Season in Review: K-State Men's Basketball

It was a season filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, and though it was often a rollercoaster ride, there's no doubt it was an exciting year for Wildcat basketball.
Remember K-State's first game? That bitter season-opening 60-58 loss to Northern Colorado that had critics everywhere scoffing at K-State and its youthful roster?
Well, let's fast-forward from that first game to December where K-State began its 10-game winning streak that lasted into January and included wins over then-undefeated SEC opponent Ole Miss, Tulane, George Washington and No. 6 Oklahoma State. 
K-State went on to win 15 consecutive home games - a Bramlage Coliseum record - and watched a new era of K-State basketball come to life through its youth in players like freshmen Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas. 
Who could forget that exciting weekend where Foster's career-high 34-point performance surged K-State to win over No. 15 Texas, or K-State's Sunflower Showdown win over No. 7 Kansas? Just two days after playing their hearts out against Longhorns, the Wildcats returned to the court to face the Jayhawks and won, 85-82, in overtime in Bramlage Coliseum. K-State fans rushed the court in celebration that evening, and head coach Bruce Weber couldn't help but smile.
And finally, the team competed its way into a fifth consecutive (another school record) NCAA Tournament appearance. 
Sure, the season it might not have ended the way the No. 9 seed K-State Wildcats had hoped with a 56-49 loss to No. 8 seed Kentucky, but in the end, it was a heck of a ride.
"We had a huge turnaround. We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning of the season," freshman Wesley Iwundu said, "but we fought through adversity and came up and changed the whole outlook of the season. We went uphill, went on a winning streak and from there we just took off through conference play."
While this year's seniors - Will Spradling, Shane Southwell, Omari Lawrence and Ryan Schultz - will be missed, as the Wildcats look forward to the future, there's no doubt the expectations are high.
"Our group coming back, Thomas (Gipson) has to be our leader with Nino (Williams)," Weber said. "They have to set the example, make sure that we have a great off-season and see if we can make some strides next year. Not only get in the tournament, but go somewhere."
Gipson, the 6-foot-7 junior forward who finished the 2013-14 season by averaging 11.7 points and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds per game, has grown to be one of the Wildcats' strongest and most vocal leaders this season, and he will be a key factor in getting his team prepared for his senior year.
"We just can't take any days off," he explained. "Obviously we're going to get a few days of rest or whatever, but, you know, we just have to come in and just work hard to be ready for next year. Everybody has to hold each other accountable. Everybody has to speak on what the other person is doing. We just have to lift hard, work hard and do individual things that make us better so we can be a better team."
With the closing of the 2013-14 season, K-State now begins preparing for the next, and it knows, with hard work and determination, its possibilities for next year are endless.
"It's been fun. It went by pretty quick, but I think we've learned a lot from these seniors and upperclassmen, so I'm really looking forward to next year and the things we've got going," freshman Jevon Thomas said. "The expectations are going to be really high. We're setting the bar high on ourselves. We're going to be good, we're going to be fast, more explosive. This year, it's just been a fun year. It's gone by really fast and now we're sophomores."
On his first season at K-State, freshman Nigel Johnson said, "It was a great experience; we had a lot of fun together. I feel like we'll have a great career for the next three years, especially with our four freshmen from this year and then Jack (Karapatyan) coming back next year. We're going to be a really athletic team, we're going to score, we'll have a lot of offensive and defense toughness, so I think that we'll be on the top of the Big 12 and go real far in the NCAA Tournament too." 
From this season's roster, the Wildcats will return its three juniors (Gipson, Nino Williams and Shawn Meyer), a pair of sophomores in D.J. Johnson and Brian Rholeder and its five freshmen. Coming off of transfer years, the Wildcats will also gain the services of two transfers in junior guard Justin Edwards (Maine) and sophomore forward Brandon Bolden (Georgetown).
"As far as next year goes, I think we'll be clicking as a team," D.J. Johnson said. "Everybody will be on the same page. We'll be more mature, we won't have as many freshmen and the freshmen that we have now, they'll be sophomores and they'll know what to do. They'll be in situations, with two minutes left in the second half, and they'll know how to execute and keep a lead. It's going to be really exciting."
Exciting is exactly what next season should be, especially with the return of Foster, a freshman who will go down as one of the nation's most exciting players during the 2013-14 season.
Foster finished his freshman campaign recording 513 points (averaging 15.5 per game) and led the Wildcats in scoring in 17 games. He's a player Weber called the team's "go-to guy" and a player who quickly stole the hearts of Wildcat fans nation-wide.
"Not many people have an even better year than they did their first year, but I'm hungry to have an even better year and do some of the things that people think I can't do," said Foster. "I want to improve on some of the things that I'm strong at and improve on the things I'm weak at. Next year (the freshmen), we'll be veterans, and instead of making the silly freshman mistakes, we'll be making the veteran plays."
From dynamic freshmen ready to take the next step to seasoned veterans ready to lead both on and off the court, as this year's chapter of K-State basketball has come to an end, a brand new era is ready to begin.

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