Men's Basketball Opens Practice Friday

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Armed with six returning lettermen and the influx of 10 newcomers, the Kansas State men’s basketball team opened practice on Friday afternoon at the Ice Family Basketball Center.

The Wildcats, who are coming off their first non-winning season in more than a decade, will have 19 practices over the next five weeks before hosting the first of two exhibition games on Friday, October 30 against Division II foe Emporia State. The squad officially tips off the 2015-16 season on Friday, November 13 when they post to Maryland-Eastern Shore in the first of two opening round games of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

“This is my most enjoyable time (of the year),” said head coach Bruce Weber. “I was gone (recruiting) 18 days in September, so now you come back, have practice, and you can have a real life and concentrate on what you enjoy, and that’s coaching. We’re starting with that foundation and building through practice each day. We just have to stay focused on the journey and keeping people confident, happy and excited.” 

Of the six returning lettermen, five have starting experience, including senior guard Justin Edwards (6.3 ppg., 3.3 rpg.) and junior forward Wesley Iwundu (5.8 ppg., 3.5 rpg.). Edwards is the Wildcats’ top returner in both scoring and steals (37), while Iwundu is the leading returner in rebounding (108), assists (61), blocks (20) and minutes (780). In addition, the squad returns senior forward Stephen Hurt (4.2 ppg., 2.8 rpg.), senior guard Brian Rohleder (0.1 ppg., 0.4 rpg.) and sophomore walk-on guard Mason Schoen.

The Wildcats will also regain the services of junior forward D.J. Johnson, who missed the entire 2014-15 season due to a foot injury. Johnson, who has played in 63 games with five starts in his career, has a career 52.9 field goal percentage to go along with averages of 2.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. He averaged 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 33 games with five starts as a sophomore in 2013-14.

The returning lettermen will be aided by the addition of 10 newcomers, including seven scholarship players. This group will be led by NJCAA Division I First Team All-American Carlbe Ervin II (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Connors State College) and freshmen Barry Brown (St. Petersburg, Fla./Gibbs), Kamau Stokes (Baltimore, Md./Fork Union Military Academy) and PARADE All-American and Mr. Kansas Basketball Dean Wade (St. John, Kansas/St. John)

All four players bring a championship pedigree to the program, as Ervin led Connors State to a 53-9 record in two seasons, including a 30-game winning streak in 2014-15, and back-to-back Region II and Oklahoma Collegiate Athletics Conference titles, while Stokes and Wade combined for five state championships in high school. In addition, Brown led Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., to the Class 5A state semifinals for the first time since 2011.

Weber and his coaching staff also welcomes several other newcomers, including junior walk-on transfers Austin Budke (Beloit, Kan./Hutchinson Community College) and Zach Winter (Andover, Kan./Hutchinson Community College) and freshmen Ron Freeman (Los Angeles, Calif./Future Prep), Isaiah Maurice (Durham, N.C./Bull City Prep), Pierson McAtee (Manhattan, Kan./Manhattan) and Dante Williams (Arlington, Texas/Bowie).

“This staff is very excited; we’ve had a very good summer,” said Weber. “They’ve been very coachable. They work very hard. You want to gain weight and strength over the summer and that’s definitely happened. This group, I feel good about them.”

Single-game tickets for the 19-game home schedule, excluding the Kansas game, will go on sale to the public on Monday, October 5. Single-game tickets, along with a variety of season ticket packages and two mini-plans, can be purchased through the Athletics Ticket Office, including toll free at (800) 221.CATS (2287), online at www.kstatesports.com/tickets and in-person at Bramlage Coliseum.

Pre-Practice Quotes

Head coach Bruce Weber
On getting into the new season…
“Our staff is very excited; our guys have had a very good summer. I spoke last night in Kansas City to a group and they asked what a good summer meant, and this group has been very coachable and they have worked hard. You want to gain weight and strength in the summer, which has definitely happened. Dean (Wade) gained 22 pounds, probably four times him max on bench (press), Pierson (McAtee) gained 16 pounds, Wesley (Iwundu) gained eight. Other guys lost weight, each person is a little different. This group likes to play open gym, you do not have to prod them to get in there, they are already there. During drills, they have been very coachable and want to work at it while coming with excitement. Now starting practice will be a whole another level of intensity. We just have to wait and see how they adjust the next four weeks.”

On putting team expectations into terms…
“The whole reason I said that was I knew we had some issues. I was trying tactically to use a word that kind of kept a damper on things. I remember using that word, but a lot of others do not, because they blank that out. This group, I feel good about them. I have said all summer like at Catbacker events and everywhere I have spoken, I think we will have a better team, that does not mean we have more talent, but we have a group that enjoys each other and plays hard. Now the cautious part is that we have inexperience, and we have a lot of inexperience so that is one thing where we have to throw them into the fire. We have to have some of those young guys step up like Carlbe (Ervin II) and the new guys including the freshmen. The next thing is just injuries, I think that is everyone in the country, but we have been hit pretty hard. We have D.J. (Johnson) back, I think he is a big X-factor for us. I said last year if we had D.J. we would have won 2-3 more games because of his energy level and what he brings to the table. He could have helped Thomas (Gipson) and given us a positive force inside. He is back, but he is not 100 percent yet. When you do not do something for 16 months and have had two surgeries you have to be careful. He had a live workout for about 40-45 minutes last week and now we have to watch and see how he reacts and probably even for the scrimmages and the exhibition games we are going to have to be careful for a while because each step is another level of intensity and each load you are putting on that foot with his body, you have to be a little bit careful with. We had some other guys injured, Carlbe had a minor surgery about a month ago and he is coming back now. Dante (Williams) has been in the boot for most of the summer and he is finally getting out now. The inexperience and the injuries will be a big factor. The other thing is that we need from the guys that have experience, from the seniors – Stephen (Hurt), Justin (Edwards) and Brian (Rohleder) -- to D.J. and Wes, we need those guys to step up and give us some of their wisdom and experience and take another step up to help the young guys out.”

On any players standing out….
“With the young guys we did not know what will happen. From Barry (Brown) to Kamau (Stokes) to Dean, they have all made some positive impact already. Just like with any young guy, you have a whole another situation you have practice and the grind on that then exhibition games into games. So through each step you have to watch and see what they have done. Carlbe had played pretty well, then he had a setback with the minor surgery. Some of the other freshmen like Ron (Freeman) is learning; trying to figure it out and has to gain weight and Isaiah (Maurice) is learning and has to gain weight. Justin has made a nice step. Stephen is understanding more. Both Justin and Stephen had a readjustment year and they understand what it takes, but both guys work very hard. Wesley has been banged up all summer and finally we think we have him back healthy and he is the one who has been in the around and has played in big-game situations. I do not want to pressure him, but it would be nice if he really stepped up. He does not have to give us 20 points, but he needs to give us a good stat-line from rebounds to steals and getting a few points from here and there, but also just being a good defender, leader, bringing great energy, so if we can get that it will help us out.”

On leaders stepping up…
“I think they all have tried to do a job at that. Brian (Rohleder) has been the voice, yet the other guys have stepped up their intensity. At the same time, the freshmen have not backed down and they have come with energy and excitement and have been pushing the older guys to raise their game up. A lot of days when we do open gym they go young against old, and they get after it. That is interesting and we will do it in practice once in a while, but we normally mix it up getting different unit together them to get as competitive as possible.”

On showing more patience this offseason…
“I think you have to have that as a staff. I think we have to do a lot of talking to them. When they get frustrated or have a bad day that is when the patience of communication will help them. Showing them film from practice, they have probably never watched film of their own practice and learning what we are doing. We need them in the office. They walk into the building and it is only 20 steps so they can get to us is pretty easy. What happens is once practice starts and it gets too intense, which is just human nature and coaches start critiquing and criticizing you, now they put the stop sign at the bottom of the steps because they do not want to talk to you, but if they can keep coming up the steps and we keep coming down to reach out to them is all part of that growing process.”

On removing from last year…
“Oh yes, I think we have removed ourselves from last year since the summer. As I have said they have been a good group to deal with. We are not fighting and having little issues everyday. Some days we have to get them motivated and bring more energy. We talk about “Tigger” and “Eeyoer” and we got some “Tiggers”, while “Eeyore” are no fun to coach or be friends with and we have guys that are happy, flying around enjoying it, now we need to see if they keep that same energy and excitement as things get a little tougher now.” 

On team expectations…
“We just tell them to block out all that outside stuff and all we can worry about is what we do everyday in practice. We have talked about acting right, treating people right, and playing the game in the right way and that is what we can control everyday and enjoy each other and just see what happens. If no one expects anything and we do something we are just going to get excitement which is important. I think the apprehension is that they do not know the players, they do not know what we have, we know a little bit, but we have to see, like football we have to get into some games to see what is going on and get a feel of it and improve on that from the exhibition games to the first game will be very important. If we do what we are supposed to do, people will get excited and they will be there cheering, I know that.”

