Friday, October 9, 2015

Bauman: Spradling finding his groove again

For Kansas State basketball fans, speculation was rampant at the end of last season that Will Spradling may look for greener pastures.

It was no secret — and if it was meant to be, it wasn’t very well kept— that the 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard from Overland Park, who failed to make a blip on other Big 12 schools’ radar out of high school, grew more frustrated with his identity on the team as the season wore on.

By the end of the last season, his confidence was damaged and his relationship with then-head coach Frank Martin was strained.

But, then Martin left for the head coaching at South Carolina in March.

Fast-forward to today, and it is obvious Spradling is sold on new Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber, and the feeling seems to be mutual.

Spradling, who averaged 6.4 points per game and 22 minutes per contest in his freshman season, certainly had his moments last year as a sophomore. He increased his average to 9.3 points per game and his time on the floor by 10 more minutes. Plus, he often ran the offense and shared point guard duties with then-freshman Angel Rodriguez.

While Spradling had five games with at least 15 points along with a four-game stretch during the Big 12 season that saw consecutive double-figure totals. But he was also inconsistent.

He is counted on for his perimeter shooting, and when his shot was off the mark, the Wildcats suffered. His 0-for-5 afternoon from 3-point land in a close loss to Iowa State in Bramlage Coliseum was a prime example of that. It was during that stretch of conference play and into the NCAA tournament that Spradling’s average dipped to 4.6 points per game. He also connected on just three treys on 17 attempts throughout that span.

Spradling is averaging a career-high 9.5 points per game this season and has scored less than eight points only twice this season. His reliability at the free-throw line — which has always been a strength — is even more iron-clad this year and he’s hit at least one 3-pointer every game so far. He’s also improved his defensive-rebounding skills.

While he’s always been known to hit his hot streaks, this season they’ve seemed to come at the most important times for the Cats.

In K-State’s first true road game of the season at George Washington earlier in this month, Spradling hit important free throws before halftime and knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in the early goings of the second half to help the Wildcats eek out a 65-62 win over the Colonials.

Last Saturday night, Spradling was key in the Wildcats’ signature win against No. 8 Florida in Kansas City, where he led K-State with 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and no turnovers. Spradling set the tone early against the Gators and scored 14 points by halftime — including two of his three treys for the night.

Without a doubt, Spradling has been a more consistent threat opposing teams will have to take note of once Big 12 play shifts into high-gear after the holiday break.

A lot of credit is due to Spradling buying in. He has taken to Weber’s offense, especially when it pertains to coming off of screens.

“With Will — and with all of them — whether it’s a ball screen or coming off a screen, Will has adjusted the best out of anybody, as far as understanding our system,” Weber said after a practice recently. “When I say something to Will, I don’t have to explain it. He knows and he can explain it to somebody else.”

Spradling, following that same practice — it was the week leading up to the George Washington game — said the adjustment to a new system has been just that, an adjustment.

“This whole offense and defense is pretty much totally different than what we had under Coach Martin, so that’s a big difference and it has taken us a while — especially on the offensive end — to get the flow and figure out everything we needed and where we needed to be,” he said. “And that’s still a work in progress right now.”

Even with all the changes, Spradling admitted his role isn’t new.

“I don’t feel like it’s changed that much,” he said. “Coach Weber has given me a lot more freedom, especially in ball-screens. Last year I wasn’t in ball-screens at all and that’s something we worked on a lot over the summer, and now I feel real comfortable with them now.”

Rodriguez, who has locked up the starting point guard spot in his second year, said it’s obvious Spradling enjoys the new system.

“He loves it… he loves moving without the ball and coming out of the screen,” Rodriguez said. “The less he can handle the ball, and the more he can come out of ball screens, and down-screens and stuff like that, he’ll be more effective.

“You guys — everybody — will see it as we keep progressing.”

And two weeks later, everyone did. If you missed it Saturday night, just ask Florida about the progression of Will Spradling.

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