MANHATTAN – Unlike most point guards preparing for their first college basketball game, Kamau Stokes will not have to worry about playing time as a freshman.
He is assured loads of it at Kansas State.
Following the transfers of Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson, and the dismissals of Marcus Foster and Tre Harris, the Wildcats have lost 80 percent of their backcourt in the past month and are without a returning point guard. K-State coach Bruce Weber has no choice but to lean heavily on incoming freshmen guards like Stokes and Barry Brown, along with junior-college transfer Carlbe Ervin next season.
“It definitely motivates me,” Stokes, who signed with K-State on Wednesday, said in a phone interview. “Coach is counting on me to come in and play, so I have to come in right away as a freshman and be a leader on and off the court, and, basically, help start a whole new team.”
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To say he is embracing the opportunity would be an understatement.
“I love it,” said Stokes, a former Toledo commitment fresh off a year of prep school. “I love it. I have always been one of those guys who loves a challenge, and this is definitely going to be a challenge.”
Stokes committed to K-State following a visit in late February. Ervin, a first-team junior-college All American, will sign Friday at Connors State College in Warner, Okla., following his commitment earlier this month.
“We are excited to welcome Kamau to K-State,” Weber said of Stokes in a statement. “Aside from his abilities as a basketball player, I think the biggest positive he brings our program is his great competitive spirit. He has a natural drive to be successful and he wants to do anything to help his team win. As a player, he has very good quickness with the ability to knock down shots especially from long range. We look forward to him getting to campus and starting working our guys.”
Weber can’t talk about Ervin or other recruits until K-State has received letters of intent.
Both point guards are members of K-State’s 2015 recruiting class, which is expected to have five signees by Friday and could grow to as large as seven while Weber and his staff continue searching for players. Along with Brown, a signed point guard from Florida, they will be asked to replenish a roster desperate for ballhandlers.
“I can’t wait,” said Ervin, whose legal first name is Carlbe, though he spells it Corlbe on Twitter to better match its pronunciation, COR-bee.
“This year, I was the captain of my junior-college team, and I scored a lot,” he continued. “But I also made sure everyone else could do something. We all shared the ball. We were like the Golden State Warriors. We won as a group. There’s no reason we can’t do the same thing at Kansas State.”
Ervin guided Connors State to a successful season, helping it win 30 straight games and enter the Division I junior-college tournament in Hutchinson as the No. 1 seed. He averaged 15.9 points, 8.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds.
Gaudy statistics are unlikely to come so easily for him as he faces the transition from junior college to Division I. Juco transfers don’t always prosper in the Big 12. But he is not concerned. Statistics don’t mean much to him.
His main focus, like Stokes, will be providing leadership for a backcourt that has none.
“A lot of people are worried about next season,” Ervin said. “They are saying Marcus Foster left and he was so good and he was all that. We still have some great players coming back. They had a good squad last year that beat a lot of great teams. They just let up against the bad teams.
“They didn’t have that leader to push them and keep them up against all opponents. They got too comfortable. You can never do that on the basketball court. Someone is always working to pass you. I feel like I’m a cocky player, but I will never get comfortable.”
Perhaps that is the mentality K-State needs to bounce back from a disappointing 15-17 season that came to an end with a loss to TCU in the Big 12 Tournament. Perhaps that is what they need to overcome low expectations that will follow the Wildcats into next season.
No one can know for sure until the games begin.
One thing is for certain: K-State will rely on newcomers such as Stokes and Ervin to complement a group of six returning scholarship players. One way or another, they will help shape the program’s immediate future.
“We are basically starting a whole new program,” Stokes said. “But we have real good guys coming in. I like them. They are all like me. They like to work and compete. We are all going to work our hardest to get back to the NCAA Tournament.”