Oct. 29, 2012
This feature appeared in the Monday edition of K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
Men's basketball program sales may be a little bleak this season as while the coaching staff is new to Kansas State, the roster is full of returning experienced Wildcats heading into Tuesday's 7 p.m., exhibition opener against Washburn in Bramlage Coliseum.
Rodney McGruder has played in 100 games with 67 of those being starts; Jordan Henriquez has played in 93 games and started 20; and, Martavious Irving has 97 appearances and 14 starts as the three seniors. Juniors Will Spradling and Shane Southwell have played in 67 and 62 games, respectively, with 39 and 19 of those being starts.
Collectively, coach Bruce Weber says, "We have guys that have logged a lot of minutes and produced in big games so you feel good that you are not starting over. You may have a new coach, a new system and a new staff, but you have a group that has been together."
And, with that collective pile of minutes, one would hope that leadership would not be a problem on a team that returns 12 lettermen with seven of those having started games.
Of the seniors, Weber detailed, "Rodney leads by example. No one is in the gym more than Rodney. I am hoping he will start saying some things to go along with how hard he plays.
"Jordan is kind of the social guy who everybody gets along with. I call him the mayor of Manhattan because he shakes more hands than the mayor here," said Weber. "But we need others to be accountable in leading whether by playing with intensity, or saying the right things in the locker room. All that stuff adds up to be very important."
McGruder returns as a preseason All-Big 12 selection and is coming off junior and sophomore seasons when he averaged 15.8 and 11.1 points in those respective seasons.
"I don't know if you can find a better kid," Weber said of his 6-foot-4 swing man. "He's a very, very hard worker and really wants to do well. When you're best guy is working like he is, everybody else tends to watch."
But Weber will add, there's definitely room for improvement starting with McGruder's work without the basketball in his hands and slowing down his offensive game.
"We're trying to get him to understand he doesn't have to go at the same speed all the time," said Weber. "While you like to see your guys going hard all the time, sometimes it's good to have a change in speeds. But he's that total player you like. He could be our leading rebounder and he plays strong. Basketball is a game of balance and angles. When you slow down some and play under control you have a better chance to succeed. Sometimes there's a wall there and you have to stop and go another direction."
What McGruder says he's enthused about is Weber's new motion system.
"There's a freedom in this system. There's constant movement without many absolute set plays, which makes it harder to guard," said McGruder. "I hope it takes my game to another level. I want to relax and enjoy this last year and make the most of it."
The 7-foot Henriquez made the Big 12's All-Defensive team a year ago when he set a K-State single-season record with his 77 blocked shots, which raised his career total to an all-time Wildcat high of 146.
While impressed with his big man's "instincts" on defense, it's with the total game of Henriquez that Weber says, "We want to see more consistency. One of his goals is the chance to play at the next level, but you have to do that for 20, 25 or 30 games, and not 6 to 10. That starts with a daily effort in practice. I've hold him that he's allowed one bad day a month."
While not a fulltime starter last year, Irving played nearly half of every game averaging 19 minutes with a career-high average of 5.5 points, plus a total of 45 assists and 30 steals.
Joining Irving as other candidates for the two guard positions are 6-2 Will Spradling and 5-11 Angel Rodriguez, while Omari Lawrence joins McGruder around the perimeter.
Rodriguez made a splash in his rookie season by averaging 8.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, plus led the team in assists with 101 and steals with 41. On the flipside he had 85 turnovers in 32 games.
While contributing 9.3 points per game, Spradling had a bit of a sophomore jinx season when it came to shooting, as he netted just 36 percent overall and a chilly 33 percent from 3-point range.
On distinguishing the point-guard and off-guard, Weber said, "Ideally, if you don't have to that's great because it means you have more than one guy who can handle the ball, pass and get into offense. If Will gets a rebound, if Shane (Southwell) gets a rebound, they can push the ball down the court."
Of Spradling, Weber said, "He's feeling good about himself. He has good length for a guard, so we need to find him ways to get some uncontested shots through our offense. He's not an exceptional athlete, but he has good skills, and has good smarts for the game."
And on Rodriguez, he said, "He has a high school habit to break in that point guards pass it and then stand there until they get it back. He has to get more involved with our offense."
Like with McGruder, Weber said, "At times Angel plays a little too fast."
Saying he watched a lot of film during the summer, Rodriguez said, "I need to be more calm and let the game come to me instead of always forcing plays. I was OK last year, but I could have done better."
Inside depth will come from the likes of 6-10 sophomore Adrian Diaz, 6-7 sophomore Thomas Gipson and 6-8 freshman D.J. Johnson.
Again, Weber uses the word "consistency," or lack of consistency, as the questionable area to the position.
Gipson has the most experience, but Weber says, "He's great if we play half-court basketball, but when the game goes up and down he can have trouble keeping up and with fatigue at times."
Of Johnson, he adds, "Skill-wise he may not be ready, but man does he play hard."
On the overall team, Weber summarizes, "We know we have seven players we can go to, but who are going to be players eight, nine and 10?"
After Tuesday, K-State will be back in action on Sunday, Nov. 4, with a second exhibition game against Emporia State starting at 1 p.m.