OPINION: Men’s basketball supporting cast shines behind the team’s stars

Senior guard Desi Sills celebrates the victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. The Wildcats beat the Sooners 85-69 in Bramlage Coliseum. (Archive photo by Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

Behind every elite team in college basketball there are always players who play a pivotal role in providing depth for a roster, but may not be considered stars.

Kansas State men’s basketball is spoiled, as it possesses multiple players who provide quality minutes when they step onto the court as rotational players.

From the beginning of the season to March, it is incredible to think that this roster has only one year of experience playing together under head coach Jerome Tang. Tang and the players have exceeded the expectations set by fans and the media.

To achieve success in such a short period of time is a testament to Tang’s scout team and his coaching ability. Additionally, his players’ commitment to embracing a revamped program has played a significant role.

Guard Desi Sills played four years at the University of Arkansas and was a proven talent on the court. Starting the season with K-State, he began with solid minutes, adding a combination of defensive prowess and athletic ability.

Sills’ minutes started gaining attention from fans after his best performance of the season against Kansas. In the overtime win, Sills recorded his season-high 24 points, three steals and three rebounds. Since then, he has emerged as a true threat, joining stars Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson in the starting lineup.

Sills plays with confidence and has the athletic ability to back it up despite his 6-foot-2 stature. He possesses an incredible 40-inch vertical and placed third in blocked shots on the team, including a four-block performance against TCU in the Big 12 tournament.

In addition to Sills, another supporting player who gained momentum as the season progressed is forward Ismael Massoud, a forward who can shoot from distance and stretches the floor, adding a fresh dimension to K-State’s offense.

At the start of the season, Massoud was mainly used as a catch-and-shoot piece to the offense, but has played a larger role entering the NCAA tournament. 

The highlight of the season for Massoud came at the time when the team needed him most; he sank a deep 3-point shot against Kentucky, putting K-State ahead by two with less than two minutes remaining in the second half.

“It took a lot for us to get here,” Massoud said after the game against Kentucky. “We were picked last [in the Big 12 preseason poll] and all the workouts in the summer. For me to have that moment just meant a lot, because you never know when you’ll have another opportunity for this.”

While K-State has plenty of talent in its backcourt, the frontcourt rotational players have the tough responsibility of protecting the rim. 

Forward David N’Guessan is one of those players. Despite battling a foot injury for the first half of the season, he has made significant contributions since his return. 

N’Guessan isn’t a premiere scorer but he provides an edge on defense to wreak havoc in the paint. N’Guessan is always in position to make a play at the right time, many times taking advantage of Nowell’s elite passing and vision on the court.

One struggle that has plagued N’Guessan is his free-throw shooting. N’Guessan has a 42% free-throw percentage which can cause teams to intentionally foul him in a close game. Regardless, he tends to have more positives than negatives.

Other players who have helped support the two widely discussed stars are forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin, with his athleticism and length, and guard Cam Carter — the youngest starter on the team — with his disruptive perimeter defensive presence. Though they may not be as flashy as Nowell or Johnson, these players play a crucial role in the success of K-State basketball and are a big reason for their current status as one of the most electric teams in basketball.

K-State’s roster boasts a diverse range of skills and traits among its players, all of which have contributed to the program’s return to relevance.