Brandon Bolden last played in a college basketball game 17 months ago and last scored in a competitive setting when he was a high school senior.
That’s a long time by any athlete’s standards, but the days have passed at an excruciatingly slow pace for Bolden, a 6-foot-11 forward and a former top-100 recruit who transferred to Kansas State last spring from Georgetown. Bolden has gone from hoping to make an immediate impact as a freshman to trying to remember what it’s like to play in front of fans as a redshirt sophomore.
Ask what he misses most about taking the floor with his teammates, and he answers with one word: “Competing.”
“I wish I could tell you (the last year) was easy or something like that, but it wasn’t,” Bolden said. “It is hard. ... But I worked hard in practice and it helped me prepare for this year.”
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Bolden will soon discover how ready he is to contribute for the Wildcats next season. Along with junior guard Justin Edwards, who also sat out last season after transferring to K-State from Maine, he will spend the first two weeks of August in Estonia and Latvia playing exhibition games against pro teams.
Bolden and Edwards will play for Athletes in Action, a team made up of college basketball talent that will include Wichita State forward Darius Carter and Kansas forward Landen Lucas.
K-State has a long history of sending players overseas during the summer, but this trip appears to be more meaningful than past trips. It could be an ideal transition back into competitive basketball for both players.
“It will be a great experience, because I have never been overseas,” Bolden said. “It will be great to experience that and to get back on the court. It has been nearly two years now. It is really important, because (games are) so much different than working out with these guys every day. It is a lot different to go up and down for a full game.”
Edwards added: “I can’t wait to face competition other than my teammates. I am just hungry to get out there and play against other players.”
Indeed, it will be a welcome change. But it’s not as if Bolden and Edwards have been completely out of action since moving to Manhattan. K-State coach Bruce Weber has praised both players for their practice efforts.
Bolden, who can play both center and power forward, will provide a needed shot-blocking presence inside and add depth to a frontcourt that relied almost entirely on Thomas Gipson last season. Bolden will play a meaningful role this season and could challenge for a starting spot.
Those qualify as high expectations, but they are low compared with Edwards, an athletic guard who led the America East in scoring with 16.7 points as a sophomore. After K-State lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, sophomore Marcus Foster predicted Edwards could be the Wildcats’ top scorer next season. Quite a statement considering Foster averaged 15.5 points as a freshman.
“He shoots the ball so well it is hard to guard him,” Foster said. “If you overguard him, he is going to go right by you and dunk on the big man. He is a mismatch problem for any guard in the Big 12.”
Bolden added: “He can do everything. I just want to see him in a live game. As soon as I played against him in open gym I had to go look at his Maine tape to see if it was true, because I had never seen a guy that athletic before in my life.”
When Foster and Edwards are on the same team in practice, competitive balance is destroyed.
“With two athletes and shooters on the wing, it’s hard to guard when we are on the same team,” Foster said. “Coach Weber tries to keep us apart.”
Of course, things might not be so easy once the season starts. Foster and Edwards are both natural shooting guards. Playing them together could be a challenge, though both are trying to become more versatile with Foster practicing at point guard and Edwards working at small forward.
Edwards also will face a drastic step up in competition from what he was accustomed to at Maine, where he used his superior athleticism to get to the rim. He shot just 27 percent from three-point range.