SE: Thanksgiving Thoughts: K-State Men’s Basketball

November 26, 2015
Kelly McHugh-Stewart

I headed out to the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Tuesday evening to check out K-State men’s basketball take on the preseason No. 1 ranked team, North Carolina. 

It was a daunting task for this year’s young Wildcat squad, which includes 10 newcomers and only one starter from last season; everyone knew it was going to be a tough game.

Did I ever doubt K-State? No – that’s what I love the most about college basketball: anybody can beat anybody on any given day. 

But was K-State the underdog? Certainly. 

While K-State showed its youth in the game’s final four minutes, letting North Carolina take a 10-0 run and, ultimately, secure an 80-70 win and the CBE Hall of Fame Classic title, in the other 36 minutes, the Wildcats showed talent, promise and really took it to the No. 9/8 Tar Heels. 

Now losing that game stung, but what a fight this new, fresh team put up.

“I’m angry that we lost, but I am kind of happy because I know I’m playing with guys who show emotion; they want to win,” senior guard Justin Edwards said in the press conference after Tuesday’s game. “They’ll do anything to win. They just play hard.” 

The Wildcats were led on Tuesday evening by freshman guard Kamau Stokes’ 24 points. He made six three pointers. Six. He was on fire. 

However, Stokes is one of five Wildcats who has had the hot hand and led K-State in scoring this season. The Cats have had a different player step up and lead in scoring – Edwards, Wesley Iwundu, Barry Brown, Dean Wade and, most recently, Stokes – in each of its five games this year. 

When you watch this team, you just never know who’s going to step up and surprise you. 

There was even one stretch against North Carolina where K-State had three freshmen, a walk-on and just-out-of-recovery DJ Johnson on the court… and they did well. 

The Wildcats are so new. They’re so unpredictable. They’re so fun to watch.

“They came out hungry; they were more hungry than we were,” North Carolina guard Justin Jackson said after the game. “K-State was a great team. Stokes shot the mess out of the ball. They were more physical than we were.” 

But, I had a hunch the Wildcats would look like this.

Before the season began, I had the opportunity to share each newcomers’ story through K-State Sports Extra’s ‘Meet the Newcomers’ series, and what really stood out to me was in each interview a common theme was this team’s chemistry. Each newcomer in their separate interview raved about how close everyone on this team is and how much they truly enjoyed playing basketball together. They all said they’d never been on a team with chemistry like this.

Every single one of them.

“We have very good chemistry on this team. I feel like we’re all family. Everyone has each other’s back,” freshman Dante Williams told me in July.  

Similarly, Stokes said this in August: “We’ve become a family over the past couple of weeks and through the summertime. This is definitely the closest team I’ve played with. We have a lot of team chemistry, and that’s continued to develop with us being together every day and playing together every day. We just all have a good friendship.”

Together they work hard. Together they push each other, they challenge each other and they make each other better. They’re friends and competitors. They do it together, and that makes for a very enjoyable team to root for.   

“We have a better team than we did a year ago; they enjoy each other, they’re coachable and they play hard,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said about his team on Tuesday evening.

And to his credit, Weber has said that same thing all along. 

While K-State didn’t get the win over North Carolina, the team, and especially its newcomers, did gain valuable experience and confidence. They proved to both Wildcat fans and themselves that they can hang with the best. 

That’s going to be an important factor considering three Big 12 teams – No. 4/5 Iowa State, No. 5/7 Kansas and No. 7/6 Oklahoma – are currently ranked in the top 10. 

“It was a great experience, not just for me but for everybody, because now we know we can compete at the highest level,” Stokes said about playing in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. 

Watching a good group of kids work their tails off on the court is exciting, and I am excited to see what the future holds for this close-knit group. 

Thanks for reading. I’m very thankful to have the greatest readers in the nation.

Happy Thanksgiving, Wildcat fans!

 
 

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh-Stewart or K-State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.