Kaosi Ezeagu

Kaosi Ezeagu is part of Kansas State’s 2020 signing class after enrolling in January. He received a waiver from the NCAA on Wednesday that will allow him to play as soon as the 2020-21 season tips off.

It’s not that Kaosi Ezeagu has a mean streak on the court; he just plays hard.

That intensity, among many other attributes, already has caught the attention of his teammates on Kansas State’s men’s basketball team. Ezeagu is a mid-year transfer from Texas-El Paso. He left UTEP last semester and committed and signed with the Wildcats last month.

He won’t be able to take part in an actual game until next season. But he’s already making his presence felt where he can.

“He’s very physical,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said Tuesday. “He gives us an athletic guy. He runs. He plays his butt off. High motor.”

Freshman forward Montavious Murphy, who has had to battle Ezeagu in the post in practice, noticed that quickly.

“I just learned that anything goes down there in the paint with him,” Murphy said. “I’m excited about it.”

Senior forward Makol Mawien also learned that things had changed after Ezeagu arrived. Mawien, Weber said, saw “that he had to practice a lot harder every day.” Murphy and Mawien aren’t the only ones.

“Kaosi,” Weber said, “has made a couple guys quit in practice.”

It’s a gift and a curse.

“It’s good,” said Weber, speaking of Ezeagu specifically before turning to his team. “It’s bad (for the other guys), but it’s good.”

Yet that ferocity might not even be his most conspicuous quality.

“He’s pretty strong,” Weber said. “They laugh at me because I’ll go set a screen on them and knock them (back). It’s ‘old man strength.’ Some guys just have that strength, that physicality. Other guys don’t. Kaosi definitely — I don’t know if it’s ‘old man strength’ with him, but he definitely has some strength.”

Liveliness and power aside, Ezeagu is far from a finished product.

A 6-foot-10, 245-pound forward from Brampton, Ontario, Ezeagu played just one season at UTEP. Appearing in 29 games — he started the Miners’ final seven games last season — he exhibited signs as a potential top-flight defender, leading the team in blocked shots with 24. Offensively, Ezeagu remains a work in progress; he averaged just 3.2 points per game last season, though he shot a team-best 56.9% (37 of 65) from the field.

The Wildcats, of course, knew about Ezeagu’s raw — albeit promising — game when they signed him.

“He’s got to get his skills better, there’s no doubt,” Weber said. “But we’ve harped on him — hand-eye coordination, footwork, skills, things like that, which a lot of big guys need. But man, if you’re not ready, you’ll get coldcocked — and not like by a punch, but by his body or an elbow or something.”

Ezeagu has taken the coaching staff’s words to heart — he’s not wasting a second trying to get up to speed with K-State’s concepts. So committed is Ezeagu that Murphy isn’t sure his newest teammate ever leaves the practice facility.

“He doesn’t really go home that much. He’s always in here — literally always in here,” Murphy said with laugh. “I’m coming out of class and he’ll be in here on his phone. And (he’s here) at night. You can just tell he’s a guy who wants to learn. ... Just very bright.”

Weber walked back Murphy’s compliment ever so slightly: Part of the reason Ezeagu spends so much time at the practice facility is because he can’t travel with the team.

Still, Weber didn’t want to downplay Ezeagu’s dedication. Nor what it might mean for the Wildcats in the years to come.

“He is putting time in, and that’s good. I’ve talked to him about, in a way, being a leader in the future,” Weber said. “He’s intelligent. He’s a good young man. He has a great work ethic. I said, ‘I’m not asking you to (be a leader) now, because you’re redshirting. But you can do it by example.’ Obviously, if ‘Monte’ (Murphy) noticed that, then that’s a good thing. That’s a great example. That’s great leadership. That’s got to continue.”

Weber never wants Ezeagu’s attention to detail and passion for the game to subside. That’s because he wants it to rub off on Murphy and fellow freshman forward Antonio Gordon.

In Weber’s mind, if Ezeagu doesn’t mind spending hours upon hours in the gym — time that can’t be mandated or enforced by the coaching staff — what excuse can Gordon or Murphy offer?

“’You’ve got a chance, now what are you going to do with it? You going to go party Friday, Saturday and Sunday? Or are you going to get into the gym?’” said Weber, referencing his conversations with Gordon and Murphy. “That’s the step when you become special. ... They’re going to have to come in on their own and really take that step. Kaosi is a great example right now.”