Cats’ four seniors reach home finale

By Joel Jellison

Coming off a run to the Elite Eight in 2010, Kansas State signed a promising recruiting class that included three freshmen.

On Saturday, a class of four seniors, including two from that freshmen group — Shane Southwell and Will Spradling — will play their final games in Bramlage Coliseum.

(Kansas State senior Shane Southwell pulls up for a jumper against South Dakota on Dec. 10 at Bramlage Coliseum).

It has been far from an easy path for all four, but they will look to help the team complete an epic run of sorts inside Bramlage — the arena’s first undefeated Big 12 home schedule — when it hosts Baylor at 12:30 p.m. on the Big 12 Network (KTMJ).

The class came to K-State in 2010 with Southwell and Spradling, Nino Williams and junior college transfers Freddy Asprilla and Juevol Myles. Asprilla left the program in the spring of 2011 and Myles transferred later. Stricken by concussions, Williams was redshirted, leaving just two of the original members to play their final game on Saturday.

The other two included St. Johns transfer Omari Lawrence and Hutchinson Community College transfer Ryan Schultz.

While none of the players have been consistent big scorers for K-State during their time, Spradling is just the fourth player in school history to tally 1,000 points, 300 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. He and Southwell have combined to go 92-40 in their careers with the Wildcats.

“It’s a group where you’ve got some good quality people, that’s the first thing you talk about,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Omari’s already got his degree, he’s working on his master’s. Will’s going to have a degree in accounting, Shane’s going to finish his degree, and then Ryan Schultz is trying to get in med school down the road.

“(They’re) guys you’re going to be proud of that will be K-State grads. They’ve been pretty rock solid for us and done a lot of nice things.”

Just two years ago, when Frank Martin left the school for a job at South Carolina, both Spradling and Southwell were players who were ready to put their time at K-State behind them.

It was an especially tough time for Spradling, a Kansas native, who had to weigh his options at schools that weren’t so close to home.

But everything changed for both when Bruce Weber was hired.

“My sophomore year I really struggled in Big 12,” Spradling said. “Everything was up in the air and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was excited about the coaching change and excited about coach Weber.”

Both Spradling and Southwell changed their careers around in Weber’s first season, helping the team win it’s first Big 12 title in nearly 40 years. This season, Lawrence has been a big contributor for the Wildcats off the bench, and Schultz has gotten into game more recently due to an injury to Southwell.

Spradling said he doesn’t think Saturday will be emotional for him, but the approaching date has gotten him thinking about when he first met Southwell.

“The first time I hung out with him in the room, I thought he was speaking a different language,” Spradling said laughing. “It was ridiculous, I thought he was speaking French. I had to ask him and he was like, ‘no, I’m speaking to my friend from New York.’ I was confused at first, but I learned.”

While the words Southwell was saying caught Spradling’s attention, Southwell said he was struck by Spradling’s high-pitched voice. Southwell said it’s gotten better over four years, and Spradling said it’s always been the first thing people notice.

(Kansas State’s Will Spradling defends Kansas’ Naadir Tharpe on Feb. 10 at Bramlage Coliseum. Spradling is one of four seniors who will be honored Saturday prior to the Wildcats’ home game with Baylor, joining Shane Southwell, Omari Lawrence and Ryan Schultz).

But he does remember when the 2010 class arrived, they were looking to contribute and help the Wildcats make another deep run in the tournament.

“I don’t even remember what the expectations were,” he said. “I was just excited to get to K-State and knowing what they did the year before, and hopefully carry that on.”

K-State hasn’t carried that on to that extent, but Spradling’s class is looking to become the third in school history to go to four straight NCAA tournaments.

Southwell said his time at K-State has made him better not just on the court, but off of it as well.

“I’ve definitely matured as a person,” he said. “My thought process is a lot quicker and smarter, in terms of making the right decisions. I’m talking about in life. And then on the basketball court, just being more disciplined. I think the biggest thing is maturity.

“I don’t think I would have done it if I was in a big city. I think Manhattan really helped me.”

The Wildcats have yet to be swept by a Big 12 team this season, and will look to avoid that against a Baylor team that has one six of its last seven after losing seven of eight at one time.

Weber said he hopes the overtime loss at Baylor and it being senior day is all the motivation they need to pull off a win over the Bears.

“Every time I watch it, it rubs me the wrong way,” Weber said of the loss. “I don’t think we played perfect by any means, but we sure played good enough to win. We had many, many opportunities, sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way.”

Spradling said they caught Baylor right at the beginning of its season turnaround, losing on the road after allowing the Bears to force overtime with a buzzer beating 3-pointer from Brady Heslip.

“We got them right when they started that stretch of winning games,” he said. “We had a chance to win the game and we let it slip away. We’ve been playing better in Bramlage. We’ll be ready to go.”

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