MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber channeled his inner weatherman four months ago when he said the Wildcats were planning to bring in seven new players despite only losing three seniors at the conclusion of the season.
His forecast let everyone know that a cold front was on the way, and it arrived in full force earlier this week when rising junior point guard David Sloan entered the transfer portal.
Current conditions are worse than predicted. Three K-State basketball players graduated and five others decided to continue their college careers elsewhere, leaving the Wildcats with eight scholarship spots to fill. That is the most roster turnover Weber has overseen during his time in Manhattan, surpassing the mass exodus of 2015 that saw Marcus Foster leave for Creighton and K-State welcome a seven-man recruiting class that featured Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade.
Weber is once again hitting the metaphorical reset button.
For the second time during his eight-year run with the Wildcats, he will bring in more new players than he will return familiar faces. Circumstances are different this time. Five years ago, Weber cleaned house after a dysfunctional season that was marred by suspensions and disciplinary issues. Now, players are mostly leaving in search of increased playing time while K-State looks to upgrade talent.
Still, it’s a similar challenge.
The Wildcats are coming off a a disappointing 11-win season and last-place finish in the Big 12 standings. Next season will be a full-on rebuild, and Weber will have to tackle it with eight new players and a roster that is unlikely to be allowed on campus for a traditional summer of workouts and practices. Weber hoped to get a head start on the rebuilding process by taking the Wildcats on a trip to Europe this summer for two weeks of exhibition games and team bonding, but that excursion has been all but canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As it stands, K-State is set to return 39.6 points from last year’s team and lose 44.7 points.
Weber will turn to senior guard Mike McGuirl (6.9 points) and sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon (6.3 points) for leadership as the Wildcats return just five players and welcome in a group of eight.
“Mike and DaJuan have kind of linked up to take over the team,” Weber said in an interview last month. “Those are the two I see as leaders right now, but we will have to see how it unfolds as we get everyone together.”
The good news for K-State and Weber: They have been here before and recovered nicely. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament three straight times with Brown, Stokes and Wade leading the way, reaching the Elite Eight in 2018 and sharing a Big 12 championship in 2019.
Weber capitalized on that success by lining up his finest recruiting class as K-State’s coach. Nijel Pack, Luke Kasubke, Davion Bradford, Selton Miguel, Seryee Lewis, Rudi Williams and UTEP transfer Kaosi Ezeagu give the Wildcats a consensus top 25 recruiting class, per the recruiting sites. Rivals ranks it No. 14.
Bradford, Miguel and Pack are all four-star recruits, and everyone in the group has upside.
The Wildcats can add even more talent if they land Donovan Williams next week. The four-star guard from Lincoln, Neb. has K-State in his final three along with Oklahoma State and Texas. Adding one of the top unsigned players in the country, and a talented score, this late in the process could push Weber’s recruiting class into the top 10.
But bringing in talent and coaching it to a 20-win season are two entirely different things.
K-State won 17 games during the 2015-16 season when Brown, Stokes and Wade were freshmen. All three averaged nearly 10 points per game and showed early promise. But they also benefited from opposing teams focusing on veterans like Wesley Iwundu, D.J. Johnson, Stephen Hurt and Justin Edwards.
None of K-State’s five returning players (Montavious Murphy, Antonio Gordon, Levi Stockard, DaJaun Gordon and McGuirl) are currently at that level.
At the same time, K-State’s incoming recruiting class might be better suited to make an immediate impact that Brown, Stokes and Wade were five years ago.
The Wildcats will need to replace more scoring than it lost back then, following the departures of Xavier Sneed, Cartier Diarra and Makol Mawien.
But Miguel, Pack, Kasubke and potentially Donovan Williams seem capable.
“I think they are a little bit ahead,” Weber said. “A few of them are. Recruiting-wise, these guys are much higher-rated. It’s hard to tell until they come. Nijel is similar to Kamau, probably a little bit better passer to start. Selton gives you that toughness that Barry had. Hopefully Montavious and Antonio can give us what Dean gave us.”
The challenge will be similar.
Weber is confident he can guide the Wildcats back to prominence with a new crop of recruits, even if it is bigger than expected.
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