There is a good chance Kansas State point guard Kamau Stokes will play against West Virginia on Saturday after missing a month of action with a broken left foot.
On paper, his return appears to be a good thing for the Wildcats. They lack depth and could benefit from a player like Stokes (13.4 points, 4.6 assists) back in the rotation. Still, K-State coach Bruce Weber may need to use a delicate touch while he eases Stokes back into games.
Though Stokes is a three-year starter with NCAA Tournament experience, the Wildcats have played their best basketball with redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra in the starting lineup. Some worry Stokes could disrupt the good chemistry K-State has used to win five of its past seven games.
“We have got to get him back,” Weber said of Stokes. “We can’t worry about something (like chemistry). I don’t know if he is going to be 100 percent all season. I don’t know if he is going to practice today, to be honest. I am hoping by the next couple weeks he is back where he has pretty good rhythm. Everybody has got to worry about how he can help the team. If everyone focuses on that, we will be fine.”
Finding a new role for Stokes could be described as a good problem to have.
For now, Weber plans to bring him along slowly. Weber hopes to use Stokes off the bench and play him for about 12 minutes against the Mountaineers and their pressure defense.
“They aren’t pressing like they were, but they still wear you down, especially at home,” Weber said. “It will take a toll. It will help if we have another ball handler.”
Stokes can certainly help K-State with his handle and his shot. Before he got hurt last month he led the Wildcats in three-pointers, assists and minutes.
He was medically cleared to play on Monday against Kansas and suited up for the game, but Weber held him out as a precaution.
“I probably could have stuck him in for a few minutes,” Weber said. “I was just so leery. He wanted to play. He was frustrated. He wanted us to win. He wanted to help and get in the game. I just couldn’t take a chance when he hadn’t practiced in three weeks. I wasn’t worried about his foot as much as the rest of his body.”
K-State players are looking forward to playing with Stokes again.
Though the Wildcats have done well without him, they topped 90 points with him running the show against Arizona State and Iowa State. And it’s clear they need reinforcements.
K-State’s bench contributed little in recent games against Georgia (going scoreless) and Kansas (nine points) and could benefit greatly from a reliable sixth man. Whether that reserve is Diarra or Stokes, it’s obvious the Wildcats need the help.
“He can give us a good lift with his scoring ability and his passing ability,” Diarra said of Stokes. “When he does come back, he is going to come back like he never left. We are going to be really excited to have more depth.”
K-State starters have been pushed to their limits in recent games. Junior guard Barry Brown has played for all but two minutes of the past four games. Junior forward Dean Wade has played for all but four.
There is no guarantee Stokes will play against the Mountaineers, but the Wildcats hope he is ready to play.
“He has been big time his whole career here,” sophomore wing Xavier Sneed said. “Just having him back is a big boost, especially the way guys like Dean (Wade) and Barry (Brown) have been playing. Adding him back into the mix makes things better for a lot of people.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett