Last season, the Big 12 owned the best RPI in the country. And next week, the conference is likely to produce two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft.
But as college teams gather to practice for next season, Kansas State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber thinks it could be another big year for the Big 12.
“We feel good about our group,” Weber said Tuesday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference, “but when you start looking around and talking about the other schools and the ones they picked up, who they have returning — we have some very good kids returning — I don’t know if it can be better, but it can be very competitive with where we were last year, and maybe more seasoned.”
The Wildcats lose just four players from last year’s squad, with only two being major contributors. K-State returns five players who started at least one game last year, and adds two transfers and three recruits to the overall depth of the team.
Weber said most of the players have been around long enough to know what’s expected of them, and the three new ones are mixing in nicely.
“We have returning guys that were here but didn’t get to play last year, so they’re not new faces, but they’re being held more accountable — it’s their turn now,” he said. “We do have three new players with Stephen Hurt, Tre Harris and Malek Harris. I think the biggest thing when you talk about the workouts is we’ve got a lot of competition. I think we’re going to have great depth. My staff and I are going to have to do a good job of using a lot of players.”
Weber said he likes what he’s seen from the recruits so far, with Hurt adding another big body to roam in the post, and Malek Harris bringing additional athleticism so far. He noted that he’s been most impressed with the development of Tre Harris so far.
The Wildcats ended last season with numerous injuries down in the post. DJ Johnson was hurt in the season-ending loss to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams both joined him with surgeries.
That left transfer Brandon Bolden to fill the void for K-State during spring workouts. And now with the summer workouts underway, Bolden and Hurt are strongly competing at that spot.
“Brandon got all of the attention in the spring, and now with him and Stephen Hurt and Nino, we at least have a little competition,” Weber said. “I do not think we will have Thomas or DJ the rest of the summer until at least August. Brandon gets a lot of reps, and he has gone much harder because of the competition.”
The other key addition for the Wildcats is transfer Justin Edwards, who has grown his game since arriving in Manhattan. Edwards came to K-State from Maine as an athletic player who lived and died at the rim.
But Weber said he’s added long-range shooting to his arsenal and developed his body. And everyone knows he can jump out of the gym, too.
“(He’s got) a legit vertical jump of 46 (inches),” Weber said. “With our guys we always try to do the NBA testing, and just that says a lot. He’s strong and has a strong upper body — he’d not lifted weights much previously so he’s really developed his upper body. He can shoot the three-ball very well which has been our biggest surprise.
“Even with him there’s competition. You’ve got to play every day. If you don’t, someone else will out compete you.”
Weber on future
With various changes to the NCAA landscape being discussed as lawsuits arise and are settled, and new issues coming up all the time, Weber talked about what he’d like to see as a response on Tuesday.
And that’s getting ahead of it before it becomes a problem for everybody.
“I think everyone realizes we’re in for a change in the next 10 years,” he said. “I think it would help if our conferences and the NCAA get together and try to attack it ahead of time before someone tells us what we’re going to do.”
Weber also said he wasn’t sure if any future changes, including paying athletes, could drastically change the way recruiting works. He said the current transfer system, which he’s stated previously has become free agency in college sports, is a bigger problem in his mind.
“You’ll recruit your kids and get involved with them early,” he said. “Now, more than anything, it’s trying to keep them. With all the transfers, it’s as much a dilemma as it is with the recruiting process to begin with.”