Two years ago, Austin Budke and Carlbe Ervin didn’t know where they would play the final home game of their college basketball careers.
Both were lightly recruited junior-college guards back then, Budke at Hutchinson and Ervin at Connors State in Oklahoma, and the prospect of transferring to Kansas State hadn’t crossed their minds.
They both ended up in Manhattan, of course. Budke forced his way onto the roster as a walk-on, eventually earning a scholarship this season. Ervin battled injuries to play in 33 games as a junior and then carved out a do-everything role off the bench as a senior this season. The focus of K-State’s Senior Day on Saturday will be on longtime starters Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson, but the pregame ceremony against Texas Tech will mean just as much to Budke and Ervin.
“Every team only gets 13 scholarships,” Budke said Friday. “To be able to say I get to take up one of those, at a Big 12 school no less, is ridiculous.”
Ervin was also feeling the magnitude of the moment.
“It means everything,” Ervin said. “I worked very hard in junior college to get to any university. Playing in the Big 12 after junior college is probably the best experience you can have.”
Neither player will depart K-State as a basketball hero. Budke is averaging 1 point per game. Ervin plays in every game, averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds.
Yet when K-State coach Bruce Weber talks about them, he makes it sound as if the Wildcats would be lost without two of their best reserves.
Ervin considered a transfer to a lower level coming off a disappointing first season with K-State, but Weber talked him into staying. Weber didn’t want to lose him. Though Ervin’s statistics don’t always show it, he impacts games with his energy and knowledge. He is the best rebounding guard on the roster.
“Carlbe’s attitude is the best on the team,” Weber said. “Last year, he went through the knee problem and he didn’t get the minutes, he didn’t have the success. He was a junior college (star). He thought about leaving and going Division II, having success. I told him, ‘I don’t think that is the best thing for you.’ He went through some tough decision making, but he made a good decision.”
By staying, Ervin thinks he advanced his chances of becoming a basketball coach one day.
Budke plans to go a different route. A chemical engineering major, the Beloit, Kan., native already has a summer internship lined up with Phillips 66. He will miss playing basketball, especially in front of K-State fans who chant his name at games, so he plans to soak up the experience of his final game at Bramlage Coliseum.
“It’s really neat checking into games,” Budke said. “They chant my name. You try to just block it out and focus on the game, but I’m not going to lie: It’s pretty cool. You go around campus and people know your name. Everyone calls you Budke. I can’t remember the last time somebody called me Austin. Everyone knows me as Budke. You go out on a Friday night and it’s Budke, Budke, Budke. I don’t know how it got started, but it is better than them booing me.”
At 6-foot-6, Budke came to K-State not knowing what position he would play. He was a center in high school and a shooting guard in junior college. Weber took one look at him and moved him to power forward.
Though he lacks the size needed to start at the position, he has provided valuable depth for a team cursed by big-man injuries.
“He is a great story,” Weber said. “... He has become a cult hero with the fans here. He makes straight As. It is unbelievable.”
Budke and Ervin will say goodbye to Bramlage as part of a five-person senior class that also includes walk-on Zach Winter. They know they will get a warm reception from fans. But they also want to give them plenty to cheer about.
“It’s a must-win,” Ervin said. “I don’t know what is going to happen in the (Big 12) tournament. We just need something good to happen.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett