Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber spent his first year on campus living in hotels and a rented apartment. He has since moved his family into a new home near Colbert Hills Golf Course, and he is almost done unpacking.
Weber finally feels settled as he enters Year 2 with the Wildcats, but that’s not what has him looking forward to the rapidly approaching season. He is much more excited about an early start to practice.
K-State will hold its first practice on Friday, three days before the start of October. In all his years of coaching, Weber has never practiced so early. This season, he is taking advantage of a NCAA rule change that allows teams to practice 30 times in the 42 days leading up to their first game. For Weber, the new policy came at the perfect time.
“I think it is an advantage with the young and inexperienced team we have,” Weber said. “We have so many young guys. We used to go from two hours of practice to 20 hours of practice overnight, and then you’re trying to play an exhibition game two weeks later and a real game three weeks later, it wasn’t good for the kids and it wasn’t good basketball-wise. We have been pushing for years to let us ease in. Now we have the opportunity to do it. It is an unknown, but it is definitely a positive.”
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Weber plans to hold five practices a week leading up to the season, with players getting time off every three or four days.
His main goal during that time: Integrating five freshmen into a roster that returns five scholarship players and three starters. It won’t be easy. K-State has a hole to fill at point guard without Angel Rodriguez, a void to fill on the wing without Rodney McGruder and depth to create inside without Jordan Henriquez.
The biggest challenge may come at point guard, where Weber envisions using a committee approach. Senior Will Spradling, a former shooting guard, will likely be the main ball-handler with freshman combo guard Nigel Johnson and versatile senior Shane Southwell also providing help. Freshman Jevon Thomas, perhaps the most skilled point guard on the team, will factor in at some point, but he is ineligible to practice or play with the team until the end of the semester.
K-State coaches have pushed the NCAA for a waiver that would allow him to become a full member of the team in time for practice, but Weber isn’t expecting good news.
“I don’t think that is going to happen,” Weber said. “He has done really well and is an honor student right now, but he will likely have to come in mid-semester. It is going to be a difficult situation for him, but he is really talented and could help us quickly. Is he going to be able to grasp everything? How are we doing as a team when he is eligible? It may take him a while, but he is very talented. Everyone who takes one look at him can see that.”
Versatile freshman guard Marcus Foster, small forward Wesley Iwundu, and senior Omari Lawrence all appear to be options on the perimeter with Southwell. Weber said Foster has the “biggest credentials” of K-State’s freshman class and has played well in workouts. He thinks Iwundu is still raw, but is so athletic that “sometimes he does everything wrong and still makes the play.” He is counting on Lawrence to contribute as an upperclassman.
Last year, Southwell was used as a hybrid power forward, but is likely to move back to the wing this season. K-State may count on him and Foster as scorers.
On the inside, freshman Jack Karapetyan will join sophomore D.J. Johnson and veterans Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson. Karapetyan was lightly recruited out of Los Angeles, but coaches like his athleticism. He has been dealing with a broken foot, though, and Weber said he won’t be able to practice until October. Weber said Gipson is down to about 260 pounds, and appears much more athletic than when he weighed 290.
“He really worked on that as one of his goals for the summer,” Weber said. “He can do more for us now. He is not going to be shooting threes, but he is more mobile, more active. I talked to him about having a great motor and using pick-and-pops. He will still use his body, that is where he is really good. We just need him to play a lot of minutes and avoid fouls. We won’t have the depth inside that we had last year.”
That will be a concern. Weber hopes to make up for it with a new roster and a new set of skills.
“We are much more athletic,” Weber said. “Everyone could tell we didn’t have great quickness last year. We have better quickness now. We have good athletes, there is no doubt. I kind of joked with our people that we can actually have a dunk contest and feel pretty good about it. That is exciting.”