Mike McGuirl embraces role as lone senior on young Wildcat squad

Senior guard Mike McGuirl charges the basket during the men's basketball 79-63 victory over Iowa State in the 2019-20 regular season finale at Bramlage Coliseum in March 2020. (File Photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The men’s basketball program is known for its player development, producing many athletes that found success from their freshman to senior seasons.

The Wildcats have that this year.

The 2020-2021 men’s squad is very young, consisting of 11 freshmen and sophomores and two juniors. There’s just one senior — guard Mike McGuirl.

McGuirl was a redshirt for most of his freshman season in 2017, but it was burned by head coach Bruce Weber late in the season when then-starting point guard Kamau Stokes went down with an injury. McGuirl told Weber he wanted to play to help the team instead of watching from the sideline and preserving his redshirt.

McGuirl ended up playing in 12 games in 2017 – scoring in eight of those games and averaging 12.5 minutes per game. McGuirl was also a key contributor in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament that year, scoring 17 points against the Creighton Blue Jays in the round of 64.

That is when the Connecticut-native showcased his potential. He has seen action in almost every game since his freshman season, and he is now the last player left on the Wildcat’s roster from the Elite Eight run in 2017 and Big 12 Conference championship in 2018.

“This wasn’t something I could have seen coming,” McGuirl said in a Zoom interview in May. “I am happy to be [a Wildcat]. Everybody had to make their own personal decisions with their lives. I am happy I get one more year to be a Wildcat, and I am going to go out the right way.”

In a year where the team is in a rebuilding phase, McGuirl’s leadership is vital to the team. With plenty of speed bumps this season, McGuirl tries to keep this team together.

“He has shown [his leadership] so far in practice,” Weber said. “He has definitely led by example. Another aspect of leadership is gaining the respect of the younger players and being there to help them.”

Junior guard Rudi Williams, a transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, is one of the older players with McGuirl and became one of the leaders on the team as well. But Williams says he still looks up to McGuirl.

“He leads by example,” Williams said. “He makes sure everyone stays in the gym and works out in our group chats. He was the first one in the gym and he stayed the latest. Nobody needs to tell Mike to watch film and to be at practice on time. He is an example kind of guy. He sets the standard. When I first arrived, I looked at him to see how things are done around here.”

McGuirl is not the biggest talker. Williams says he is a man of few words, but by his actions, he demands the respect of his teammates.

“He is a good leader,” Williams said. “He is not going to say much, and he is not going to yell — I have only seen him yell like once or twice — he is going to just do it and you are going to follow him because he is doing it the right way.”

Six games into the 2020 season, McGuirl leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game, along with 17 total assists. He also scored 22 points in two of the Wildcat’s losses this year — against Drake and Fort Hays State.

Going from 12.5 minutes per game his freshman year to playing at least 31 minutes per game this season, McGuirl has come a long way since 2017.

“It means a lot to [McGuirl],” Weber said in his press conference Monday morning. “He has worked very hard to get to this point. [McGuirl] and DaJuan [Gordon] came back early [this season] even though they could not get into the facility for almost two months. [McGuirl] wants to have a really successful season for our team and for himself.”

From an Elite Eight run to a Big 12 Championship, McGuirl has accomplished a lot in his years at Kansas State — and he’s not finished yet.

“For him, this year is an opportunity for him to really become the player we all hoped for and have great success,” Weber said. “This is a totally new role for him, and he has also got to figure that out. I am pleased with what he has done. Let the offense come. Take what the defense gives you and help lead our team. If he does that, he is going to be successful and it will give us a chance to be successful.”

McGuirl gets his next chance to lead the Wildcats on the floor on Tuesday night as K-State opens up conference play at Iowa State.