When it comes to the future of Kansas State basketball, the first question on everyone’s mind revolves around Xavier Sneed.
The junior swingman has played well enough for the Wildcats to appear on the NBA radar, but the timeline for his professional future is uncertain. Maybe he’s ready to leave college and try to impress scouts at the next level. Maybe he can best improve his stock by returning for his senior year.
Sneed says he hasn’t thought much about his future, but that’s a decision he will need to make over the coming weeks. His choice will greatly impact K-State’s outlook next season.
If he comes back, the Wildcats will maintain the look of an NCAA Tournament team even after the departures of transformational seniors Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade. With Cartier Diarra, Makol Mawien and Sneed in the starting lineup and a promising recruiting class on the way, K-State would reload more than rebuild.
If he leaves, the Wildcats will be a bit more of a question mark. They would still have potential. It would simply be more difficult to realize.
Sneed is currently projected as a second-round pick in next year’s NBA Draft, not this one, but he could enhance his profile this spring. Odds are good he will at least test the pro waters and declare early for the NBA Draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option to return to school.
“I am sure he will try like Barry did last year and see if he can get any workouts,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I am going to encourage it just to have that experience. But we will see what happens. We will have to do deal with it. If he has the opportunity he has got the opportunity. I have been through this before. You have got to help them. They come here to get a degree and have a chance to play professional basketball. If they can play (in the NBA), you did your job as a coach.”
Let’s say Sneed returns as a senior and tries to build off the 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds he averaged as a junior. For the first time, he would have an opportunity to be the alpha dog.
That role could suit him well. He’s been K-State’s best player at times over the past three years (remember his monster game against Kentucky?) and perhaps that will happen more often as a senior.
“We’ve got a lot of great guys in the locker room still,” Sneed said. “I am looking to step up myself and be a leader.”
Makol Mawien will also be back as a senior. He will look to build on the 14 points and 12 rebounds he had against UC Irvine in the NCAA Tournament. Mawien has started every game over the past two years for K-State, but he has had lots of ups and downs over that time. If he can find consistency next season, that would do wonders for K-State’s frontcourt with Levi Stockard and Austin Trice trying to help him out.
Diarra will likely move into a full-time starting role at one of the guard positions, with Mike McGuirl and Shaun Neal-Williams looking to join him.
Some think Diarra has the highest ceiling of any player on the K-State roster. He certainly took his game to a new level this season, making amazing plays like a windmill dunk against Kansas and a full-court assist against Baylor.
He only averaged 6.7 points, but he came on strong during the second half of the year when he was healthy.
K-State has enough talented players returning to return to March Madness for the fourth straight season, but that’s not the only thing that has fans optimistic about the future.
Weber is also welcoming his best recruiting class (on paper, at least) since Brown, Stokes and Wade arrived on campus.
The Wildcats have signed some promising prospects, including:
- DaJuan Gordon. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Chicago was recently named the city’s player of the year by the Chicago Sun Times and is a top 150 recruit nationally. Weber has praised him more than any K-State recruit in recent memory and is clearly excited about his future.
- Montavious Murphy. Another top 150 recruit, the 6-8 forward was one of the best high school players in Houston this season and seems ready to step in and try to replace Dean Wade in the starting lineup.
- Antonio Gordon. The recruiting services don’t love him, but the three-star prospect has put up astounding numbers as a senior forward in Lawton, Okla. It’s not strange for him to score 40 points in games.
- Goodnews Kpegeol. He’s actually already on the team and sat out this season with a redshirt after enrolling a semester early. K-State players say he has helped in practice and could fight for playing time at guard next season.
K-State will lose experience and leadership, but it might increase its depth and maybe even talent.
“You have got a good foundation now,” Weber said. “We have got to have a special offseason with those guys returning and the new guys coming in.”
It should be a fun season for Weber. He should have more freedom to experiment and teach than he has recently with veteran rosters. The battle for backcourt minutes between McGuirl, Neal-Williams and DaJuan Gordon will be fun to watch. Murphy and Antonio Gordon will compete for minutes inside.
K-State’s departing seniors talked about setting a foundation after they shared a Big 12 championship this season.
The Wildcats might take a step back without Brown, Stokes and Wade next year, but they won’t back down from the expectations they brought to K-State basketball.