On Wesley Iwundu’s role with all the transfers…
“I did not have to sell him. I am trying to help him get better and become from one of the “other” guys and become “the” guy. That is something he has to do, his personality is cool and laid back, but on the court if we can get him more like (Andre) Iguodala, a guy that does everything and if we can get him to do that it is going to help us, help him, and help our younger guys, too, giving them someone to watch and look up to.”

On the injury of D.J. Johnson…
“Two surgeries. That is what it took, dealing with big guys and feet. I have learned a lot about it, I did not know a whole lot but think about their weight and their force and the pounding in their step. It has been a career ending injury to many guys, I had exposure to it at Purdue years ago with (Indiana Pacers) Rik Smits, a big guy and think of Yao Ming. Both D.J. and Dante (Williams) are not quite as big (as those players) but you have to be careful with feet. D.J. has had two issues and it took some time and patience. A lot of work by (athletic trainer) Luke (Sauber) and our doctors, so hopefully we have solved it. Now it is not about his foot, it is his body, he has not done anything in 16 months. We kept saying we are going to have to be patient. He is a young guy ready to go, and he only goes one way. The first time we let him go, all of a sudden he cannot breathe and the next day his body hurt so we are going to build him up each day. Our staff has to be patient, which is hard because he brings a whole another level to our practice but we have to patient because I want him in December, January, February, and March and that is what we have to think about.”

On adjustment of Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt…
“They understand now how hard it is and how good it is at this level and the intensity you have to play with. Both had nice moments last year, but we know it needs to be more consistent. They both know it is their senior year and they have worked hard to get here. For example, Stephen, with the conditioning test, not only finished but he improved from last year. His weight is better and I think we understand what he gives us, we need to get him some open shots and he will make them. He can shoot the basketball; he has a good touch.”

On coaching staff being refreshed…
“This is the fun time of the year. I just got off the road 10 days straight. In September I was on the the road 17-18 days. Now you come and have practice and can have a real life and can concentrate what you enjoy and that is coaching and building that foundation. There will be 3-4 good days then a bad one but we just have to stay focused on the journey keeping people happy, confident and excited. Our first exhibition game is October 30th, so that’s less than a month away. We are planning some scrimmage games around the football games to allow fans to see some of the new guys’ faces and allow our guys to get in front of people. If we could get a couple thousand people that is more than some of them have ever played in front of before so that will be a big adjustment.”

Senior Guard Justin Edwards
On how this year’s team is different than last year’s team…
“I think guys this year want it a bit more than they did last year, players are working harder and everyone is doing a better job of listening to our coaches. Overall, I’d say we are taking things more seriously.”

On his expectations for this season…
“For me personally, I always have high expectations no matter what. I expect to go far. I expect to make the tournament and make a good run in Big 12 play and just overall have a good season.”

On his progression from last season…
“I think last year was a wakeup call for me, I thought I was ready to play but I really wasn’t, so after last year having a full season of playing in the Big 12, I feel more confident. I worked on a lot and feel a lot better about my game this season.”

On what he likes about this year’s team…
“I like the competitive spirit of this team, when we have open gyms we are all getting after it, we’re all getting after it in the weight room and staying on one another no matter if you’re a freshman or a senior.”

On his role for the team this season and what he has worked on…
“I think I’m going to be expected to score more this season, especially with some players gone that scored a lot last year. I’m ready to take on that role and get it going, I’ve worked on my ball handling and shooting off the dribble a lot this off season.” 

Junior Forward Wesley Iwundu
On his excitement for the upcoming season and getting practice started…
“It’s a refreshing feeling even though we have a lot of new teammates and a brand new look. I’m excited for the upcoming season, it’s definitely a different feeling with all the new faces but I am looking forward to getting out there and playing with them.”

On how he would compare this year’s team to last year’s team…
“We’re going to be the underdogs this season, which makes us strive to work hard and perform. Everyone takes things seriously this year, there is nothing going on off the court, everything is more mature and guys are ready to go.”

On how much more of a leadership role he will be taking on this season…
“I’ve been here for three years now so there is going to be a lot more expected of me. With all of the new guys I need to show them the way, there is still a lot of learning and teaching going on. Being a leader is just something I need to do since I’m one of the older guys it’s something that’s just expected.”