Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jellison: KSU seniors carved path for next year

There was a clear theme to the questions four-year seniors Shane Southwell and Will Spradling were asked Friday night following Kansas State’ season-ending loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.

How do you want to be remembered or what do you think your legacy will be?

Both players had similar answers. They hated to lose, but seemed content with the way their careers ended.

Most probably wouldn’t have been. Spradling made just two baskets in his final two games — his only one against Kentucky coming on a desperation, one-handed overhead throw toward the basket.

Spradling wanted to be remembered as a guy who did the little things for his team. And he knew the end of his career at K-State just signaled the beginning of his next career in accounting.

Southwell’s final game ran the gamut of emotions. He brought the Wildcats within two points during a stretch of three 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half. But he also missed his other seven shots, and picked up a technical foul.

He said Friday night, in a serious tone, he wants to be remembered as a guy who improved all four seasons at K-State. But Southwell still couldn’t resist trying to get a laugh, popping a couple Fresh Prince of Bel Air look-a-like jokes on his way out.

In ways, their memories and legacy will be complicated. There’s no real easy way to paint it, but both Spradling and Southwell spent time in their careers as guys that were either loved or loathed by fans.

The thing that can never be doubted about Spradling is his toughness and his stability. Although he suffered through his bouts of inconsistency as a shooter, he was a player who battled through a nasty sternum injury as a junior. And throughout his senior season, it was clear that things were just smoother when he was on the floor.

It was a little different for Southwell. His first two years were up and down playing for Frank Martin, showing the ability to do a lot of things at a long 6-foot-7. But he developed and helped the Wildcats in their run for a Big 12 title last year as the team’s third-leading scorer.

Southwell came back this year and struggled with his shot, then got hot, then got hurt, then struggled again. But its because of Southwell that K-State was even in its final two games.

He was an emotional player who was often difficult to understand. That’s not his fault, either. But for a fan, it could be hard to know if he was angry, upset, or not taking things seriously.

I don’t think it matters much how either Southwell or Spradling appeared on the court this season, or how they finished their careers struggling with their shot.

What those two seniors did, and even Omari Lawrence and Ryan Schultz to some extent, was lay the path for what might come next year.

There can be no hiding it for K-State, the expectations will be high next season. The Wildcats exceeded expectations this year, and they return so many major players, perhaps enough to make another title run.

The role Southwell and Spradling played was to guide a group of four freshmen in the right direction.

Guys like Marcus Foster, Nigel Johnson, Jevon Thomas and Wesley Iwundu were expected to hit the ground running for K-State. And without Spradling and Southwell, I’m not so sure that would have happened.

This senior group was there to pull that young group back together from a disappointing 2-3 start, and win 10 straight. They were able to put together an impressive 15-2 record inside Bramlage Coliseum, nearly winning every Big 12 game at home — a feat only Kansas achieved this season.

And though these four seniors are moving on, they leave behind a young group that’s better now for having played with them and learned from them.

After all, these were seniors — Spradling and Southwell particularly — who were ready to leave K-State two years ago during the Martin fiasco. They stayed, made it work and made sure the freshmen stuck it out and kept fighting early in the year.

Next season’s squad will also return its unquestioned team leader in Thomas Gipson. The Wildcats were 20-13 with just two true post players. Next season they will have four players inside.

And while they lose scorers in Spradling and Southwell, they have a better- developed Foster, with transfer Justin Edwards, whom Foster believes will surpass him as the team leader in scoring.

Southwell and Spradling might have gone out somewhat quietly at the end, but not without setting the Wildcats on the right path. Now, it’s up the guys they mentored this season to stay on that track.


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