off the backboard and watched as Diaz snatched it out of the air and threw down an emphatic dunk.
As their teammates howled in approval, Spradling and Diaz exchanged a hug on the baseline.
Such a moment wouldn’t have been possible in past years, and not just because Spradling and Diaz aren’t known for making highlight plays. With K-State heading to Brazil in August for a string of exhibition games against professional teams, it is allowed to participate in 10 offseason practices. Combined with individual workouts players have had with Bruce Weber, the Wildcats are adjusting to a coaching change quicker than usual.
“It’s a big difference, being that we never practiced before in the summer,” senior Rodney McGruder said. “I think it’s really tough for the younger guys who haven’t even experienced college workouts to get acquainted earlier in the summer. I think it helps out a lot, especially having a totally different coaching staff.”
Weber and his assistants couldn’t agree more. They think they walked into an ideal setup.
“It’s been good and it’s been intense,” Weber said of summer practices. “We are getting a system in. We are getting to know each other … I think it’s been very positive. The group has been good. We are just moving forward.”
Two newcomers who have benefited from the added practice time are Michael Orris and Darrell Johnson. As the only freshmen on the roster, they face the biggest challenges. But thanks to all the time they spend around their teammates and coaches, they are already adjusting to the college game.
Orris, a point guard from the Chicago area, is focusing on “doing all the little things.” He tries to make the extra pass whenever possible and is eager to step up and take a charge. He figures he needs to impress right away, because his first chance for playing time will come next month instead of the fall.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Orris said. “I think Brazil is a blessing in disguise for anyone who knows what it is because you get to go play college type games before the season starts. We’re playing against pro teams and get to be together as a team seeing how your team functions in in-game situations. It’s awesome and I can’t wait to do it. I know it will help me a lot.”
Johnson, a power forward from St. Louis, is trying to develop his offensive game. He was a strong shot-blocker in high school and has always been good at rebounding. But learning to score against taller, faster competition isn’t easy.
It’s been nice for him to see a structured style, where he can figure out his place on the team, instead of playing in pick-up games every day.
“I think it will help me pick up a lot of new things, especially with the fast pace,” Johnson said. “It will help me learn the plays a little quicker than usual rather than just waiting around for the season to start.”
Weber loves the hands-on approach. In past years, he has complained that NCAA summer practice schedules have forced coaches to step away from their teams for several months.
At K-State, he is already learning player tendencies and what lineups work best in different situations. He already knows what he wants to stress before each practice – well ahead of schedule.
“The heart is there, the intensity is there, now also let’s think a little bit and keep our poise and composure,” Weber said. “We’re hopefully mixing all that in with skill work.”
Weber said Jones arrived late for summer school, which displeased both the coaching staff and other K-State players. Jones has struggled in practices since. Weber said he will support Jones if he chooses to leave, but reminded him that he can stay with the Wildcats and graduate in May.
“I want him to be successful, I have known him a long time,” Weber said. “… Whatever he wants, I want to help him.”
Jones played sparingly as a junior, averaging 3.1 points in 20 games.