When Bruce Weber arrived at Kansas State, he saw something different in the potential use of Shane Southwell and Nino Willliams.
So in the spring, Weber said they had casual conversations with both players about using them at power forward. Nearly 10 months after arriving in Manhattan, both players have had career days playing at the four.
But Southwell, who had his career day with 17 points in the 65-64 win over West Virginia, admitted there is no way he could have ever imagined he would be playing power forward.
In fact, when he was asked about the idea, he answered with a resounding no and couldn’t hold back his laughter.
“Maybe in a sense where I’d be the second tallest person, but not playing the four like I do now,” he said. “I’m much more mature now so I know it’s to cause mismatches and the motion always runs better when there are four wing players that can make decisions and score from the perimeter. That has a lot to do with my maturity process.
“If he would have asked me that a month after I graduated high school, I would have said ‘no, I’m transferring.’”
Neither played a lot of power forward prior to this season. Williams played point forward in high school — similar to the role LeBron James plays for the Miami Heat, brining the ball up the court and setting up the play — while Williams played shooting guard and small forward. And neither assumed they would be playing it this season.
It seems to be working for both, as Southwell is averaging a career high 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and Williams has career highs with 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest.
Southwell said now that he has changed, he enjoys the position and the mismatch it causes for other teams.
Williams said he thinks the hybrid forward position he and Southwell play brings a lot to the floor for the Wildcats.
“I think me and Shane can rebound and we kind of stretch the floor,” he said. “I think it causes mismatches on offense and I think defensively, most four men don’t really post — we haven’t played one that really tries to bully ball us.
“We play against DJ (Johnson) and (Jordan Henriguez) in practice so we’re used to it, we’ve just got to be tough and confidence in our defense.”
The move for both players has brought competition in practice that is bringing the best out of them in games.
Southwell played in nearly every game last season, but his role in the offense limited his production. Williams spent most of the year injured.
Weber said Williams jumped at the idea of playing power forward this season, after he explained the role as more of a hybrid forward — a player that can post-up, play at the perimeter, and shoot mid-range jumpers.
By the time the Wildcats went to Brazil in August, Williams was riding high on confidence. And when he went down with an injury in December, Southwell finally decided he wanted a crack at the position.
Now with both players back and healthy, Williams said he knows playing time will be based on who is having the best game.
“We share minutes, we both try to produce when we’re in because we know we are competing for time,” he said. “So if he’s playing well, I know I’m not going to play as much as I want, and if I’m playing well, he knows he’s not going to play as much.”
The competition has developed a little extra camaraderie between the players too. Weber said during Williams’ career-high 17-point scoring effort against Oklahoma State on Jan. 5, Southwell asked not to be subbed in for Williams.
And in the final seconds of that 73-67 win, it was Williams who put the exclamation point on the game with a put-back dunk.