Junior trio leads the way for K-State basketball

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber is looking for his junior class to step up and play like seniors this season. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

MANHATTAN — A basketball team with only one senior might be a troubling sign.


Kansas State’s lone senior is Mason Schoen, a walk-on who has been praised for his leadership ability, but coach Bruce Weber has the next best thing to a strong senior class with the junior trio of Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade who have been starters since their freshman year.

“Consistency will be a key, especially with the upperclassmen,” Weber said Wednesday at the Wildcats’ media day prior to the start of practice Friday. “We have Mason Schoen as a senior, but those juniors are going to be so key, especially the three guys who have played a lot of minutes in Kam, Barry and Dean. They have to play like seniors and have that consistency.”

Brown has emerged as the strongest leader and is trying to pull the others along for the ride.

“We want to lead this team to victories,” Brown said. “I’m a junior but maybe I have more experience than a lot of guys at this level would have and had the ability to impact my team more as a freshman and sophomore. I’m looking forward to my junior year.”

The Wildcats had just enough victories last season to get into the NCAA Tournament where they won a First Four game over Wake Forest before losing in the first round to Cincinnati in a 21-14 season.

The Wildcats were all but written off after an 81-51 loss at Oklahoma but won the final two regular season games then went 1-1 at the Big 12 Tournament to get in the NCAA tourney after a two-year absence.

“After the Oklahoma game they came together,” Weber said. “There was a renewed focus, a good finish. It was great for our seniors to get in the NCAA, to get a win and a taste of it, but it was even better for the younger guys to get that drive and motivation to be part of that. It’s helped them push to another gear and another level of intensity.”

Stokes said the close call with the final NCAA at-large berth was a learning experience.

“We put ourselves in some bad situations by losing too many close games, and that puts you in the spot to fight to get into the NCAA Tournament,” Stokes said. “We should have never been in that position but now we know what we need to do not to be in that position.”

The Wildcats must replace NBA Draft pick Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson but brought in three freshmen, two Division I transfers and two junior college transfers.

“Our whole summer theme has been about character, being accountable, responsibility, toughness to win those close games, character to make the right play and do the right thing for your teammates,” said Weber, who enters his sixth season at K-State. “We’ve talked a lot about competitiveness. I think that’s going to be one of our strengths. Our depth is so much different. With practice, we can actually get after it where the last two years it seemed like we just tried to make sure we had healthy bodies with seven or eight guys at practice.

“Just have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. A quote for the whole summer was, ‘If you don’t wake up every day with something to prove, you will never improve.’ There’s no doubt they’ve improved and now we have to show it on the court and bring them together as a team.”

AVOIDING SCANDAL — Weber commented on the federal corruption case in which four assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State were charged Tuesday and led to Louisville coach Rick Pitino and athletics director Tom Jurich being placed on unpaid leave Wednesday.

“Yesterday was not maybe the best day in the history of college basketball,” Weber said. “It’s tough. I feel bad for individuals and bad for schools, but the only thing I can feel good about is an individual I’ve always tried to have high standards for myself and also for our staff and do things the right way.”

In a poll of 100 college coaches conducted by cbssports.com in August, they were asked: Who is the high-major coach you genuinely believe does everything by the book and operates completely within the NCAA’s rulebook?

Michigan’s John Beilein was No. 1 with 26.6 percent of the votes and Weber tied for No. 6 with Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo with 4.6 percent.

“By no means am I perfect, but we’re very proud of the way we do things here at K-State,” Weber said. “I think our players are ones K-State fans are proud to have part of our team. I want kids that K-Staters are proud of, that play the right way, treat people the right way and act the right way. I feel really good about our group.”

Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.



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