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Cats still searching for starting lineup

By Joel Jellison

On Wednesday morning, Kansas State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber asked his assistants who they thought should start Friday’s season opener against North Dakota at 8 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum.

What he got was about seven different answers. Weber, who previously said he won’t name his lineup too early and allow guys the chance to earn a starting spot, said they will decide the starting five by who has prepared the best this week.

If the first two exhibition games are any indication, that lineup could be Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling, Rodney McGruder, Adrian Diaz and Jordan Henriquez. But, of course, Weber said that might not be the case. After strong performances in the first half against Emporia State on Sunday, DJ Johnson and Thomas Gipson got the nod over Diaz and Henriquez.

As they build up to the first game of the season, Weber said it’s all about getting the players to see the importance in each and every day.

“It’s just part of the whole process, just adapting to what we believe in and the style and things like that, getting to know each other,” he said. “Every practice, every game means something, so you should be playing at your best. Obviously this counts on your record. You hopefully come, the old cliché, ready to play. Our goal is that they’re ready to play everyday, then games become much easier.”

For Weber, it will be a debut that has been seven months in the making since he was named the head coach in April. He admitted that he still feels a little nervousness before the first game each season.

“As a coach, and I’m sure everybody worries, you worry about this and that,” Weber said. “But the things you can control is what you do in practice everyday, your relationship with the kids and you hope that they’ll respond.”

The Wildcats have a pair of exhibition wins under their belt so far, beating Washburn 81-61 and Emporia State 81-51. Each game featured a different player coming up big for K-State, and each game saw a different energy level from the Wildcats.

Weber said he hopes they can continue to play more like they did in the Washburn game.

“I was really pleased with the first exhibition game, I thought (we had) great energy and that’s important,” he said. “You can overcome, early, some struggles if you play hard and play with great energy, and I thought they did. I thought we played with good intensity against Emporia, but probably not with the enthusiasm and energy that we had against Washburn.”

North Dakota spent its summer moving away from the Fighting Sioux moniker it held since 1930. After nearly 13 years of conversation within the state and the threat of sanctions from the NCAA, North Dakota retired the Fighting Sioux name in June and prohibited itself from creating a new moniker until 2015.

The North Dakota team K-State will see on the court on Friday is a small-ball style group of fast guards that look to create points off of ball screens.

Weber said that can be a tough style to match up with early in the season.

“Each game is a new learning thing,” he said. “You’re facing against different styles and you hope it prepares you for the long run. It’s a little bit scary early because you’re facing it for the first time —- how will you respond to it?

“Ball screens are part of college basketball now, 25 years ago no one set a ball screen, now you could have five or six in a possession. You have to deal with that.”

The Wildcats dealt with that in some respects against Washburn, a team that didn’t necessarily play small ball too often, but did look to shoot 3s with its posts. K-State’s answer to that was Nino Williams, and he could provide a similar answer against North Dakota.

Weber said he hopes other players can get into the action defensively as well.

“Nino gives us a different look, but you still hope the other guys can play,” he said. “Now it’s up to them trying to come out on the court and guard some people. A lot of ball-screen defense is not the two guys involved, it’s really the three other guys being in the right position to help out. Hopefully we’ve got that instilled a little bit, and they’ll react to it when they come out on the court.”

The Wildcats open with a tough stretch in their schedule, having just two days off before playing back-to-back games to open the regional round of the NIT Season Tip-Off. K-State will open that with a game against Lamar on Monday at 7 p.m.

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