As frustrating as it was for Chester Frazier to watch Kansas State players take bad shots, make poor passes and struggle to score at the beginning of the season, his confidence never wavered.
Few know the intricacies of Bruce Weber’s motion offense better. After learning and mastering it as a point guard at Illinois and now teaching it to the Wildcats as an assistant coach, he understood exactly what the problem was.
“If you’ve never run motion offense before, it can feel like you don’t know what you are doing,” Frazier said. “You’re always screening and moving and getting open. In high school, it’s just beat your man off the dribble and play. Learning to play without the ball is the hardest thing. We are asking them to play a lot without the ball. It’s a big adjustment. They were getting acclimated to it and figuring it out.”
The solution? Simple. After disappointing losses to Michigan and Gonzaga, in which K-State averaged 54.5 points, Frazier motivated K-State players with four words.
“It just takes time,” Frazier told them.
Nearly a month has passed since the Wildcats lost to the Bulldogs, and it seems like they have used the most of that time. They have won five straight games, defeated two ranked opponents, climbed to No. 18 and increased their scoring output to nearly 70 points.
Senior wing Rodney McGruder looked better than ever scoring 26 points in the second half of a 73-67 victory over Oklahoma State, junior guard Will Spradling made well-defended threes during a 67-61 win against Florida and Nino Williams has found his niche coming off the bench.
“We have come a long way,” Williams said. “Early in the season we had never run motion offense. We ran a spread the last few years and we didn’t know the reads or the reactions. Now we are jelling and know where to go.”
The biggest difference has come in the passing department. Players are moving the ball more quickly, and those crisp passes are allowing players to get shots in desirable spots. Open shots no longer seem rare.
K-State has also benefited from a small lineup. Early, it played two traditional forwards inside. Recently, it has used Shane Southwell and Williams at power forward, allowing the offense to spread out, find open space and utilize its speed.
“Now that they have settled in at the four spot,” Frazier said, “things have really opened up for us.”
For the first time since Weber took over as coach, K-State players are confident they can successfully run the motion offense in pressure situations. That confidence comes at an ideal time, with the Wildcats embarking on their first two conference road games. First comes a Saturday tip at West Virginia, then a Wednesday game at TCU.
Both opponents are Big 12 newcomers, and no one on K-State’s roster has played in either venue. But the Wildcats aren’t worried about the new experiences. If they win both games on this road swing, they will return home 3-0 in league play with Oklahoma and Kansas coming to Bramlage Coliseum. That’s where their focus lies.
“Our confidence level is high,” McGruder said. “We’ve been watching a lot of big 12 play and we know the things we are capable of. We know we just have to go out and compete for 40 minutes.”
If they do that much, players like their chances against West Virginia, a team they know well from Bob Huggins’ connections to K-State.
Still, K-State hasn’t scored more than 87 points this season. Weber is trying to teach them something new about his offense at every opportunity.
“You keep tweaking things and talking and helping them,” Weber said. “ What’s the read you’ve got to make? The dribbler has got to know it. The passer has got to know it, the screener has got to know it and the cutter has got to know it. I wish I could tell you I could sit back and chill, but not right now.”
That day may still be far off, but it seems closer than it did during K-State’s two losses.
Frazier figured it would.
“You can see the difference, and it’s night and day,” Frazier said. “We struggled to score against Michigan and Gonzaga and other stints, but now we are getting easy baskets. Making shots always gives guys confidence. I think some guys stepped up these last few games, raising their level of play on offense.”