Iwundu’s dedication pays off

By Joel Jellison

DAYTON, Ohio — The way Kansas State coach Bruce Weber saw it, Wesley Iwundu was at a crossroads.

After his sophomore year at K-State, the Wildcats’ young roster collapsing in on itself and, dismissals and transfers running rampant, Iwundu had to choose whether to follow his peers or stick it out.

Iwundu chose the latter and now he leads the Wildcats (20-13) as they return to the NCAA tournament via the First Four at 8:10 p.m. on Tuesday against Wake Forest. The game will be shown on TruTV.

Iwundu was one of the centerpieces of a six-player recruiting class in 2013, joining Marcus Foster, among others. Iwundu was the second player in the group to commit to the Wildcats, coming just eight days after Foster became the first member of the group.

The first season went well. The Wildcats mixed young and old and made a run to the NCAA tournament before losing to Kentucky in the first round. Then things changed quickly.

The Wildcats went 15-17 the next season in a year marred by the suspension and eventual dismissal of Foster, the team’s leading scorer, as well as the transfer and dismissal of others. All of Iwundu’s recruiting classmates were gone, as well as the ’14 class.

“He was in that crossroads in kind of his life,” Weber said. “Do you go with this group and it’s the wrong turn, or do you stay on the straight and narrow? He made that decision.”

Two years later, Iwundu is one of the greatest all-time players in K-State history.

He might never see his number hanging in the rafters because of an All-America season, but he leads the school in career starts and only Mitch Richmond has done what he’s combined to do with points, rebounds and assists.

“I just gave a commitment to K-State,” Iwundu said. “Through everything, I was just helping my family. The just stayed with me, told me things would work out for itself. It has worked out for itself. I got a lot of opportunities for myself by sticking around, getting a chance to play in the NCAA tournament again before I’m out of K-State. So just a lot of things came out of it. Just had to stick through that.”

Iwundu has picked up his game lately, scoring in double figures in 13 of the last 15 contests.

He has four double-doubles during that stretch, and he’s steadily distributed the ball for the Wildcats.

His drive came alive, and Weber said it’s been obvious. When Iwundu plays at his best, the Wildcats benefit strongly.

“I think he’s made a big jump this last stretch of the season,” Weber said. “I think all of a sudden it hit him: this is it. We talked about it in our league, different players in the league have just — that last 10 games — kind of taken their teams on their back. Wes has done that for us.”

At one time Iwundu was headed to a finish as the only senior in his class, but he was joined by D.J. Johnson after he missed a season with injury and junior college transfer Carlbe Ervin, along with a few walk-ons.

Iwundu knows this is a chance for his group to finish their careers on a high note.

“It’s definitely a big accomplishment,” Iwundu said. “It’s a good feeling to be back to this point to get another opportunity to do some things this late in the season and make a deep run in this tournament.”

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