Will Spradling is talking about his undershirt. He is doing that a lot lately.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
Since Spradling was informed two weeks ago he could no longer wear his favorite T-shirt under his Kansas State basketball uniform — because it contained more than one color — he has been on a hot streak.
He scored eight points against Texas, 12 points against Iowa State and 17 points against Texas Tech, all while wearing nothing but a sleeveless chest protector under his jersey. At this rate, he will top 20 points at West Virginia on Saturday and return to Bramlage Coliseum ready to try for 30 against Texas and Kansas.
OK, so that might be a stretch. But the days of Spradling shooting airballs and averaging 6.9 points, as he did in his first 18 games, may be over.
“I am probably playing with the most confidence I’ve had since I got to college,” said Spradling, who played at Shawnee Mission South. “I feel really comfortable. I am making plays that I wasn’t earlier.”
Those plays include coming off screens to hit three-pointers, getting to the foul line and making free throws and converting a jaw-dropping reverse layup in traffic.
That surge of offense is a far cry from the way the senior guard started the year, missing open shots by more than a foot and clanking free throws. Though Spradling helped K-State by moving effortlessly in Bruce Weber’s motion offense, feeding the ball to teammates and avoiding turnovers, he sometimes seemed like a liability. Opposing defenders could sag off him and focus their efforts elsewhere.
“Will has helped us out in terms of spacing and screening. He is our best motion player. But now that he is making shots he is putting a lot of emphasis on people,” senior guard Shane Southwell said. “They have to guard him. That helps open up things for other players. It helps all of us that he is making shots.”
Weber hopes Spradling can continue scoring more than 10 points. The Wildcats are helping him by designing plays that revolve around him.
That showed against Texas Tech, when he became the focal point of K-State’s attack.
“Will is one of the best shooters in the Big 12, maybe the country,” junior forward Nino Williams said. “It’s good to see him playing with confidence again. He is so unselfish, he passes up open shots to get other people the ball, but coaches have been all over him lately to shoot the ball. I think he has embraced that.”
If Spradling keeps shooting well, K-State’s offense will finally have a complete feel to it.
“If he can hit two threes a game, a couple pull ups and some free throws and get to double digits he becomes more of a threat,” Weber said. “Plus, people start chasing him more like they have been the last couple games. That helps Marcus (Foster) and that helps Shane. They can both get open when defenses have to worry about Will.”
Spradling has given himself an opportunity to end his senior year on a high note.
“It would mean the world to me,” Spradling said. “I have been playing well the last couple games. I am just trying to keep it up.”
So what sparked Spradling’s sudden improvement?
There are many answers. He is playing with more passion now that the end of his college career is approaching. Coaches are urging him to be more aggressive and he is now making late-night trips to Bramlage Coliseum instead of K-State’s practice facility to work on his shot.
That last switch has given him a greater feel for making three-pointers in arenas, and it has carried over into games.
“When I was missing shots, I was shooting a ton of quick releases and not getting my legs under me,” Spradling said. “For some reason, I would lose my legs every time I tried to get them under my jump shot, especially on the move. Now I’m trying to get more jumpers where I get my feet set and my legs under me. That’s why I am so much more comfortable shooting the ball.”
Well, that and he switched to a sleeveless undershirt.
“It is funny that so many people are focusing on that,” Spradling said. “It was just coincidence. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Who knows? Maybe it was something I needed. I am making shots. We are all superstitious on some levels, so you won’t see me wearing sleeves again.”