Two years ago, around this time, Shane Southwell didn’t know where his future was headed.
The Wildcats had just been knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Syracuse, and Kansas State’s short two-game stint in the Big Dance was marred by the controversial suspension of senior Jamar Samuels.
Southwell didn’t want to be in Manhattan anymore. And he wasn’t the only one.
Now two years later, things are better for Southwell, and for everyone else who stuck it out for second-year coach Bruce Weber.
It hasn’t always been easy for Southwell, especially recently as he’s tried to fight back from an injury, but he’s turned into one of the most recognizable faces in the program.
“I was definitely leaving,” Southwell said. “If coach (Frank) Martin was still here, I was leaving. It’s not even debatable. That’s the past, I’m really focused on trying to have a good finish and keep winning. That’s something I can hang on to the rest of my life.”
Southwell averaged 3.2 points per game in his sophomore season under the Martin-led Wildcats, and was far from an offensive threat for K-State.
But under a new staff, and in a different offense — with a lot of work in a brand new Basketball Training Facility — Southwell has become better.
By the end of last season, Southwell was scoring 8.4 points per game, and settled into a role as a starter for the Wildcats and their third scoring option behind Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez. Most impressively, he shot 45 percent from long range.
“I’m still not really a scorer, I just got better at scoring,” Southwell said. “It’s a compliment to (the coaches), but also to me working hard. I worked really hard the past two years on my shot. Last year it was really good, the (coaches) just set a little confidence in me to help me improve every day.”
This season Southwell is scoring 9.9 points per contest for the Wildcats, who play at Oklahoma State tonight at 8 on ESPN, but he’s struggled since a Jan. 25 loss at Iowa State. The senior scored 14 points, but struggled in a few key possessions, including getting a game-tying 3-point shot blocked with 36 seconds to play.
After that game, Southwell went seven games before scoring in double figures again — this past Saturday at home against Iowa State — and missed two games with a foot injury.
Weber said Southwell’s injury and his poor shooting dwindled his confidence and affected his rhythm.
“He’s just got to get back to practice,” Weber said. “He’s got to get some confidence, got to get back in the gym. Now he’s moving and running and it’s just getting some game rhythm back. He is not that spectacular athlete that he can just go without practice. He needs rhythm and routine, and getting that timing back.”
This past Thursday, all those things had Weber seeking to find a way to help Southwell get over his troubles. So he met with the senior to talk about how he could get his confidence back. And he tried to identify the problem.
“He’s lost a little confidence, he wasn’t playing well and then he got hurt, that was the message (to him),” he said. “I think he’s overdoing, dribbling too much, trying to make the fancy pass. You know, make the simple pass and play, that’s why he was so good last year, he let the game come to him.”
On Saturday, that talk seemed to work. Southwell made his first four shots from the field, grabbed five rebounds and had three steals. But he missed his final eight shots and finished with 13 points.
Southwell said he could tell that things got better when he started letting the game come to him. And when the Wildcats were struggling in the second half, he tried to take it upon himself to make a big play. And he missed, every time.
“I played bad in the second half and it was all because of what coach said, I wasn’t patient, I wasn’t letting the game come to me,” he said. “I was forcing it. But it was baby steps. It was taking what the defense gave me, trying to contribute. It was getting into the offense and taking shots when they came my way.”
It was far from a breakout game for Southwell, who admitted he doesn’t feel like he completely put the slump behind him. But the senior said he isn’t worried about how much he’s scoring going forward, as long as his team is winning.
“I just want to win, if we win every game for the rest of the year and I average two points, I’ll be fine,” Southwell said. “If I have a breakout game and we lose, I’ll want to go back to scoring two points and winning. I don’t think the team really needs me that much to score. If we hold teams to 50 points, we’ll be fine.”
Southwell admits coming off the bench lately hasn’t always been the easiest role for him. But that might just be the pride of a player that knows he can do better. Instead, he’s tried to learn from it.
When he’s not on the court, he said he tries to take a more active role in giving his insight to other players based on what he’s seeing. Now, he’s trying to help his team more than ever.
Southwell will play in his final regular season game in Bramlage Coliseum this Saturday when the Wildcats host Baylor. While he said he’s tried not to look ahead, he admitted it’s hard not to think about how quickly things are winding down in his college career.
“The fire runs through you at night when you’re sleeping and you’re thinking about it,” he said. “Man, it’s really winding down, and you just want to go out there and play well and give it all you’ve got. I’m not really focused on myself right now, I’m really focused on the team.”
And even though Southwell said he would be fine not scoring as long as his team could win, Weber said they would clearly benefit if Southwell could get his game going once again.
“We need him, we need him to make shots,” Weber said. “We need to get him going. He needs a nice finish for his career.”