One last game in Bramlage for Wildcat seniors

Senior forward D.J. Johnson shoots a layup during the basketball game between K-State and Oklahoma State in Bramlage Coliseum on Feb. 22, 2017. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

For five Wildcat seniors, Saturday will be the last time they step on the Bramlage Coliseum court in a Wildcat uniform.

While they will go out together, the path leading to senior night has been very different for all five.

That group starts with D.J. Johnson, who has donned a Wildcat uniform the longest of the five. The forward came to K-State as part of head coach Bruce Weber’s initial recruiting class. Johnson has seen a Big 12 championship and two NCAA tournament appearances in his time here.

“I hope K-State fans realize and appreciate what D.J. has gone through,” Weber said. “He won a Big 12 championship as a freshman, he talked on the radio the other day, he went through all those things; Brazil, Italy, Switzerland, New York three times, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, so he’s had a great experience.”

Johnson’s time has not been without its struggles, though. The big man has fought through many injuries and endured some difficult, disappointing seasons. Despite all the obstacles, the he has fought to the finish line.

“He told me in that locker room a year ago ‘I think I’m done, Coach, I’m gonna quit,’ he could’ve quit this year,” Weber said. “He’s still got complications from the surgery, he sprains his ankle, but he keeps coming back and fighting.”

Wesley Iwundu has also been through some difficult times with this K-State team. Iwundu helped the Wildcats to an NCAA tournament birth his freshman year. A year later, K-State struggled with disciplinary issues and saw a mass exodus of players depart at season’s end, including every member of the 2013 recruiting class besides Iwundu, who chose to stick around.

“Wes has stuck with it,” Weber said. “That group went the wrong way and he didn’t follow them and he took care of business. I think he’s got a future ahead of him. He’s done something no one’s ever done with 1000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. That’s special.”

Iwundu said he is proud of his development as a player both on and off the court.

“(The seniors) have all grew up from the time we got here until now,” Iwundu said. “I just look back and I guess I grew more into a man. I’m happy with my time here … I pretty much developed as a player on and off the court. And that’s probably the biggest thing I’m proud of.”

Unlike Iwundu and Johnson, the other three seniors all joined the program right before the 2015-2016 season.

Carlbe Ervin II has given the Wildcats some much needed back-court depth since his transfer from Connors State College. Ervin doesn’t see a ton of minutes but does all the little things and rebounds much better than what most would expect from a 6’3″ point guard.

“Carlbe I love because he’s had the best attitude of anybody,” Weber said. “His minutes haven’t been there, he thought about quitting last year and going (Division II). But he said, ‘Coach I want to be here, I want to be a part of it, I want to get a degree, I want to help us win and I want to get in the NCAA (Tournament).'”

Austin Budke and Zach Winter both walked on to the program after spending time at Hutchinson Community College. Despite the walk-on status, Budke has received considerable playing time in his K-State career. Budke was even awarded a scholarship in January for his final semester at K-State.

Weber praised the duo for embracing their roles to better the team.

“I think he’s a great story,” Weber said about Budke. “The baddest a** chemical engineer in the country. He’s become a cult hero with the people … every day he comes to practice, he talks trash, he plays hard, he plays scout squad, he plays regular squad, whatever we need him to do.”

“He just comes every day,” Weber said about Winter. “No one can stop him in practice; they know he’s lefty but goes to the hoop every time. Those guys have had a great experience, they’ve loved it and you really appreciate them.”

The five seniors will play in Bramlage Coliseum for the final time Saturday at noon against Texas Tech.

I am a senior in Journalism. I like sports and things.