Throughout the preseason, Kansas State basketball coaches have repeated the same words of wisdom to their players at the beginning and end of every practice.
The quote: “If you don’t wake up every day with something to prove, you’ll never improve.”
As the Wildcats prepare for their first game of the season, sophomore wing Xavier Sneed says that message has been received.
“We have got a lot to prove,” Sneed said. “We have got a chip on shoulder this year. Once again, we are ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12. We have got a big chip on our shoulder to come out and prove ourselves to everyone.”
The journey begins at 8 p.m. Friday against American at Bramlage Coliseum.
Most preseason projections have been unkind to the Wildcats. Coaches tabbed them eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll, and they failed to receive votes for the top 25. But college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy rates K-State 39th nationally, and the team had many positive moments while going 3-0 in exhibition games.
Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Sneed return to form a strong nucleus, and K-State boasts improved depth. The Wildcats think they can build off what they accomplished last season when they won 21 games and reached the NCAA Tournament.
“I feel good about our guys,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We have a good group. I have said it since the beginning -- they busted their butts from the spring until now. They are coach-able, they want to do well, they get along together. Are we perfect? No ... I still feel like we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Though K-State enters the season with several obvious strengths, it also has a big hole to fill down low.
It remains unclear how Weber will go about replacing productive forward D.J. Johnson. On Wednesday, he said he didn’t know whether he would start Mawdo Sallah or Makol Mawien, both newcomers, at center. Regardless, freshmen Levi Stockard and Nigel Shadd will probably see time there, too.
Fans should expect a committee of big men, at least at the start of the season.
“A key, besides rebounding, is development of our big guys,” Weber said, “and developing our bench.”
It should be an interesting first game. K-State will likely cycle through reserves against an opponent that runs the old-fashioned Princeton offense.
Weber will want to experiment with different lineups, but the players will want to go all out.
They have something to prove, after all.
“We know what we are capable of,” Brown said. “But we have to come out and show it by playing every game like it’s our last. If we do that, we will be ranked high.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett