COLUMN: Awaji’s help could be crucial for team


Who would have thought that playing North Carolina Central in the middle of Big 12 Conference play would allow one of the K-State men’s basketball players to emerge from near obscurity?

Buchi Awaji came off the bench and scored 12 points against the Eagles last Tuesday. His performance during that game could have been the reason he got the chance to play against the Iowa State Cyclones on Saturday.

But head coach Frank Martin doesn’t play favorites. Before any player steps on the court for K-State, he must prove to Martin in practice that he can play defense up to Martin’s standards.

The Wildcats wouldn’t have been able to escape Ames, Iowa, with a win had it not been for Awaji. When the Cyclones’ Craig Brackins had completely taken over the game — scoring 16 straight points for the team in the first half — Awaji hit a crucial 3-pointer with three seconds left in the half to pull the Wildcats within five points at halftime.

Awaji’s shot came at a time when both Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen were struggling. Pullen only scored two points in the first half and finished with just eight, while Clemente had zero points in the first half and finished with nine points.

Awaji finished the game with just seven points, but he gave the Wildcats the offensive push they desperately needed.

Offense has never been a problem for Awaji. In 2007-08, at Citris Community College in Covina, Calif., he averaged 16.5 points on 54.9-percent shooting from the field, including hitting 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

If Awaji is to see more playing time, Chris Merriewether’s minutes would be greatly diminished. Merriewether is the epitome of what Martin looks for in his players. He is a solid defender, he hustles after loose balls and he does the little things that allow Pullen and Clemente to be effective.

Plus, he is one of the truly good guys in all of K-State sports. After the loss to Nebraska earlier this season, Merriewether was one of the few players who was willing to talk to the blood-thirsty media. He answered every question and didn’t try to dodge any. That night proved how much character he really had.

Merriewether’s only problem is that when he is on the court, he becomes an offensive liability. Merriewether averages just one point per game and sometimes looks lost on the offensive side of the ball.

K-State is a team built on defense and must take advantage of every chance it gets on offense.

As the end of the season looms closer, and with K-State having trouble getting off the NCAA tournament bubble, look for Awaji to provide the Wildcats with a much-needed offensive boost off the bench.