Kansas State is about to gain a new basketball player who will become a fascinating figure immediately.
Jevon Thomas, a freshman point guard who hasn’t practiced or played with the Wildcats since enrolling last February due to NCAA eligibility rules, is days away from wearing a K-State uniform.
He will officially join the team on Saturday, when his eligibility begins following the conclusion of the fall semester.
How long before he enters the playing rotation? K-State coach Bruce Weber can’t say. It won’t be against Gonzaga on Saturday. Thomas needs to learn Weber’s motion offense and to build relationships with teammates in practice before he is a candidate for playing time.
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But that could happen quickly. Thomas could see the floor against Tulane on Dec. 28 or in one of K-State’s final nonconference games. At the least, he will be a factor at the start of Big 12 play.
The Wildcats hope it happens sooner rather than later.
"We will be a complete team. That is our true point guard," K-State junior forward Thomas Gipson said. "We are still winning without him. We will get more wins with him. Things are going to be better for us on offense and defense. Everybody is expecting a lot. He is real good on defense. He is talented on offense. We are ready for him."
Indeed, K-State has used a less-than-ideal approach at point guard. Will Spradling, a senior who has spent most of his K-State career at shooting guard, has led the offense with mixed results. Though he has done an excellent job avoiding turnovers (5) and keeping the offense moving when he doesn’t have the ball, he is averaging 8.2 points and 2.6 assists. He is also fouling too often while defending opposing point guards.
Spradling could benefit from a return to his natural position, where he could see more open shots and exert less energy.
His backup, Nigel Johnson, might also like having another guard in the mix. The freshman is still learning K-State’s system. Though he has come off the bench to make some important shots, he rarely creates for his teammates or keeps the offense flowing the way coaches prefer.
Thomas represents a more natural fit. The former three-star recruit from New York has played point guard his whole life. He is fast, a quality passer and a strong defender. It’s not a stretch to envision him becoming a starter this season.
"The transition for us as a team is going to be difficult, because he is a lot faster than our point guard right now," senior guard Shane Southwell said. "It will be different, but he can help us. He will have an impact on the first game, not even offensively. He is a very good on-ball defender. That is something we are going to need."
Still, instant success isn’t guaranteed.
Weber is quick to point out how long it took Gipson to reach full strength after missing two games with concussion symptoms earlier this season. He also points to Kobe Bryant in the NBA. He hasn’t reached his form after a long layoff, either.
K-State has gone out of its way to involve Thomas in open-gym workouts and off-the-court activities. Weber said he has agreed to cut the occasional practice short in exchange for players playing with Thomas on their own time.
"We make sure he has a good relationship with everyone on the team," Southwell said. "We invite him to all of our houses and in the locker room. We have group chats with him. We keep him up to speed."
Thomas, who isn’t allowed to speak with media until next week, already feels like a member of the team. But will that help him once he joins practice?
K-State hopes so. It is ready for Thomas.
"We all try to be with him and keep him positive," Weber said. "Now he is down to a handful of days. I know he is excited and anxious. It is kind of like Christmas, he is going to open up that package on Christmas morning and get to play college basketball. That is very intriguing for him, but at the same time I have warned him since the fall that it’s one thing to fight through these days, it’s another thing to get acclimated in the middle of the season with no practices.
"It is going to be tough for him, but we need to be patient."