When you return your entire starting lineup and the bulk of your roster from a team that won 25 games and reached the Elite Eight, you can afford to be picky when it comes to recruiting.
That’s the situation Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber finds himself in at the moment. He has one available scholarship at his disposal, and he knows exactly the type of player he wants to add.
“We would like to get a transfer,” Weber said during a wide-ranging interview Friday. “With everybody returning and the additions of Austin (Trice) and Shaun (Williams), we want a transfer who can give us experience a year from now, someone who can practice against us next season and then be ready to help. That is at the top of our wish list.”
That strategy may seem surprising given that K-State appears to have a pressing need for depth on the wing, where Xavier Sneed is the only returning small forward. But Weber thinks the Wildcats have enough lineup versatility to play three guards when Sneed isn’t on the court next season.
With Cartier Diarra and Mike McGuirl proving themselves in small lineups during the NCAA Tournament, Weber would rather look to bolster future rosters that won’t include seniors Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes or Dean Wade.
That’s why K-State coaches are focusing their recruiting efforts for the 2018 class on transfers.
Two names to keep an eye on:
- Anthony Tarke, a sophomore guard transfer from New Jersey Institute of Technology. He averaged 15.1 points and six rebounds last season in the Atlantic Sun Conference. K-State is one of many schools actively recruiting him.
- Parker Stewart, a freshman guard transfer from Pittsburgh. He averaged 9.1 points and 3.3 rebounds last season in the ACC. He lists K-State as one of his finalists, along with Maryland, Oregon and Tennessee-Martin.
K-State also pursued Syracuse transfer Matthew Moyer (Vanderbilt) and Illinois transfer Mark Smith (Missouri), but they landed elsewhere.
The Wildcats are also actively trying to get ahead of the curve for their 2019 recruiting class, and Weber thinks they have made “great” progress in that area.
But it won’t be long before Weber’s focus returns to the promising team he has assembled on campus.
Some of his thoughts on that topic:
K-State’s top spring recruiting target should make an impact next season. Trice, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged a double-double in junior-college last season.
“The worst thing we did last year was rebound,” Weber said. “We were last in the league. We started looking and saw that Austin led the country in rebounding. I’m not sure how many statistics translate from junior college, but I think one stat that has a chance to translate is rebounding.”
“He gives you athleticism, energy and a motor. He is a very active guy. He can guard every position. He is maybe a little undersized for the five, but he can play the four. It will be nice to have him in there with Dean and Makol (Mawien).”
He was one of K-State’s best three players when the season began. Then a broken foot derailed everything. Stokes returned to the lineup late and started throughout the NCAA Tournament, but he was not nearly as effective as he previously was as a shooter or distributor.
Weber said he went three months without lifting weights and is only now closing in on a full recovery.
“He was never better than 80 percent of where he was,” Weber said. “He had a really good game against Creighton, but he was a shell of his former self otherwise. You see him now and he looks much stronger. Hopefully he can get after it this summer.”
Does Stokes remain the projected starter at point guard if he regains his form?
Maybe, but Cartier Diarra and incoming freshman Shaun Williams might have something to say about that.
“A lot of different people stepped up while he was hurt,” Weber said. “There is going to be really good competition there. They will all push each other.”
Xavier Sneed returns as the unquestioned starter at the three. If he continues to play the way he did in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds against Kentucky, he could challenge Dean Wade and Barry Brown for team MVP.
But what will the Wildcats do when Sneed isn’t on the floor? His primary backups, Amaad Wainright and Brian Patrick, have both left the team.
Weber thinks Mike McGuirl and Diarra are the most logical replacements. McGuirl came on strong late as a freshman, and Diarra started every game after Stokes broke his foot. Both have good size for guards and can defend the three man.
“Mike is probably more of a two helping with Barry, but all year he kept saying, ‘I can play three, Coach.’” Weber said. “He really wanted to back up Xavier. We thought he was a little small, but when he got his opportunity, he took it. He can jump, he is explosive, he is strong and he is feisty.”
Weber won’t be afraid to go small.
“A key to our success will be that we have got a lot of different looks,” Weber said. “A lot of different guys can do different things. It will be a challenge for our coaches. But it’s a good thing. Watch Villanova, they just kept coming at you and sometimes their subs were better than their starters.”
Though he is testing the NBA waters without an agent, the expectation is that K-State’s top guard will return for his senior year.
He averaged 15.9 points, 3.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds last season, and Weber hopes to limit his usage below the 34.7 minutes he averaged as a junior in hopes of keeping him fresh for better offense.
“We have really talked to him about shooting, especially three-point shooting,” Weber said. “If he can become a little more efficient, that would be a big step for him.”
The sophomore forward was one of K-State’s best players … When he was on the court. Mawien had several big games, including a season-high 29 points against Kansas, but fouls often forced him to the bench and he averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds.
K-State will look for more consistent production from him next season.
“He has had the best spring of anybody,” Weber said. “We gave everyone two weeks off after the season, but he was back in the gym and the weight room after four days. His big thing was playing against Kentucky. He realized those are the guys that make it to the NBA, really big and strong post players. He said, ‘If I am going to compete against them, I have to get bigger and stronger.’ He is really working hard this spring to get there.”
How can he improve on a breakthrough junior season in which he earned All-Big 12 first-team honors?
Wade averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds last season before he was limited to eight minutes of action in the NCAA Tournament because of an injured left foot.
Step one: get healthy. Step two: rebound.
“The only statistic he needs to improve is rebounding,” Weber said. “If he can get to eight or nine rebounds with the same offensive numbers, which were unbelievable, he will be a NBA forward.”