After three and a half months on the job, Kansas State men’s basketball coach Jerome Tang said things are just now starting to feel real.
Standing in the foyer of the K-State Alumni Association Center Monday evening during the Manhattan Catbacker event, Tang said that one of the reasons things feel different was the fact that five of the Wildcats’ six newcomers arrived on campus over the weekend, officially giving the first-year head coach more than two players on his roster.
But that wasn’t the biggest reason.
“It feels more real to me because my wife and daughter are here and my two dogs are here,” Tang said. “I wake up in the morning and it’s a little different feeling. I don’t feel like I’m on vacation or this is just pretend. It’s sinking in.”
Tang said his full attention has been on recruiting, both for this next season and for the next several seasons to come.
Right now, K-State has eight players signed for the 2022-23 season, and Tang has stated several times that while he doesn’t feel that they’ll use all 13 scholarships for this next season, they would like to have 11 players signed for the 2022-23 campaign.
“The traits are going to stay the same,” Tang said of the players that will fill the final three spots. “We want to find winners and guys that work. We’re deciding how much of this are (we) building for the future and how much of this is for right now. That’s the balance, that’s the fight. That’s the negotiation that we’re having within the staff as far as which one is better.”
As for what position those final three will play, Tang is not too concerned. Right now, the roster includes three guards (Markquis Nowell, Cam Carter and Dorian Finnister), four forwards (Ismeal Massoud, Nae’Qwan Tomlin, David N’Guessan and Taj Manning) and one center (Jerrell Colbert). Since that distribution is so even (just about everyone except for Nowell could play in the front or backcourt) Tang is more concerned with finding the best players available to fill the final three-plus spots, the rest will work itself out.
“We need a little bit everywhere,” Tang said. “But we’re not going to take a position because it’s (a position of need). We’re going to take the best player available that fits what we want and figure out (the rest). If that means that (Carter), (Nowell) and (Tomlin) have to play 34 minutes per game instead of 30, then (we’ll) have to adjust. But we’re not going to bring in a kid just to fill a position. We’re going to bring in the best fit and the best K-State player that can help us win games. Whether that’s this year or a year from now.”
And while position is not factoring into who the next three players K-State takes, how quickly the players will be able to contribute is. Scholarships used on players with just one or two years of eligibility might have a more immediate impact, but a player with three or four years might have a higher ceiling and a larger hand in the elevation of the program.
“It’s really tough because you don’t know how much immediate impact someone is going to bring,” Tang said. “And then, with the portal, you don’t know how much building to the future they’re going to be around (for). There’s a balance there and there’s a risk either way. We just have to do the best job we can in evaluating character and their circle and how much they’re committed to the school, the staff and the program. That’s the million dollar question right there.”
Tang acknowledged that there have been some unexpected challenges in recruiting since he arrived at K-State. While the K-State coaching staff has had some victories since arriving in Manhattan, they’ve also came up short on some key targets.
When Tang arrived at Baylor, recruiting was very difficult. While the situation at K-State right now is considerably easier than those initial years in Waco, it’s still more of a challenge than he’s had in the last several years.
“The last three years or so at Baylor, we were picking and not recruiting,” Tang said. “Now you have to really, really recruit and turn over every rock. We’ve got to be active pursuers, and that’s caught me a little off guard.
“I have to readjust my eyes. I’m not looking for the one or two pieces that are going to help us win a national championship. I’m trying to put a team together that can help me win in the Big 12 which then can propel you from there.”
Tang admitted that over the last several years, the recruiting for the next season had normally been put to bed by this point in the year, however, he’s still confident that there are several high levels players, and hopefully a surprise or two, still waiting for the Wildcats.
“I didn’t recruit late the last two years,” Tang said. “So I can’t really compare what was available before at this time to what’s available now. But there are some quality players that are still available that we’re pursuing. Something always happens late in the summer time that you don’t always expect, so I’m interested to see what that’s going to be.”