Bruce Weber could tell Xavier Sneed wasn’t himself the first week of June. And it worried Weber.
At the time, Sneed was just days removed from making one of the most stressful decisions of his life: returning to Kansas State for his senior season instead of remaining in the NBA draft pool. It was a process that took far longer than expected to play out; Weber admitted he thought Sneed would declare for the draft without hiring an agent — leaving the door open for his return, since he still would be an amateur — and earn a handful of workout invites from NBA teams. Soon after, Sneed would take their feedback and withdraw from the draft.
He did — it just took until the final day players had to make up their minds.
All the stress that went into the decision took its toll on Sneed.
“Xavier went through physical stress and mental stress,” Weber told reporters last week, one day after the Wildcats started preseason practices. “That was physically and mentally draining for him. As soon as we ended (the season), he went, and he was gone almost a month. He didn’t go home. Then he had to come here, and that first week of June I was really worried about him, because you could see the weight on his shoulders, (you could see it in) his face.”
Now, the player expected to be the team’s star this upcoming season is smiling again.
“He’s a little more happy, feels good about himself,” Weber said, “and he’s ready to go.”
But Sneed didn’t begin the preseason at optimum health. Weber said the 6-foot-5, 220-pound St. Louis native has been dealing with tendinitis.
“They did a little procedure,” Weber said, “(so we) sat him out three or four days.”
The Wildcats won’t do anything to aggravate the injury.
“We’re just trying to bring him along,” Weber said. “Obviously he’s a veteran. He’s been through it. The one thing is, I’ve got to be careful with him.”
Sneed shed little light on the issue, simply saying everything the team’s training staff has performed is “precautionary” in nature. He’s making sure to play it safe, too, noting he’d even taken some days off “just to keep my body fresh and ready to go.”
It’s all about making sure he’s as close to 100% as possible once the season tips off at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 against North Dakota State at Bramlage Coliseum.
“For me, (it’s about) taking it step by step,” he said, “being in the best shape that I can for my body, doing the right things for my body, day by day.”
Weber’s counting on Sneed doing just that. Entering his eighth season as K-State’s head coach, Weber pointed out Sneed’s mental and physical health wasn’t only important for the player himself; it’s because the Wildcats need Sneed — along with fellow senior Makol Mawien and junior Cartier Diarra — to lead their newcomers.
“We were lucky last year with everybody back, we were way ahead,” said Weber, referring to a team that leaned on the senior trio of Barry Brown Jr., Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade. “We didn’t have to push them as much in the summer. This year, I would tell you we used almost all our minutes every week — even in the fall we’ve had to do more.”
So Weber issued a challenge to his veterans.
“I told the older guys, ‘Do not get bored. We’ve got to help those other guys,’” Weber said.
That includes David Sloan, who joined the team as a junior college transfer. Sloan, a 6-foot point guard, had a decorated two-year career at John A. Logan College in Cartersville, Ill., where he helped the Volunteers to a 53-11 overall record and a pair of conference titles. He was a junior college All-American last season, and he led the National Junior College Athletic Association in both total assists and assists per game each of the last two years. As a freshman, he handed out 304 assists (9.5 per game) before upping that total to 326 (10.2 per game) last season.
But his K-State career got off to a rough start after injuring his wrist. After undergoing corrective surgery, Sloan sat out the entire summer.
“It was hard for him at first,” Weber said. “He had the surgery that first couple of weeks, but he likes to play. Now it’s three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, six weeks (he’s out).”
During that time, Sloan worked solely with Ben O’Donnell, the Wildcats’ assistant strength and conditioning coach. For eight hours a week, every week, Sloan rehabbed under O’Donnell’s watchful eyes. Once he finally returned to the court, Sloan had to knock off the rust that had accumulated during his time on the sideline.
“That first few days back, he really was behind. I thought, ‘Man, this might take a while,” Weber said. “But (the) second week, now he’s clicking. It’s not pure or anything, but he’s clicking.”
Sloan wasn’t the only newcomer dealing with summer hardships. The other members of the Wildcats’ 2019 recruiting class — freshmen forwards Montavious Murphy and Antonio Gordon along with guard DaJuan Gordon — took time getting acclimated with the intensity of a college offseason workout program. Murphy was hindered by an undisclosed ailment, Weber said, but added that it was nothing serious.
“They all go through it,” Weber said. “When you’re a freshman, obviously things hurt a lot worse, especially when they say you’ve got to run more tomorrow. But ... I give (the freshmen) credit. They fought back. They’re finishing up their conditioning.”
Even more experienced Wildcats couldn’t avoid the injury bug this summer, though.
Junior forward Levi Stockard III made more gains than anyone early in the summer, Weber said. Then Stockard injured his foot.
“We rested him. I think he’s OK now,” Weber said. “We changed his orthotics. So he went backward a little bit; he’s got to catch up.”
It was a similar story with junior guard Mike McGuirl, who Weber said “was really making strides, feeling good about himself.” Then McGuirl broke his hand and sat out six weeks. Yet in the Wildcats’ first two preseason practices, McGuirl impressed the coaching staff.
“It doesn’t look like he’s sat out for six weeks,” Weber said. “He’s done a nice job for us.”