Kansas State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber is quick to admit it will be awhile before he can accurately say how much the Wildcats benefited from a summer tour across Europe. That’s a question for March, at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
Still, he is optimistic the experiences K-State recently gained while playing five exhibition games in Italy and Switzerland will be viewed favorably.
“We got to know the young guys better, we got to get some of the system in and we got to see guys in different situations,” Weber said Wednesday, reflecting on the trip at a news conference. “I think the biggest thing is, besides the lifetime experience and memories, the team building and the chemistry they gained going through some of the things they went through. Hopefully that will be a major positive as we get into the season.”
Weber and K-State’s players had plenty to talk about when they returned to Manhattan late last week. It was a roller-coaster trip for everyone involved. The Wildcats finished their exhibition tour with a 3-2 record, which featured three encouraging victories, two displeasing losses, tours of exotic locations and lots of jet lag.
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Travel took a toll on the team as it crossed Italy and Switzerland, particularly leading up to the team’s first game. K-State arrived in Rome a day late, because of flight cancellations, and players took the court for their first game on limited sleep. The Wildcats played like a tired team, losing 82-75 to LCC International University, a squad Missouri defeated by double digits while on a similar trip.
“It took a toll on us with all the touring, moving around, walking around, just doing things before the game and not resting. It was different,” K-State senior Wesley Iwundu said. “We didn’t really have any time to rest. It took a toll on our legs, but it was great. I compare it to the end of the season when you are tired and your legs may not be feeling good. It was good to face some adversity like that.”
The Wildcats adjusted to their traveling routine and bounced back. They played much better during their next four games, losing only to the Kosovo National Team, which featured a roster of professionals.
Several K-State players stepped up along the way. Sophomore forward Dean Wade led the team in two games, scoring 17 points in the team’s final game and 15 in another. D.J. Johnson had multiple double-doubles and led the Wildcats with 15 points in the opener. Sophomore guard Kamau Stokes scored 20 points in one game and senior Carlbe Ervin reached double figures twice.
Freshman wing Xavier Sneed was perhaps the most surprising player on the trip, averaging nearly 10 points over five games. He arrived at K-State in June, but feels like he has been a part of the team for years.
“My game and the way I play with a slashing type style,” Sneed said, “really fits into this team.”
Another freshman, Brian Patrick, was a steady contributor, particularly from three-point range.
One player that appeared to underachieve on the trip was Iwundu. Many expect the senior to be the team’s top contributor this season, but he failed to reach double figures in a single game.
Weber said Iwundu struggled to find his rhythm in his first games since adjusting his shooting technique this summer.
“The first game, Wes didn’t make the shots. After that he kind of hesitated shooting them. I told him, ‘That is why we are on this trip. I want you to shoot the pull-up jumpers, to shoot the open three.’
“It is a fine line as a coach. I want to win the games, but the whole reason we are there is to get experience and to improve and to learn.”
The Wildcats can already say they learned a lot in Europe.
“It was just fun,” Stokes said. “The whole trip was really a highlight. We got to see what all the young guys can do, but we also saw what we need to work on.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett