The transformation was as drastic as it was quick.
In the span of nine days, Marcus Foster went from losing a battle for a spot in Kansas State’s starting lineup to winning Big 12 Player of the Week.
Many have wondered what caused K-State coach Bruce Weber to briefly lose faith in the sophomore guard, asking Foster to come off the bench in two conference games despite leading the Wildcats in scoring. His standout games against TCU and No. 18 Oklahoma raised a whole new set of questions.
Was he taking advice from the wrong people? Was he trying to prove himself to NBA scouts instead of running Weber’s offense? Did he put too much pressure on himself after his big freshman season?
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The answer: all of the above.
“Sometimes you do think to the future,” Foster said. “You think about, maybe I can play in the NBA and maybe I need to start doing this. But I think my mindset is back to worrying about today and getting better at what you need to get better at every day. That is all it took for me to get in a few good games.”
Foster stayed positive during his slump by seeking feedback from his coaches and family. They assured him he would regain his form if he kept his head up.
Now he says one thing is for sure: his struggles are behind him.
“I’m just happy to be able to play basketball every day now,” Foster said. “I think I really wasn’t taking advantage of being a college athlete. So now, every day, every chance I get to be on the court I am taking full advantage of it. If it means playing hard or playing defense to the best of my ability, I’m doing anything it takes for us to be a better team.”
That was not his focus when he spent the majority of a 61-47 loss to Oklahoma State sulking on the bench.
“I just wasn’t about the team,” Foster said. “I was about trying to go out there and get stats and stuff. I think now my mindset has changed to, ‘I want to win this Big 12 championship,’ so I am really going to have to buy into the team. That’s something I am doing well. I think it is going to help us through the season.”
That journey continues at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum when K-State (9-7, 2-1 Big 12) takes on Texas Tech (10-6, 0-3).
The Wildcats bounced back from a three-game losing streak and have an opportunity to make up for a disappointing start with four of their next five games at home.
If K-State continues to play the way it did last week, it could stay near the top of the Big 12 standings. Foster appears to be the key.
“He knows that we need him to win,” junior forward Stephen Hurt said. “His scoring is a big part of winning for us. He knew he had to step it up and he stepped up in a big way. He has led our team in the last couple games.”
Weber saw a change in Foster immediately after the Oklahoma State game. He arrived early for every practice the following week and also stayed late to work on his shot. It was the same routine he followed as a freshman, when he worked tirelessly to prove he was an overlooked recruit.
Weber did not start Foster against TCU, saying he had to earn his spot in both practice and games, but Foster scored 23 points that night and Weber returned him to the starting five against Oklahoma.
Foster responded by scoring 14 points against the Sooners, including a game-tying shot at the end of regulation and a game-winning three in overtime.
The reigning Big 12 player of the week is back to his old self.
“I didn’t want to make a big deal about it,” Weber said. “I just wanted him to do the things that we expect of everybody on a daily basis – playing hard, working hard to get open, taking good shots, making the right plays, guarding people, rebounding, everything. That is all I have asked him to do.
“I am excited with how he responded. Now, keep moving forward.”
Texas Tech at Kansas State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Records: Tech 10-6, 0-3 Big 12; KSU 9-7, 2-1
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
TV: ESPN News (Cox 245), DirecTV 207, Dish 142, U-Verse 604)
Texas Tech at Kansas State
Texas Tech (10-6, 0-3): The Red Raiders have fallen on hard times since starting 9-1. They have lost all three of their Big 12 games and they are coming off an 86-54 loss to Kansas that cemented their status as conference cellar-dwellars. Texas Tech boasts decent victories over Auburn, Air Force and Fresno State, but it’s closest Big 12 loss has come by nine points. The Red Raiders are young under second-year coach Tubby Smith, starting three freshmen. Williams is the team’s leading scorer, while Odiase and Smith provide size.
Kansas State (9-7, 2-1): The Wildcats have rebounded nicely from a three-game losing streak with victories over TCU and Oklahoma. Can they keep it going? The odds say yes, as K-State will be favored at home against Texas Tech. But one loss could undo a lot of progress. Foster may be the key. When he plays well or with energy, so does K-State.
RPIs as of Tuesday: Tech 158, K-State 138.