Jellison: Despite setback, Cats still progressing

By Joel Jellison

If Saturday felt like a reason to give up, then stop. You’re doing it wrong.

This was a team that was built from recruiting trips last season, for the most part, teamed with a few guys with starting experience and long-time role players.

(Kansas State’s Nino Williams looks for a score in the paint against Kansas on Saturday in Lawrence).

It was going to take time for them to figure it all out. And after awhile, they did. But Saturday’s game in Lawrence was just their second true-road game of the season and, let’s be honest, it was the first real taste the Wildcats’ four freshmen contributors got of what a Big 12 environment would be like.

And then it just happened to be a rivalry game inside college basketball’s toughest place to play.

I thought Thomas Gipson’s thoughts after the game put it best. They needed to move forward from the game, forget about it and focus on the next game. Which just happens to be an Oklahoma team that upset unbeaten Iowa State in Norman, Okla., on Saturday.

When the Wildcats tipoff against the Sooners at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Bramlage Coliseum — on ESPN2 — we’ll all see the first step toward moving forward. And everyone will find out if K-State’s freshman foursome can get back to improving one day at a time.

I think one of the biggest clichés in sports is the whole taking it one day at a time, trying to go 1-0 each game mantra. But of course, it’s a sound philosophy to take when your team is as young and filled with inexperience as this one is.

Yeah, Will Spradling has been around, and started, all four years he’s been here. But he’s still even more of a role player for the Wildcats, playing a bigger role in distribution and defense than in personally putting points on the scoreboard.

Thomas Gipson and Shane Southwell are two players who are really starting to come into their own now.

And then you get to the freshmen group of Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson. That’s two starters, the first man off the bench and the next option up at guard.

As good as Foster has looked this season, Saturday reminded us all that he’s still a freshman, and he’s still got a little way to go. These are four freshmen you can build a program with, and they were playing against a team that fields three freshmen starters who might get drafted in the first round of the NBA draft.

The K-State upperclassmen might deny it, but it sure seemed that the environment over there got to the younger players, even if just a little.

The best part about that game now, is that it’s over. Now K-State truly can move on and focus on the next one up. And the freshmen can get back to trying to improve as the season progresses.

The great thing about conference play in college basketball is there’s always a next game until you get to the postseason. That means K-State has 15 more opportunities to see what it’s capable of.

Sure, every other team has the chance to improve just as much a long the way, but not every team has a group of players that look like they are far from reaching their ceiling.

Keep in mind that Thomas has only played in a handful of games this season, and Iwundu is still learning to play at his height and position after a 5-inch growth spurt before his senior year of high school. Johnson has already played better than expected, and Foster is indentified, all around, as the player who puts more emphasis and time into improving than any other guy on the roster.

My best advice for anyone still fretting over Saturday’s game in Lawrence, just move past it and forget about it. The season doesn’t end on January 11 — there’s still a long season ahead of us all.

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