Among the questions Kansas State athletic director John Currie posed in initial conversations with Bruce Weber, a candidate to become the Wildcats basketball coach, was if he could handle Bill Self.Not necessarily a Self-coached team. Self and Weber had met only once, in the 2011 NCAA Tournament in a game won by Selfs Kansas Jayhawks. But the idea of the successful and popular Kansas coach, the same one Weber followed at Illinois and held a mock funeral to signal the end of Self at Champaign.However long he felt he lived in Selfs shadow at Illinois, how was he going to feel about the same coach 90 miles away? Currie said. We had to establish early this wasnt going to be a problem.Currie got what he needed to hear.He wanted that challenge, Currie said. Hes confident and competitive. It was part of the appeal.Weber recalled the funeral Wednesday during Big 12 mens basketball media day at the Sprint Center. Weber had grown tired of queries about his predecessor and boiled over because his Illinois players had to constantly deal with questions about how it was under Self.They wouldnt leave it alone, Weber said. Our players were telling me every question is about Bill Self and not about our program. So, I had to do something to help our guys. There were no theatrics, just a simple thing.It really was simple. Weber arrived at game wearing a black suit jacket, a black tie, and black pants to address his players in the locker room. He was coming to a funeral, the end of Bill Self, Weber told his team.It got blown up, Weber said.As it did when Illinois played Kansas two years ago in the NCAAs, and will again when the Wildcats and Jayhawks meet this season. And thats not necessarily a bad thing. Digs add spice to any rivalry.But before Weber deals with that, he has to win over the fans at his own school, a situation not unlike a decade ago.Weber follows Frank Martin, an enormously popular coach who left for South Carolina after four NCAA trips in five years.And before Weber could convince fans that he can keep the wheels spinning, he needed a veteran team to stand with him. So, far he hasnt felt a need to break out the funeral threads.Weber immediately sold the idea of remaining on the successful path never talking about building for the future. It would have been a foolish approach anyway. The Wildcats return almost every player who made a start last season. Guard Rodney McGruder is a preseason all-conference selection. Jordan Henriquez is a shot-blocking presence in the middle. The entire backcourt rotation of Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling, Martavious Irving and Shane Southwell, along with McGruder, is back.Webers not building as much as hes charged with maintaining. K-State won its opening NCAA Tournament game last season that happened in all four of Martins tournament appearances, including the 2010 team reaching the regional final. Expectations should be higher than the fifth place in the Big 12, as projected by the coaches.Weber understood all of this even before taking the job. He contacted McGruder to get a sense of the team and its reaction to his hiring.If you can get your best guy to buy in and be sold on whats going to happen, Weber said, it makes it easier on the coach.There was skepticism. Everybody on the roster had known only one way. That was loud, and sometimes angry. Martins icy glare became a television staple. But it worked. The Wildcats didnt miss the postseason with Martin in Manhattan, starting with an NIT trip in 2007 when he was an assistant to Bob Huggins.Much of that approach has melted away, but the Wildcats liked what they saw during their summer tour of Brazil, when Weber was tossed from a game for protecting his players from a whistle-happy referee.He came in with an identity of being a passive coach, Henriquez said. He proved to me that hes not as passive as he looks.Oh, Webers been known to kick up a fuss. Or mock a predecessor.It was difficult to follow him, Weber said. The kids liked him, the fans liked him, and I had to get them sold that wed be OK.Now, Weber gets to deal with Self again in a different way, and theres only one way to get the better of him.Its obviously a rivalry, Weber said. But we hope we can compete and have a chance to really get them worried about us.
Posted on Wed, Oct. 17, 2012 07:46 PMShare Email Print Order Reprints
K-State's Weber ready to deal with Selfs shadow
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