During his time as Kansas State men’s basketball coach, Bruce Weber has found ways to win Big 12 championships and reach NCAA Tournaments without elite talent.
The Wildcats haven’t landed a five-star recruit in 10 years, and they have only signed a handful of four-star recruits since Weber arrived in Manhattan seven years ago.
Weber’s success model is built on development. Barry Brown, Wesley Iwundu, D.J. Johnson Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade all matured into excellent college basketball players with professional futures, but none of them were blue-chippers coming out of high school.
Things will be different for Weber when he leads Team USA at the U19 World Cup this summer in Greece. Unlike at K-State, recruiting won’t be a factor in that tournament. Weber will get a rare opportunity to coach the nation’s best up-and-coming basketball talent. He will have a full roster of five-star recruits.
“The big thing will be getting them to buy in to one goal, and that is winning the gold,” Weber said. “You want talent, but then you also have to have a team that comes together very quickly, over a 10-day period, and make that commitment and appreciate being part of it. I don’t know how hard that will be. I have tried to talk to as many people as I can for advice and suggestions. I just want them to play hard, play together, pass the basketball and blend together as a group that really wants to win.”
That will be a fascinating process to watch, particularly if the youngest players on the team shine in his system.
Weber’s upcoming stint with Team USA could result in a recruiting boon for K-State.
Other college coaches have used their time with national teams to help convince top recruits from those rosters to play for them in college. It’s happened often enough that some, including Dick Vitale, have argued against college coaches leading national teams that include unsigned prospects, because it creates an unfair recruiting advantage.
A few recent examples:
Quentin Grimes followed Bill Self to Kansas after playing for him on a U18 team last summer. Immanuel Quickley teamed up with John Calipari at Kentucky following his stint with a U19 team. Shaka Smart coached Mo Bamba and Matt Coleman as international players before they signed with Texas. And Allonzo Trier ended up at Arizona after playing under Sean Miller on a U18 team.
To be fair, there is just as much evidence, if not more, of recruits feeling slighted by those coaches in the event they don’t make the cut for the final roster. So in some cases coaching for a national team can work against you with certain recruits.
Still, it’s worth thinking about. Could an elite rising high school prospect play for Weber this summer and enjoy the experience enough to consider also playing for him at K-State? Winning the tournament could also raise his coaching profile.
Weber is hopeful his time with Team USA will help K-State in the recruiting department, but not for the reasons you may expect.
“I hope it is great exposure,” Weber said. “We might have a chance to see some kids on the teams we play. But everyone can come to the games and watch. A lot of schools do that, they come and observe. If you win, that is a positive thing. And then you maybe get a chance to see some kids that might help if you ever do some international recruiting.”
It remains unclear how many unsigned recruits will try out for Weber’s team. He anticipates the majority of players will be a bit older, mostly incoming freshmen or college stars who will be sophomores next season.
He is hoping to get an invite for at least one member of K-State’s incoming freshman class (DaJuan Gordon, Montavious Murphy, Antonio Gordon) and would like for them to face top competition before suiting up next season.
Even if there are only a few unsigned high school players involved, this experience will let Weber work with top prospects who normally look elsewhere for college. He has rarely been in the recruiting conversation with elite prospects at K-State. The top-rated recruit of his tenure was Malek Harris, a four-star forward who Rivals ranked as the 80th prospect in his class.
DaJuan Gordon, Dean Wade and Xavier Sneed are the other four-star players Weber has landed at K-State. Perhaps he can begin working on another this summer.
But that’s not why Weber agreed to this job.
This is something he has dreamed about since he first got into coaching 40 years ago. When he was offered the position about a month ago, he accepted as soon as his family and K-State assistants gave him their blessing.
He hopes coaching the nation’s best young talent will eventually translate into good things for K-State. But, for now, his focus is elsewhere.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a part of Team USA basketball and hopefully win a gold medal,” Weber said. “I think it is an unbelievable experience. I think it is really cool and a great opportunity for the players. It’s the experience of a lifetime. If the kids have dreams and goals of playing in the NBA, well, so many of our NBA players have been part of USA basketball. It gives them a chance to do the same and be part of international competition. I am glad to be a part of it.”