As soon as he heard the question, Shane Southwell started laughing — uncontrollably.
As a senior at New York’s Rice High School, where he was a standout point guard, did he think he would one day become a hybrid power forward at Kansas State?
“That is by far the funniest question I have been asked,” Southwell said. “No, no, no, no, plain and simple no. Maybe in a sense where I would be the second-tallest person, but not playing the four like I do now. No way.”
Had he known how well things would turn out for him after moving away from the perimeter and into a position that allows him to fight for rebounds and shoot three-pointers, maybe he wouldn’t have been so adamant. But the thought of giving up his size advantage against guards on the outside seemed crazy to the 6-foot-6 junior.
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Now that he has made the switch, though, he has no regrets.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “I’ve been playing on the perimeter my whole life. Now playing against guys that are bigger than me, it creates an advantage.”
As a full-time guard, Southwell contributed little and K-State came up short in big games. As the four-man, he has started seven straight — all wins — and averaged 7.9 points. More importantly, he has played an integral role in K-State’s success, coming through with everything from jumpers to rebounds to pressure free throws and blocks. He is a key reason why the No. 16 Wildcats head into a 3 p.m. tip against Oklahoma on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum with an undefeated Big 12 record.
He’s glad K-State coach Bruce Weber convinced him to move inside last month when Nino Williams, a 6-5 sophomore forward, had a shoulder injury.
“I’m much more mature now,” Southwell said. “I understand it creates mismatches and the motion offense runs better when you have four wing players — four players that can make decisions and score from the perimeter. It has a lot to do with my maturity process. If he had asked me that after I graduated from high school, I would have said, ‘No, I’m transferring.’ ”
Thing is, Weber wasn’t high on the idea of Southwell playing inside at first, either. Early on, K-State used a three-guard lineup, with 6-foot-11 forwards Jordan Henriquez and Adrian Diaz starting down low and Thomas Gipson coming off the bench. The Wildcats were trying to utilize their size against smaller teams. But when that lineup struggled to score, Williams and Gipson moved into the starting lineup alongside Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez.
Speed and length replaced size. K-State showed promise with that look, but fell flat in a lopsided loss to Gonzaga. Southwell started the next game against Texas Southern, Williams responded well to his backup role and the Wildcats haven’t lost since.
“We just said to Shane, ‘Hey, this is going to be an opportunity if you want to grab it,’” Weber said. “We just wanted to see how it worked. Shane has grabbed it and taken advantage of the opportunity.”
The biggest difference has come on offense.
With Southwell and Williams sharing minutes, K-State players have been able to spread the floor and execute Weber’s motion offense in ways they were unable to early. Screeners have helped McGruder, the team’s leading scorer, get open consistently, and someone else is always providing help.
Southwell scored 17 points in a win at West Virginia. Williams had 17 in a victory over Oklahoma State. Spradling scored 17 when K-State beat Florida. And Martavious Irving did a little bit of everything on Wednesday against TCU. All while playing effective defense inside.
“It just put teams in binds when that four can run off screens,” Weber said. “He can pick-and-pop, he can stress defenses … It’s kind of where basketball has gone. It’s more of a skill game.”
Oklahoma used a similar lineup against K-State last season, and it helped the Sooners sweep the season series.
The Wildcats are looking forward to the rematch.
“Me and Shane can rebound with four men and we kind stretch the floor out. It creates mismatches on offense,” Williams said. “Most four men don’t post up against us. We haven’t played one that has tried to bully-ball us yet. We just try to fight in the post and look for mismatches on offense.”
Like Southwell, Williams came to K-State expecting to play another position. But now that he has embraced the responsibilities that come with being a hybrid forward, he doesn’t want to go back to the perimeter.
He enjoys roaming the floor and has built a strong bond with Southwell at the position. Williams went wild on the bench when Southwell blocked a potential game-winning shot at West Virginia. A week earlier, Southwell told Weber to let Williams have his minutes when he was hot against Oklahoma State.
Things have changed a lot since he was in high school.
“They have all bought in,” Weber said. “Winning is the most important thing. … It’s a nice positive step for them. It’s a maturity step.”