April 2, 2013
By Mark Janssen
Editor’s Note: Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber took time last week to visit with Sports Extra on the just completed basketball year. An historic season that included 27 victories, a conference championship for the first time since 1977, and a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
SPORTS EXTRA: Coach Weber, it’s been a week-plus now since that shocker in the NCAA Tournament where La Salle came out on top, 63-61. Have you been able to put a finger on what happened … or didn’t happen?
Bruce Weber: Honestly, not really. The thing that keeps throwing me for a loop is that we were one of the most consistent teams in the country. That was mentioned for the last two weeks … we beat all the teams we were supposed to. La Salle was a tough No. 13 seed, but I remain baffled by the inconsistency that we showed. Even in the second half when we came back, in those final five minutes we stopped making the plays that we had made all year.
(Pause) I honestly don’t know if there was a little more pressure playing close to home and we were uptight, or if we took them (La Salle) too casually, or if all the injuries finally caught up with us … or if it was all of those wrapped up. I say that, but we played so well in those first 15 minutes of the second half. It’s hard to figure. It’s why you play the games.
SE: A lot has been made of the last 9.6 seconds after La Salle had made two free throws to go ahead by one point.
BW: I wouldn’t change anything. All year we practiced this situation. If it’s over six seconds, we’re going to go with it. We did it before this season at the end of a half, or end of a game. We just feel it’s easier to go against a defense that’s not set. It’s something we practice all the time.
SE: You did look to be asking for a timeout in the final couple of seconds. Were you?
BW: Yes. When nothing looked like it was going to happen, with 3.2 seconds I tried to get a time out. First, I yelled as loud as I could, and then I put my hands up. That’s a hard time for officials, but you would think it would have been heard or seen. We had already won games in the final seconds at West Virginia and Baylor, so I wish we would have had a chance.
SE: But honestly, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t you get every drop out of this team?
BW: The guys did give their all, but it hurts to know that we still could be playing. But from day-one, the kids really bought in. The Brazil trip in August was a time for building chemistry and socialization and things started falling into place.
It was so hard on the seniors to come back with a new coach and a new system, but they were great to coach and great teammates. I can’t say enough about those three.
SE: You mentioned the late-season injuries. What all was the team going through, and for how long?
BW: For three or four weeks I’m not sure we had a full practice. Will had that bruised sternum from taking a shoulder in the chest; Jordan had his back issues for several weeks; Nino (Williams) and Tav (Martavious Irving) need some knee procedures, and, Angel has had some procedures done on his wrist due to some cartilage issues, and his knee due to some tendonitis issues. The only good thing about the wrist injury is that it prevented him from practicing, so his knee got a little better.
I told John Currie going into the Big 12 tournament that I wasn’t sure what we could do, but we played very well in those first two games. They played focused and came through it quite well with the understanding that we never practiced as a full team.
SE: With all of that, you still find a way to win the Big 12 championship … something that hasn’t been accomplished on the K-State campus since 1977. Has that fully set in for you as a coach?
BW: As a player, I don’t think you truly appreciate something like that until later and you’re wearing that ring and looking at that banner that’s yours. That’s when they will really feel it. When they bring their kids back some day and they can say, ‘I was a part of that.’
As a staff, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that we did something that had not been done for a long time. I have a box of 13 or 14 rings that I’ve been fortunate enough to earn and I remember bringing them in one day and telling the guys, ‘This is what you play for. This is a legacy you can have for life.’
I’m thrilled for the guys to have a ring and a banner.
SPORTS EXTRA: What were your expectations of the personality of Kansas State coming from Illinois.
Bruce Weber: I understood that the population base would be different, but here it’s so much more about quality as to quantity. The fan base here is so loyal and so passionate in how they respond during games. I’ve found people to be very appreciative.
One thing that did surprise me is I thought Kansas fans would dominate the state. They’re in the Kansas City area, but you go to other parts of the state and it’s just amazing the support that Kansas State receives, and that includes parts of Kansas City. I thought I could fly under the radar a little bit in my first year, but I was constantly being approached in the Kansas City airport and in Kansas City.
SE: You came to a school high on football. Has that made your job easier or tougher?
BW: This is the first time that I’ve coached at a program where football was really good. What we did by winning the Big 12 title in football and basketball is really an accomplishment. As a basketball coach, coaching here with the success the football program is enjoying is nothing but a positive. There’s not a 100,000 in that stadium like you have in some of the Big Ten stadiums, but the quality of experience is really something. I brought friends and relatives back for games, and they were just in awe of the experience.
SE: What does it mean to have a Bill Snyder in the stands for many of your games, including those in Kansas City?
BW: I really appreciate that. Bill is such a positive fan and influence on all of us whether it’s coming to talk to our team, being in the stands, or writing letters to our players. That’s a great statement to all of us to see him there. I know he’s said he loves basketball and the Big 12 tournament is one of his favorites.
SE: After a year in the Big 12, how can you compare it with the Big Ten?
BW: This year the Big Ten is said to be the best in the nation, but all of that next year will depend on how many players come out and how many young players a league has, like the Big 12 did this year.
I was sorry to see the Big 12 not do well in this year’s tournament, but we have great coaching in this league. What, four of us (Weber, Bob Huggins, Bill Self, Lon Kruger) have coached in the Final Four? You have great coaching and the athletic ability is a little better than in the Big Ten. It’s more of a possession game in the Big Ten.
SE: Bruce, the wild emotional ride you’ve been on in the last 12 months … being let go at Illinois, and less than 12 months later being a Big 12 champion. What’s it been like?
BW: My whole life I’ve been very blessed to be associated with winners and champions. We won at Illinois more than at any time in the program’s history, so how it went down is very disappointing. But I’m a person of strong faith, and my whole life I’ve worked under the philosophy that everything will work out for the better … and this has.
SE: You lose three seniors … the scoring ability of McGruder, the defensive presence of Henriquez and the toughness of Irving. Are the pieces in place to replace those guys?
BW: We have some nice pieces returning, but they have to get better. Shane (Southwell) needs to decide if he loves it and wants to put in the time. He’s made strides and has the intelligence to play any position on the court when some of our guys don’t know their position. He can play them all, but at times he thinks too much. You become a better player during the summer. He needs to decide whether he wants to do that.
SE: As for recruiting, where do you hope to set up recruiting bases?
BW: We want to start in Kansas and the Kansas City area, but we also want Texas to be a good base because of the population, quality of play, and the connection it has with the Big 12. The third area is probably back east with the prep schools and the connections we’ve established with our New York kids.
SE: Bruce, the state of college basketball … officiating, rule changes, etc.
BW: The NFL and NBA playoffs are special, but in college, there’s not a three-week event that can match the NCAA Tournament. Officiating? It’s so tough, especially with how teams get after it this time of the year. But honestly, 95 to 97 percent of the time, they get it right.
SE: Would you like to see replay expanded?
BW: At this time of the year when so much is on the line, I think it would be a good idea to watch anything that is close. Go watch it and get it right. My biggest rule concern is the flopping you see players do, but it’s so hard to call. You really do need a replay because it happens so quickly.
SE: Bruce, the world is watching the Sweet 16 and now on to the Final Four. Will you be part of that world?
BW: Not right now (heading into Sweet 16). Right now it would be very hard to watch because I know we could be there. I sit in church and my thoughts turn to basketball; I go to the grocery store and people approach me about basketball. It’s hard to get away from. I’ll be at the Final Four for the coaching convention, but right now it would be very hard for me to watch.