Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wildcats will have some big shoes to fill

Its leading scorer, the best shot blocker in school history and a “glue guy” that came up big a number of times.

That’s what the Kansas State men’s basketball team will lose as it turns its attention to next season.

Seniors Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving will be gone, and so to will the most winningest class in K-State history — with 101 wins.

McGruder has been a do-it-all type player for the Wildcats, leading them with 15.7 points per game this season, earning All-Big 12 first-team honors.

Henriquez had 64 blocks this season to add to his already school record mark at 210. Irving offered the Wildcats a stable contributor off the bench this season that was able to step in and provide solid defense, as well as offense on a number of occasions.

K-State coach Bruce Weber said he wished they could have had a better finish for the senior class after a second round upset loss to La Salle, 63-61.

“We had a special year, 27 wins, a Big 12 championship,” he said after the Wildcats’ season-ending loss to La Salle. “I hope they’re all proud of it.”

The Wildcats will return five players who started games this season, including leading assist man Angel Rodriguez. The K-State point guard will take on a bigger role next season, likely expected to raise his 11.7 points per game, and increase his assist total too.

Joining him will be guard Will Spradling, who started in 33 games this season, and averaged 7.5 points. The senior-to-be’s numbers took a dip after he was injured on Feb. 23.

On the inside, the Wildcats will return big man Thomas Gipson and hybrid forward Nino Williams.

But maybe one of the most important returners will be Shane Southwell, who came out of nowhere this season to become a reliable scoring option at 8.1 points per game. Southwell finished off his season with a 17-point performance against La Salle.

Southwell was thankful for the work put in by the first-year coaching staff to help him evolve his game.

“I got a lot better, especially with my shot,” he said. “I tried to be a little bit more aggressive, and I really had a coaching staff that believed in me a lot. I greatly appreciate every one of them because they didn’t have to give me a chance like this. I’m just thankful for that.”

The Wildcats will be looking from key contributors in other places too. Omari Lawrence and Adrian Diaz will return for their third seasons off the bench, while last year’s recruiting class of DJ Johnson and Michael Orris will enter its second year on campus.

Spradling said they will have something to try to build upon next season.

“We left a legacy obviously,” he said. “We hadn’t had a (league) title in 36 years. We left our mark.”

K-State will add four players with its upcoming recruiting class, including three that are already signed in guards Javon Thomas and Marcus Foster, and forward Wesley Iwundu. Forward Neville Fincher is expected to fill the final spot in the class.

Despite the early exit from the NCAA tournament, Southwell said there is a lot of positive to look back on from the past season, both for the seniors and those who will be returning.

“It was a really good season,” he said. “We did something K-State hasn’t done in a really long time and that’s something we can take to our grave. We get to put a banner up, we had a big time accomplishment, and we can’t let this loss, even though it hurts, take away from our year. We had a great year.”


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