MANHATTAN — Will Spradling enters his sophomore basketball season at Kansas State unsure what position he will play, unaware if he will be a member of the starting lineup.
With five guards competing for playing time, K-State coach Frank Martin hasn't promised anything.
But Spradling, a combo guard from Overland Park, isn't worried about where he ends up. Even though most believe he is K-State's top point guard, he doesn't view starting at that position as his main goal. There is only one thing he wants to make sure he does this year: lead.
"We have a lot of new games on this team," Spradling said. "They need someone to look up to and help them get through practices and learn the way we play. I've been helping them as much as I can, trying to set an example.
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"I tell them if they don't understand anything or are having any problems to come to me or any upperclassman for help. That's what we're here for. If one person doesn't understand what we're doing, that hurts the whole team."
Leadership responsibilities are normally given to seniors, but with only two of those on the roster and six incoming scholarship players, Spradling is ready to help ahead of schedule.
As a freshman, Spradling benefited from the guidance of Jacob Pullen, and the former guard helped him become a key reserve as the season progressed. Spradling averaged 6.4 points and 1.6 rebounds while establishing himself as a dependable defender and the team's top free-throw shooter.
During the offseason, he played with Athletes in Action for a seven-game tournament in Europe, looking at the opportunity as a way to improve.
"I got to work on my leadership, because when 12 guys come together in a two-week span, somebody has to take lead and run us through practice and get us to where we need to be," Spradling said. "Coach really looked at me to do that."
The results were telling. The team went 6-1 and Spradling scored 20 or more points in two of the games. He was named the tournament's MVP.
When Spradling returned, Martin saw a changed player during individual workouts.
"He's a lot more aggressive in practice," Martin said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He's got a little Denis (Clemente) in him. Not in how fast he is, don't misunderstand me. But that confidence, that aggression that he's playing with on both ends of the floor, is fun to watch."
That new attitude has Spradling focusing on being a scorer. A year ago, he did little more than come off screens and shoot from the perimeter. He now feels confident trying to beat defenders off the dribble and drawing fouls in the paint while attacking the basket.
He views trips to the free-throw line as easy points. So why not try to get as many as possible?
"I really like to get out and run," Spradling said. "Layups are the easiest way to score, so if you're pressuring and getting layups, there's your points. Shooting free throws is a strength of mine, too. I'm going to try and get to the line this year."
Maybe he will be asked to do so as K-State's main point guard. Or perhaps he will slide away from the ball and create shots next to junior Martavious Irving, junior-college transfer Jeremy Jones or freshman Angel Rodriguez.
He says he trusts Martin will use him where he best helps the team. He hopes his teammates trust in him the same way. If K-State is to make a run at a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats will need to believe in each other.
So far, that hasn't been a problem.
"He's doing a great job leading the team," senior forward Jamar Samuels said. "I've never seen a sophomore like this, so up for basketball and ready to lead a team. Any time we miss a free throw or something, he's always picking somebody up. I know he's going to lead the team well this year."