MANHATTAN, Kan. — He has played in more than 100 games. He has been a full-time starter since he was a sophomore. His basketball coach says Kansas State’s hopes for a successful season start with him.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
And he might also be the most overlooked player on the Wildcats’ roster.
Welcome to the life of Will Spradling. Even though he has helped K-State reach the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons and share a Big 12 championship last season, Spradling, a 6-foot-2 guard from Shawnee Mission South, is still able to walk around campus in virtual anonymity weeks before the start of his senior season.
“If we walk into places the guys that don’t play as much as Will get noticed before he does,” senior guard Shane Southwell said. “It is, honestly, hilarious. It has been like that for four years.”
Why haven’t fans flocked to Spradling? For starters, his game isn’t flashy. He values free throws, passes and defense. He has also never been one of K-State’s go-to players. Last season he averaged 7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists but had only a handful of memorable games. His career, for the most part, has been up and down.
“His game is never going to wow you, but he does all the little things,” Southwell said, “and, at the end of the day when you look up, Will Spradling has changed the game. That’s what he does. He’s a winner.”
Fans may have trouble recognizing Spradling this year for new reasons. He walked around K-State’s basketball media day Wednesday sporting an added 15 pounds of muscle and a newfound sense of confidence.
“You’re not going to see me getting pushed around anymore,” Spradling said.
When point guard Angel Rodriguez transferred last spring, everyone turned to Spradling to take over the team’s most important position.
He has experience running the point, playing there in high school and at K-State as a sophomore, but he has spent most of his college career at shooting guard. The transition hasn’t been easy, and some have wondered if it will be too much for him.
“Obviously people doubt me. I have to prove myself,” Spradling said. “I didn’t play the point last year at all. I felt like I did a good job of it my sophomore year; the only problem was I turned the ball over too much. But I have worked on that. I’ve loved going back to point guard this year, being able to control the game and control the tempo.”
His style will be different from Rodriguez, who wasfast and aggressive. Rodriguez often created his own shot by driving to the basket late into possessions. Spradling will try to spread the ball around and score from the outside with the help of ball screens.
“I describe myself as a pass-first (guard), but I’m not going to pass up open shots, either,” Spradling said.
Spradling won’t handle point-guard duties by himself all season. Freshman Jevon Thomas is expected to move into the rotation once he becomes eligible in late December. In the mean time, Spradling may get only occasional relief from Southwell and freshmen Nigel Johnson, Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu.
And point-guard depth will be a concern early. But coach Bruce Weber likes his starter.
“It starts with Will,” Weber said. “He has played a lot of games, a lot of minutes. Sometimes people take him for granted. He just does so much for you as a player. He has a good feel, he can play at the point, he can play at the two, he has such good awareness. He knows what you are going to do ahead of time and leads by example.”