Basketball Celebrates its Senior Class
Always an emotional event, Will Spradling, Shane Southwell, Omari Lawrence and Ryan Schultz will be surrounded by their families and recognized on their home court for the final time.
It's a group that's seen its share of both trial and triumph, and a group who, over the past four years, has a record of 92-40, made it to the NCAA Tournament the last three years and, in 2013, was a part of K-State's first conference championship since 1977.
"I don't know if I'll be emotional," laughed Lawrence, "but everyone keeps saying I'm going to shed a tear. I don't know; I'm just waiting for the moment to happen. Who's the most likely to shed a tear? Will Spradling, of course."
Both Spradling and Southwell came to K-State in 2010 while Lawrence, a transfer from St. John's, came next before the 2011 season and Schultz transferred from Hutchinson Community College as a walk-on in 2012.
"It's a group where you've got some good, quality people, and I think that's the first thing you talk about," explained head coach Bruce Weber. "Omari has already got his degree, he's working on his master's, Will's going to have a degree in accounting, Shane's going to finish up his degree in the spring and Ryan's trying to get into med school down the road. So they're guys you're going to be proud of, guys that are going to be K-State grads. They probably don't have the hype that maybe Rodney (McGruder), Jordan (Henriquez) and Martavious (Irving) had, but they've been pretty rock solid for us and done some nice things."
From injuries to coaching chances, Spradling, an Overland Park, Kan., native, has seen his share of turbulence during his Wildcat career. However, as he looks back at it now, he smiles back at the footprint he will leave in the K-State history books.
"It kind of hit me a while ago, really, when I started playing well I knew it was coming down to the last couple months," Spradling said. "So I started hitting the gym, working harder and I've been playing a lot better."
Against Texas Tech on Feb. 25, Spradling became just the 25th player in K-State history to record 1,000 career points. Along with breaking the milestone, he is one of only four players to have 1,000 points, 300 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. Though a quiet player on the court who Weber said didn't get nearly enough attention during his Wildcat career, there is no doubt Spradling will go out as a player to be remembered.
"He's been consistent, and that's the big thing," said Weber. "When you stay here four years and are consistent, and it's a nice honor. He's got 1,000 points, 300 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals, that's something that not many guys have done that. He's going to have the most minutes, games, wins, all that stuff, so it's very positive and I hope people appreciate what he's done for the program."
And how does Spradling hope fans remember him?
"Just a tough, gritty player that would do all the little things and do whatever it takes to win," he said. "That's how I've always played. I've never really cared about how much I scored or how fancy my game looked, I just wanted to get the job done."
During his freshman season at K-State, Spradling played in all 34 games before establishing himself as a starter his sophomore year and starting all 33 games during the 2011-12 season. This season, Spradling is averaging 8.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Along with Spradling, Southwell also made an immediate impact on K-State his first year as a Wildcat. The Harlem, N.Y., native played in 30 of the Wildcats' 34 games as a freshman. Southwell began playing a key role in the starting lineup his junior year where he earned 26 starts and averaged 8.4 points per game.
This season he is averaging 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, but a foot injury caused him to spend a little time on the bench as of recent, sitting out of K-State's last game against Baylor and its win over TCU.
Upon returning from the injury, he had a solid game against Iowa State on March 1, where he scored a team-high 13 points. Southwell said he doesn't dwell on the fact today will be his final game in front of the fans he loves, however, often at night, it's all he can think about.
"It's the fire that runs through you at night when you're asleep and thinking about it, 'Man, it's really winding down,'" Southwell said about his career coming to an end. "But you just want to go out there and play well, give it all you got. I think right now, as a team, I'm not really focused on myself, I'm focused on the team winning these next games."
On Southwell's career, Weber said, "Shane's done some nice things for us. He had a breakout year last year and some nice moments this year. I'm hoping for a nice finish."
Often called the Wildcats' 'X-Factor,' Lawrence has, as of recent, stepped up and played a significant role when the Wildcats need him most.
Though he is averaging 3.2 points per game this season, his nine points in K-State's wins over Kansas on Feb. 10 and TCU on Feb. 19, as well as his big minutes the last time the Wildcats took on Baylor, were a big factor.
"Omari has been a good story over the last six weeks," Weber said. "He's really had an attitude change and has been very, very positive, been a good teammate and has had some really nice performances, including the win against Kansas and 30 minutes against Baylor."
While Lawrence said the seniors may have been in a bit of a slump to start this season, there is no doubt they plan on finishing out their careers with a bang.
"I'm really happy (I came here)," Lawrence, a native of Bronx, N.Y., said. "Kansas State is a great school. It's a great environment and I'm just happy I'll be able to finish it out here in front of these fans."
Finally, Ryan Schultz has been a team leader off the court during his past two years at K-State. While he said in the beginning it took him time to really get used to being in a new place, he looked up to guys like McGruder and Spradling who had been in the trenches, and now he has the opportunity to help out the players when they need it.
"I had guys older than me who I could look to if I had questions or if I was struggling," Schultz said. "Being a leader now was a responsibility I took because I don't have as much responsibility on the court, so I felt like I could find a way to help a freshman out."
"He's just a good, quality person from a great family," Weber replied when describing the type of person Schultz is. "He's understood his roles and, since I got here, every time I meet with him he asks me what he needs to do for us, not what I need to do for him, and as a walk-on, that's a hard thing. He's been a really good leader and a good teammate in the background, there's no doubt about that."
While Senior Day games take emotion to a whole new level, today's game against the Bears is all about revenge.
On Saturday, Feb. 15, K-State traveled to Waco, Texas, and, despite leading most of the game, the Wildcats wound up losing, 87-73, in double overtime. It was a dramatic finish to regulation with the Bears' Brady Heslip hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer, and foul trouble and injuries held the young team back from coming home with a win.
"Every time I watch (that game) it just rubs me the wrong way," Weber said. "I don't think we played perfect by any means, but we sure played good enough to win. We had many, many opportunities and sometimes balls just bounce the wrong way. They made some really tough shots, so you've got to give them credit too. They had their backs against the wall."
The team feels it too. K-State still has a bitter taste in its mouth from how that game ended.
"Baylor, they're an exciting team, they have a lot of guys that are athletic and long," Lawrence said. "Coach has been harping in practice: penetrate the zone, get open shots, and we've got to rebound. It was a rough one - we should have won that game. We should have finished it out in regulation. We missed a few rebounds, a few layups and free throws, so now we've just got to get them at home."
Also adding to the intensity of this afternoon's game, the Wildcats have, for the first time in Bramlage Coliseum history and the first time at K-State since 1974-75, the opportunity to go undefeated at home during their conference season. A win today would mark the Wildcats' 16th consecutive home win and provide these seniors the opportunity to go out unlike any class before them.
"It's something that's never happened in Bramlage, so that's a huge accomplishment," Spradling said about the home winning streak. "So just to keep that streak alive and see if the younger guys can hopefully carry that on to next year, would be huge and fun to watch."
Today's game will be aired on the Big 12 Network. For more information and complete game notes, click here.
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