Men's Basketball Opens Practice Friday
Men's Basketball Opens Practice Friday
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Armed with nine returning lettermen from last season's NCAA Tournament team, the Kansas State men's basketball team officially opens up preparations for the 2014-15 season with its first practice on Friday.
For the second year in a row, all Division I programs can now start team practice six weeks from its opening game instead of the usual Oct. 15 date in previous years. In addition, the NCAA now allows coaches to have more contact with their players on an individual basis throughout the summer and then in larger groups after Sept. 15.
Led by third-year head coach Bruce Weber, the Wildcats have high aspirations for the season with the return of nine lettermen, including five players with starting experience, from a squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a school-record fifth consecutive season in 2013-14 with a 20-13 overall record and 10-8 mark in Big 12 play. Overall, the team returns more than 70 percent of its scoring and 65 percent of its rebounding, including its top individual scorer (Marcus Foster - 15.5 ppg.) and rebounder (Thomas Gipson - 6.5 rpg.).
In addition to these returners, the Wildcats will also gain the services of Division I transfers Justin Edwards and Brandon Bolden, who sat out the 2013-14 season, along with five newcomers, including community college transfer and 2012-13 Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year Stephen Hurt and highly-regarded freshmen Tre Harris and Malek Harris.
"Wherever the staff and I have gone this off-season, people have been excited about our team, so the expectations are high," said Weber, who has won a program-best 47 games with consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances the past two seasons. "We certainly echo a lot of that excitement with so many returners, but at the same time, we have work to do to get better. This first six weeks (of practice) is very important to establish a foundation for a successful season."
The returning group is headlined by All-Big 12 Second Team selection Marcus Foster (15.5 ppg., 3.2 rpg.) and honorable mention pick Thomas Gipson (11.7 ppg., 6.5 rpg.). The squad also returns a regular starter in sophomore Wesley Iwundu (6.7 ppg., 4.2 rpg.) as well as key reserves in senior Nino Williams (6.2 ppg., 3.5 rpg.), sophomore Nigel Johnson (4.1 ppg., 1.6 apg.), junior D.J. Johnson (3.5 ppg., 3.5 rpg.) and sophomore Jevon Thomas (2.5 ppg., 2.6 apg.).
Foster is coming of a sensational freshman season, in which, he led the Wildcats in eight categories, including scoring, double-digit scoring games (27), 20-point games (eight), field goals (177), 3-point field goals (78) and free throw percentage (73.4). He joined Michael Beasley as the only true freshmen in school history to earn recognition to one of three All-Big 12 teams, while he was one of just three true freshmen to garner a spot in 2013-14.
The veteran Gipson, who has played in nearly 100 games in his three-year career, is coming off one of his best seasons at K-State, as he paced the team in field goal percentage (56.2), rebounding, free throws (84), double-doubles (four) and double-digit rebounding games (five) en route to earning All-Big 12 honors for the first time in his career. He is one of only two returning Big 12 players to rank in the league's Top 20 in both scoring and rebounding last season.
Iwundu is coming off a solid rookie campaign, in which, his 32 starts rated as the third-most ever by a Wildcat true freshman, trailing the 33 by Beasley and Foster. He ranked second on the team in double-doubles (three), while he was third in rebounding, fourth in assists (1.8 apg.) and fifth in scoring. Williams, like Gipson, has significant experience with more than 80 games played in his career, including all 33 last season. A reserve most of the season, he was a key starter down the stretch, averaging 7.8 points on 49.1 percent shooting with 4.8 rebounds per game in his last nine contests.
D.J. Johnson has seen action in more than 60 games in his young K-State career and heads into his junior year on a high note after connecting on better than 50 percent of his field goal attempts. Nigel Johnson played in 30 games a season ago, ranking third in steals (0.8), fourth in 3-point field goals (17) and sixth in assists (1.6). Despite playing just half the year due to an NCAA ruling, Thomas still posted the team's second-highest assist average (2.6), while registering the fourth-highest assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5) in school history.
Both Edwards and Bolden look to make an immediate impact in their first seasons. A junior, Edwards played two seasons (2011-13) at Maine prior to his transfer, earning second team all-conference honors while averaging an America East-best 16.7 points per game in 2012-13. Bolden was rated as one of the top high school centers in the country before spending one season (2012-13) at Georgetown.
One of the top scoring and rebounding freshmen at Lipscomb in 2012-13, Hurt could play a major factor in the post for K-State and is healthy again after an injury-plagued season at Northwest Florida Junior College. A Top 100 national recruit by most recruiting services, Malek Harris averaged a double-double as a high school junior in 2012-13. Tre Harris, who spent last season at Fishburne Military, scored nearly 1,500 points at Edwardsville High in Edwardsville, Illinois.
The Wildcats will play their lone exhibition game at 2 p.m., on Sunday, Nov. 9 against Washburn before officially tipping off the season against Southern Utah at 8 p.m., on Friday, Nov. 14 in the second game of a men's and women's doubleheader at Bramlage Coliseum.
Season tickets for the 17-game home season continue to sell at a brisk pace with fewer than 800 cushion and chairback seats remaining. Single-game tickets for the eight-game exhibition and non-conference schedule as well as the Holiday and 5-game Mini-Plans will go on sale to the public on Monday, Oct. 6.