Carlbe Ervin noticed something strange when he took a recruiting visit to Kansas State in late March.
Seemingly every player the junior college point guard met sounded uncertain about his future.
“I am still not sure about who all we have coming back next season,” said Ervin, a juco All-American that committed to K-State following his visit and signed with the school Friday. “I spent most of my visit with Wesley Iwundu, and for a lot of the guys we met he would be like, ‘This guy, he is leaving. This guy, he may be leaving. That guy over there, we don’t know his plan yet.’ I guess you just can’t tell with this group. It was a little weird.”
Things have only gotten weirder. Malek Harris, a freshman reserve and former consensus top-100 recruit, was dismissed by K-State coach Bruce Weber on Friday for failing to live up to team standards. He is the second player to depart the program since Ervin’s visit, the fifth player to exit since the Wildcats’ ended their season with a disappointing 15-17 record, and the sixth player to leave in the past year.
Add on the losses of seniors Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams and K-State is left with five returning scholarship players – Brandon Bolden, Justin Edwards, Stephen Hurt, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson. Of those five, only Edwards, Hurt and Iwundu are healthy enough to practice.
“We are basically starting a whole new program,” said incoming point guard Kamau Stokes, a three-star recruit from Baltimore who has signed with K-State.
Three of the departing players – Jack Karapetyan, Nigel Johnson, Jevon Thomas – left by choice, opting to transfer for various reasons including playing time and homesickness. Three others – Harris, Tre Harris and Marcus Foster – were dismissed for reasons that are not entirely known. Malek Harris and Foster each served three-game suspensions during a key stretch of Big 12 play that left each of them on thin ice with the coaching staff.
For Tre Harris and Foster, time ran out on their K-State careers shortly after they posted an ill-advised photo to Twitter while on spring break. For Malek Harris, the dismissal came suddenly. It’s the second time he has been dismissed from a team. He missed his entire senior season in high school for disciplinary reasons.
“We have high standards for the players in our program,” Weber said in a statement Friday. “Unfortunately, Malek could not live up to those expectations. We wish him the best as he continues his basketball career.”
Weber was on the road recruiting Friday and unavailable for further comment. He has declined repeated interview requests from The Eagle since the season ended, though he is tentatively scheduled to speak with the media on Tuesday.
K-State athletic director John Currie downplayed the player defections in an e-mail to fans by citing growing transfer trends and writing: “Sadly, our recent attrition is not unique in college basketball.”
“I know that it has been concerning for many of our fans to see the attrition from the program,” Currie also wrote, “including the dismissal of three players, and the decisions of two players to transfer and seek opportunities to continue their education elsewhere.
“At the same time, I have heard from many K-State fans their appreciation of Coach Weber's determination that the commitment of student-athletes in our program reflect the advantages and opportunities that we offer here in Manhattan. It is very encouraging to see the hard work and positive attitude of our returning players every day in the Basketball Training Facility as well as the excitement of our coaching staff as they continue to work on a few more potential additions to our roster.”
Malek Harris did not respond to a message seeking comment, but he did post a message to K-State fans on Twitter, which read: “Thank you to all of the Kansas State family. This has been an overall great experience. Wouldn’t take the time and grind I spent with this team back for anything. I will be leaving the University and am confident that the next University I choose will be best fit for me. Everything happens for a reason. All love to #EMAW.”
K-State will miss his potential, which seemed higher than most others on the roster.
A 6-foot-8, 215-pound guard from Orland Park, Ill., Harris signed to K-State with much fanfare last spring. He was a four-star prospect and the 80th-ranked player in the 2014 recruiting class, according to Rivals. He was the first top 150 recruit to sign with K-State since Weber took over as coach in 2012 (St. John forward Dean Wade later became the second), rounding out a three-man recruiting class as its headliner.
He chose K-State after de-committing from Marquette following a coaching change and went on to show promise for the Wildcats as a reserve. But his average contributions – 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 27 games – were low. He played through an injured shoulder near the end of the season, undergoing surgery to repair it in late March. He will now begin the rehabilitation process at another college.
Meanwhile, Weber will continue searching for recruits to replenish K-State’s dwindling roster. With five prospects signed -- center Dante Williams, guard Barry Brown, Ervin Stokes and Wade -- he has three remaining scholarships.
Adding impact players at this stage will not be easy, but he can certainly promise playing time.
“It honestly doesn’t bother me that so many players have left,” Ervin said. “Lots of teams lose players and improve the next year. Oklahoma State did it this season. They were in the (NCAA) Tournament after a roller-coaster year. I can’t tell you who all my teammates will be right now, but with guys like Wesley and D.J. leading us, if we come together as a team, we can get there, too.”