By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Here's the roll call of fulltime freshmen starters in K-State basketball history: Dean Harris, Mike Evans, Curtis Redding, Rolando Blackman, Tyrone Adams, Ed Nealy, Freddy Marshall, Norris Coleman, Steve Henson, Askia Jones, Ayome May, Cartier Martin, Clent Stewart, Michael Beasley, Bill Walker and Jacob Pullen.
And now, add the name of Will Spradling to the fancy list of Wildcat all-timers who started in their freshman season since the rule went into place in 1971-72.
To the 19-year-old, 6-foot-2 product out of Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, Kan., it's coming as no surprise that he's currently in place as the Wildcats' point guard.
"I thought I could help the team," said Spradling. "I knew coming in that there wasn't a definite point guard, so I thought I would at least get a chance, and if I got that chance, I wanted to be ready to take it."
And, the fact that he's inserted Spradling into the starting lineup for the last two games is also not a surprise to coach Frank Martin.
"He slid in there and I've liked the way we've started both games, so I don't see any reason to change," said Martin of victories over Alcorn State and Loyola-Chicago "He hasn't allowed anybody to claim his job. He earned it, and hasn't backed off a bit."
Spradling is averaging 4.9 points with a season-high of 13 points against Gonzaga. In the first four K-State games, Spradling hit a nifty 9-of-17 from the field, but has since cooled off with 5-of-22 shooting in his last six outings heading into Saturday's game against Florida in Sunrise, Fla.
If anything has surprised Martin, it's this current shooting funk that Spradling is in.
"What we thought he could help us in is what he's not helping us with," said Martin. "He's not making any shots, but he's a battler. He's a feisty competitive young guy who takes pride in the name on the front of his uniform, and he plays that way. He makes our team better."
Like all freshmen, Spradling points to the physicality and speed of the collegiate game as being the biggest differences from high school ball where he finished as Mission South's second all-time leading scorer with 1,225 points. That included a 20-point scoring average in his senior season when he led the Raiders to the Class 6A State Tournament.
Spradling's first splash as a Wildcat came against No. 22 Virginia Tech, when Jacob Pullen was whistled for his second foul just two minutes into the game, and would end up playing just 14 minutes.
Spradling stepped on the floor and scored five points with one assist in 27 minutes of turnover-free basketball.
"I was kind of nervous, but it went away in the first few minutes of playing defense and getting into an offensive rhythm," said Spradling. "I knew I could play, and I really felt fine after the first couple minutes."
Then for the Kansas City-area product came the dream come true experience of playing in the Sprint Center against none other than No. 18 Gonzaga and No. 1 Duke in just the fourth and fifth games of his career.
"Duke's 'the' team, so you always dream of playing a team like that, and playing in the Sprint Center was a thrill," said Spradling, who scored 13 against Gonzaga and three against Duke. "I was nervous to play a team like Duke, but I wouldn't say that I was intimidated."
Spradling, who has beefed up 20 pounds to 180 since his prep days, has been well schooled in the sport of hoop and ball having played for his father, Shannon, in AAU ball, along with Brett McFall at Mission South.
"Dad and I talk about how practice is going all the time, and he still tells me what I need to do to improve my game," said Spradling, who has a solid two-to-one ratio in assists (22)-to-turnovers (11). "But he knows he's not my coach, and the things he tells me are things that can help me in Frank's system."
Of his role on the team, Spradling is the first to say, "My job isn't to replace Denis (Clemente's) points. My job is to get us into offense, share the ball, and knock down shots when they're open, plus try to make defensive plays."
While pressuring defense and attacking offense is what he's been used to, there's still been a learning curve aided through Martin's coaching and advice from Pullen.
"He's (Pullen) constantly pulling me aside to tell me what to work on, and in practices what I did wrong and how to change it," said Spradling. "We're just starting to be able to work together and know where each other will be on the court."
In comparing Spradling 10 games into his career with Pullen's game of four years ago, Martin said, "Will has a better understanding of team basketball. Jacob was very ball dominating as a freshman. He only knew how to play with the ball in his hands. Will has an understanding of how to play without the ball a little better.
"Jacob had the ability to be a better scorer because that's what he was asked to do in high school, while Will was programmed to run the team," said Martin. "Will listens, which is a lost art in today's society. Will was taught to listen, which really helps."
REPAIR WORK ON SANTA: The self-proclaimed "Grinch of Bramlage" said he was off to do some repair work on the Martin Santa Claus after Saturday's wind blasts left the jolly old man in shambles.
"He fell down and fell apart. He's still down in my yard," said Martin. "We got back from Chicago and the old boy was down in the yard. I'm putting him on the injured reserve list."
UPCOMING GAMES: Before Big 12 play, K-State will play Florida in a 2:30 p.m., tipoff on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla., in a game televised by Fox Sports Net.
The Wildcats will then play UNLV at the Sprint Center at 8 p.m., on Dec. 21 on ESPN2, before hosting UMKC on Dec. 23 at 7 p.m., on Fox Sports Net, North Florida on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m., on Fox Sports Net, and, Savannah State on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m., on Fox Sports Net.