Bruce Weber draws inspiration from Texas Tech’s Final Four run
Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber could have experienced a wide range of emotions while watching Texas Tech win five games in the NCAA Tournament and fall a few points short of a national championship earlier this week.
After all, the Wildcats and Red Raiders shared the Big 12 regular-season championship with 14-4 conference records this season. And it was K-State that earned the No. 1 seed for the league tournament in Kansas City.
With a different tournament draw or a healthy Dean Wade, it’s not hard to imagine Weber wondering if his team could have duplicated Texas Tech’s postseason run or even feeling jealousy over it. But that’s not what ran through his mind at the Final Four. Instead, he used it as inspiration.
Maybe, he thought, that could be K-State next year.
“A year ago, they lost a bunch of people and then added a bunch of pieces, and that group got better and they went on a run,” Weber said. “I heard one of their players say, ‘Coach (Chris Beard) got us together last summer and told us we have enough players to get deep into the tournament.’ And I guess they were right.”
“You have got to get the right pieces, and they have got to buy in. But I think it should give everybody a little bit of confidence that if they are buying in and they are coach-able and understand their roles they (can do the same thing).”
To be clear, Weber is not predicting a Final Four run for the Wildcats next season. But he does see some similarities between the team K-State will have next year and the team Texas Tech put on the floor this season.
The Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll after losing star players Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith. No one expected Jarrett Culver to mature into a potential NBA lottery pick or graduate transfers Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens to make huge contributions, but that’s exactly what happened.
Weber thinks K-State’s current roster is comparable to that group with Xavier Sneed, Makol Mawien and Cartier Diarra all expected to return.
“I told Cartier he has got to be like Culver,” Weber said. “Culver was good last year and then he took his game to another level. Same thing with Xavier. He will be the focal point. Makol has shown some signs. Now can he be consistent?”
The Wildcats are also actively looking to add graduate transfers of their own. Weber says he will emphasize scoring on the recruiting trail this spring.
“They improved, and that has got be the same for us,” Weber said. “A year from now, you should have three of the best players in the Big 12 if they do what they are supposed to in Makol and Xavier and Cartier. Now, I guess, the key will be like them, finding those other pieces and having other guys stepping up and taking their games to another level.”
Weber was eager to look ahead while speaking to reporters before K-State’s annual basketball banquet on Thursday.
He’s disappointed he won’t be able to coach Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes or Wade anymore, but he sees a lot of desire in his returning players. He said he gave them all two weeks off after K-State lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UC Irvine, but most of them were back in the gym after a few days.
“They were working out and doing what you are supposed to do,” Weber said. “I hope that is part of the culture. Texas Tech, when you talk about them, they have great culture and great leadership. That is so important in continuing to the next year.”
K-State currently has one open scholarship to fill following the departure of freshman guard Goodnews Kpegeol, but Weber said another player or two could also opt to transfer in the coming weeks.
Sneed could also decide to turn pro, but it seems as though he currently plans to return for his senior season. Weber said Sneed has asked the NBA advisory council for feedback and will likely declare for the NBA Draft and test the pro waters the same way Brown did last spring before returning to school.
“I’m sure he will, just to try and get some workouts,” Weber said. “I think that is the biggest thing for him, a lot like Barry. I thought Barry handled it well last year. He got a couple workouts, and it was a positive thing for him.”
It won’t be easy to replace Brown, Stokes and Wade. But Weber is glad to know it won’t be any harder than what Texas Tech faced trying to replace Evans and Smith last year.