Just one game into the Bruce Weber era, the new Kansas State men’s basketball coach will take his team national this week with a pair of games in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats will meet Lamar on ESPN 3 tonight at 7, and would play the winner of North Texas and Alabama-Huntsville on ESPN 2 on Tuesday at 9 p.m. with a win.
It was just eight months ago that Weber was dismissed from his job as the head coach at Illinois. His experience with K-State to that point came from catching a game on TV here and there, and the opportunity to be a part of NCAA Tournament coverage for CBS.
Weber admitted before this season started that he still knew very little about the team.
“Going into it, I knew a little bit,” he said. “You’re going channel surfing through ESPN and you watch a game here or there. I was in studio last year for CBS and followed their NCAA games — so I had a little bit of a feel, but I didn’t know what to expect.”
Weber was thrust into the limelight as a coach for a strange reason after taking over at Illinois for Bill Self, who left the job to coach at Kansas. Weber held a mock funeral for Self as he looked to get the school and the fanbase to move on.
It seemed to be an unforgettable performance from a coach the school was still learning about. Weber made them forget a little bit as the team went to the Sweet Sixteen in his first season there. In his second season, the team went 37-2 and lost in the national title game.
Rather than replace Self, this time Weber has moved into a position to go against Self.
Weber said he is prepared to meet the challenge of facing one of the nation’s top coaches in a rivalry contest.
“Everywhere I go, besides ‘welcome to K-State’, I hear ‘beat Kansas,’” he said. “When I took the job, that was one of the things (athletic director) John Currie asked me, ‘do you understand the challenge here, you already followed up Bill Self at Illinois, and you had to deal with that, now you’ve got to compete with them 90 miles away and the success they’ve had.’ That’s the fun of it.
“I don’t think coach Snyder came back because he was worried about Oklahoma or Texas, that’s why you coach. You want to coach against the best teams. If we’re going to have success as a program that means we’re competing with the best, and right now Kansas is obviously considered one of the top teams in the country.”
Weber will have his chance to show the nation his version of the Wildcats tonight, just seven months after K-State saw the five-year Frank Martin era come to an end.
He’ll start it with a game against one-time Texas Tech coach Pat Knight and Lamar. And with a win, he’d presumably face North Texas and star forward Tony Mitchell, who once committed to play for the Wildcats and then de-committed, and is thought to be a top 10 NBA Draft prospect.
Win both of those games, and the Wildcats will head to New York City for a pair of games in Madison Square Garden. The other regional hosts of the Tip-Off include Michigan, Pittsburgh and Virginia.
It all depends, of course, on how the team responds to its new coach and the new offense he put in place.
Senior forward Jordan Henriquez said everything is coming together under Weber though competitive practices and learning to be consistent everyday. Still, he admits it wasn’t easy to adjust to the swift change in coaches.
“It is a day-by-day process,” he said. “First it starts with us adjusting with the change. As a senior being coached by someone for three years and then coming into a new coach for your senior year, it is different. This is a huge adjustment and I feel like I am adjusting well.”
Weber’s track record has shown that he can not only produce successful teams, but take over teams and push them to new heights. At Southern Illinois he turned a program around, and at Illinois he took the team near the top of the college basketball world in just two seasons.
This K-State team appears to have the tools for a successful season. Weber said if it buys in, they could do some pretty good things.
“At Illinois I had some pretty talented guys, but they had a little bit of experience, not enough, and two years after that they were pretty good,” he said. “It’s a little bit similar (here), you’re trying to get Angel to buy in, at Illinois you’re trying to get Dee Brown and Deron (Williams) to buy in. It’s ‘hey this is OK, this system is good for you,’ Angel, Rodney, whoever, that’s the part you’ve got to work at.
“I think our coaches have done a great job of being interpersonal with the guys and all that stuff slowly, surely adds up.“You