Like everyone else, Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber’s expectations for next season dropped when Angel Rodriguez transferred to Miami.
Just not as much as you might you think.
“Before the Angel situation, we felt very good about where we were,” Weber said by phone Wednesday. “That change is that we have a bunch of unknowns now. It is so important that Will Spradling, Shane Southwell, Omari Lawrence and Thomas Gipson are great leaders. We need the older guys, the guys with experience, to be productive and not put the pressure on so many young guys to come through for us.
“We are still trying to win championships and a lot of things can happen. All we can do is worry about ourselves and getting better. We did that this year. Hopefully we can develop team chemistry and do the same next year.”
Optimistic or not, it will be a difficult task without Rodriguez, a point guard who averaged more than 11 points and five assists on his way to second-team all-conference honors. He would have been one of the Big 12’s top returning players and made K-State a contender in the conference race.
Without him, K-State returns three proven starters and no experienced point guards while Oklahoma State and Baylor return the bulk of their talent and Kansas welcomes a star-studded recruiting class.
“Expectations change when you lose an all-conference player, but that is part of college basketball,” Weber said. “Kids leave and go pro, there are injuries. Players graduate. It happened unexpectedly. I was surprised. We were all definitely surprised. I understand his situation, but it doesn’t make it any easier on us so we have got to move forward.”
Weber’s biggest challenge: developing a point guard. He will have to decide whether to move Will Spradling, a shooting guard, or Shane Southwell, a hybrid forward, to the point next season or hand over ball-handling duties to incoming freshman Nigel Johnson.
All three options are risky. Weber thinks running the point could hurt Spradling’s scoring. Southwell is a solid passer, but Weber would prefer to use his size inside or on the wing. And freshmen often need time to learn a new offense.
Freshman guard Jevon Thomas will provide help when he becomes eligible following the fall semester, but K-State’s backcourt will be a question mark.
“I think it will be by committee early,” Weber said. “Will and Shane are two of the best passers and ball handlers on the team. Between them and Nigel and how some other things unfold we might have to play a little bit early and just see what works.”
Gipson figures to join Spradling and Southwell in the starting lineup, but the two other spots are up for grabs. Lawrence could play a bigger role on the wing, while both Nino Williams and D.J. Johnson are possibilities inside.
Recruits Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu will be factors as well. Out of K-State’s five incoming freshmen, Weber expects Foster, a guard chosen Texas 3A Player of the Year, to make the biggest immediate impact.
“We need scoring, and Marcus Foster is a pretty good scorer,” Weber said. “I think physically and athletically he is pretty gifted. You hope he can give us minutes. Wesley can give us versatility. He doesn’t have quite the shot right now, but he is going to get an opportunity.”
An opportunity that might not have presented itself had Rodriguez stayed in Manhattan.
“You can’t replace experience, obviously,” Weber said, “but I thought our staff did a great job of getting into scramble mode and making sure we ended up with some quality players that are going to help us next year.”