Kansas State basketball head coach Bruce Weber shared his thoughts on the upcoming season, his roster development and the new name, image and likeness rules in a one-on-one interview at the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tip-Off in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Wildcats face a couple of tough early-season tests when they come back to Kansas City for the Hall of Fame Classic, where they will play Arkansas and either Illinois or Cincinnati. They also play Marquette, Nebraska and Wichita State later in the year.
“I think there’s some cool games this year,” Weber said. “You got the former Big 8 team in Nebraska. You got Wichita — we haven’t played them in a lot of years, and you go down there, our fans always like that. Then, Marquette, you got Shaka [Smart] coming back. Non-conference will test us.”
This is a new-look K-State team that said goodbye to five players from this past season’s squad and welcomed in three big-time transfers in what has become a trend of roster turnover in college basketball and for K-State.
One of the players that transferred in is from former Big 12 opponent Missouri. That transfer is none other than fifth-year senior guard Mark Smith.
“Defensively, the habits [Smith] had — you don’t change habits real easily. He’s got to change those habits. Not that Missouri is wrong or Illinois is wrong, but we just have a different system,” Weber said. “He’s going to pick those up. It’s going to take time.”
Weber also said bringing back Mike McGuirl for his extra year of eligibility from the COVID-19 season is a huge recruiting win. He’s going to look for more leadership from McGuirl as he works to build a legacy.
“He wants to have a special year. Not only for himself, but for K-State basketball,” Weber said. “He’s been a part of a [Big 12] Championship and an Elite 8, but now he’s in a different role. That was Dean Wade’s team, that was Barry Brown’s team. Now it’s Mike McGuirl’s team. I think he wants to leave that legacy.”
Weber is also looking to his sixth-year senior for leadership on and off the floor.
“Mike is a leader by example,” Weber said. “The thing I’ve tried to emphasize with him is that you don’t have to be loud and cut somebody out, but saying something on the side, in the bus, on the plane. Making sure you hold them accountable goes a long way.”
K-State also has a new face on its coaching staff, with former Wildcat Curtis Kelly serving as a graduate student manager this season. He joins Shane Southwell as the second former K-State standout returning to help coach this season, something Weber has tried to foster throughout his career.
“It’s important to me that the former players help you, help our program,” Weber said. “I want to give back to them. I want them to be assistant coaches. I want them to help their futures. It’s like being a proud father. It’s important, but it’s also great for the program to have former guys back.”
Coming into this season, K-State brings back a couple of solid returning players, including sophomores Nijel Pack and Davion Bradford.
“I tell [Pack] to add a little pizazz to his game. We need somebody to make plays at the end of shot clocks,” Weber said. “I think that’s where he could take a step. That and being vocal. He’s a smart young man, really knows the game, really loves school. Now it would help if he used his voice a little bit and helped the other guys.”
Bradford averaged 7.7 points per game this past season but struggled with consistency across his 25 starts.
“He had a great finish. The last game [at the Big 12 Tournament]. His big thing is consistency,” Weber said. “He’d have a good game. He’s just such a good kid, smiling happy. Well, the next game, then he was sad. Then the next game. He just needs to be consistent.”
On top of the on-court opponents, another thing Weber will have to contend with over the next few years is the NCAA’s new rules on players profiting from their name, image and likeness.
“I worry about it, I’ll be honest,” Weber said. “I don’t think nationally the word has got out how well treated our players are. I’ve heard guys on national broadcasts say, ‘The NCAA is abusing these student-athletes.’ That’s wrong. Ask our guys how many times they’re hungry, they get four meals a day. Not three — four. They’re treated well, they get cost of attendance. If they qualify, financial aid. They could work jobs if they wanted.”
McGuirl also said from his point of view that he’s living a great life focusing on basketball and not paying for school — saying they have it “very good” at K-State.
Weber had his own thoughts on how the NCAA can better help student-athletes.
“I’m all for the players. I’m for the players being treated right. My thing is — help the guys for their future,” Weber said. “I have guys go to Europe, play eight years, come back and say ‘Coach, help me.’ That’s what the NCAA could really do — help those guys. Help them get jobs, give them a future.”
K-State starts its season in just over two weeks with an exhibition against Pitt State on Nov. 4 before its first real contest — Florida A&M on Nov. 10.