Two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine Shane Southwell would ever emerge as anything other than a role player for the Kansas State men’s basketball team.
He finished his sophomore season averaging just 3.2 points a game, and was making just 24 percent of his shots. But he had gone from starting 17 games as a freshman to just two in that second year. And as he looked to his junior year, he would have to deal with a new coach in Bruce Weber.
Somehow, everything just clicked for Southwell in the 2012-13 season. He scored 8.4 points per game and shot 45 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from long range.
And it all came after a move he didn’t want to make. The K-State coaching staff asked Southwell to move to power forward before the season started, and he was more than hesitant. Looking back, he said he was immature about it.
But after a few games at the position, Weber said the senior started to figure out ways he could exploit some of the bigger, slower players he lined up against.
“Shane realized that if big guys were guarding him that he could take advantage of them and get them out on the court and go screen and move that they would get lost and he could make shots,” he said.
That’s when Southwell said things started to change. He began to become more comfortable with his ability to shoot the ball, and the game slowed down.
“I was very immature my freshman year, my sophomore year as well,” he said. “I just relied on my natural talent. I never tried to get better, tried to be really good until my junior year. It takes a mature person to work on their game everyday when they know they have the talent.”
As the game slowed down, Southwell started functioning well within Weber’s motion offense. At first, he split time starting at the power forward spot with Nino Williams. But eventually, it became difficult not to have him on the court.
The reason Southwell is so important for the Wildcats is because he can do so much. Weber says he’s as a guy who could basically play at all five spots on the court. And with some experience and size issues this season, the 6-foot-7 senior just might do it.
“I think it will be a mixture and even a little point forward,” Weber said. “He could bring the ball up when people are pressuring us. Certain teams like to take the point guard away and we will just let Shane bring it up and get everyone out of there because he is good enough to do that… We can use him in so many different ways — I think that’s one of his strengths.”
As the Cats prepare to open the season, Southwell knows his role will be as important as ever. And he wants to take on the bigger role of being the go-to leader for the team.
“I have to be the leader,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself as being the leader of this team, I still have to get better at that. There’s just a lot of new guys, so it’s a little more difficult than it was last year for Rodney (McGruder) — it was pretty much older guys. “
To become a better leader, Southwell said he’s able to take parts of what former teammates have done as leaders.
Whether it be McGruder’s silent leadership by example or Jacob Pullen’s constant hard work from whistle to whistle, there is plenty for him to work with. Beyond that, Southwell said he draws inspiration from Victor Ojeleye, who was the most vocal leader he’s dealt with.
Southwell also gets inspiration and motivation from another passion in his life. A look on his Twitter page will often find lyrics from various hip-hop artists. Southwell said he listens to artists like Jay-Z, Drake and Kendrick Lamar for lyrical inspiration.
“Music means a lot to me,” Southwell said. “I don’t read a lot, so I use music sort of as my way of gaining knowledge, and a way to open my mind a little bit. Reading opens your mind, so I use music and lyrics as a way to open my mind.”
Following his Twitter page during the summer would have seen plenty of conversation regarding Johnny Manziel and his NCAA autograph scandal. That and a lawsuit between former players and the NCAA opened more debate about the possibility of paying college athletes.
Southwell was vocal about the subject, not because he wanted money, but because of what he hopes to do after his basketball career.
“I can’t play basketball forever, so I see myself in the future as some type of sports analyst or maybe even a coach,” he said. “I follow all types of sports, what’s going on with Johnny Manziel, all that kind of stuff.”
Other than his skills on the court, Southwell has become known in K-State lore for his resemblance to actor and musician Will Smith. During last season’s run to the Big 12 title, students started replacing Smith’s face on movie posters with the forward.
Southwell, who’s biggest media appearances beyond basketball have been interviewing LeBron James on BET and making Cosmopolitan’s hottest players in the NCAA tournament list, said he enjoys the comparisons.
“It’s funny, since I was a little kid everyone said I looked like Will Smith,” he said. “It’s funny, but at the same time it’s refreshing and great to see because it means people know who I am and I’m doing something well. I appreciate it.”