K-State coach Bruce Weber would welcome Mike McGuirl back for another season

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Kansas State guard Mike McGuirl (00) grabs one of his career-high nine rebounds in front of TCU's Terren Frank (15) during last Saturday's game at Schollmaier Arena in Fort worth Texas.

MANHATTAN — Bruce Weber had a conversation with Mike McGuirl recently and the message was simple and direct:

Senior night doesn't have to mean goodbye.

As Kansas State's lone senior, McGuirl will be recognized before the Wildcats' 8 p.m. game Tuesday against Oklahoma at Bramlage Coliseum. But thanks to a ruling by the NCAA in this season of COVID-19, he very well could come back next year and do it all over again.

"I talked to him the other day because we are honoring him," Weber said Monday. "The school has made a decision like they did with football, to honor all the seniors just in case something happens, so at least they're honored.

"I said (to McGuirl), 'We're honoring you not because we want you to leave, (but) because you deserve it. But we hope you come back, and we'll find another jersey next year if that's possible.' "

McGuirl, a 6-foot-2 guard from Ellington, Connecticut, is the only link to K-State's teams that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2018 and won a Big 12 championship the next year. He is on track to graduate in May with a degree in accounting and has not said publicly whether he plans to take advantage of the NCAA's free year offer.

After enduring a disappointing 2019-20 season in which K-State went from first to worst in the Big 12, then suffering through an even rougher senior campaign, McGuirl might be tempted to move on. The Wildcats, relying primarily on freshmen and sophomores, are 6-18 with a 2-13 conference record after finally ending a 13-game losing streak Saturday at TCU.

But McGuirl has steadfastly maintained that he has no regrets, that he has enjoyed his teammates and coaches, despite the on-court results. And he played arguably his most complete game of the season Saturday, with 16 points, a career-high nine rebounds and five assists in the 62-54 victory over TCU.

"It feels really good, and I'm really happy for my teammates," he said of the win. "They deserve it.

"They've been working so hard. They stayed the course and didn't stop fighting."

That's also what Weber appreciates most about McGuirl, who ranks second on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game and assists with 3.5.

"I think more than anything, the perseverance," Weber said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit.

"He wanted his senior year to be special, and obviously we've had our struggles, but he's persevered."

Asked after the TCU game just how difficult it has been, McGuirl repeated the answer he gave early in the losing streak and again as the losses continued to pile up.

"It's not as hard as you'd think," he said. "We're blessed to be able to play this game that we love and to go to college just to do that. That and being a student is our job, and it's a great life.

"It's been tough losing like that, but (Weber) kept saying the greatest thing about every game is the opportunity to play, and we were lucky enough to have this opportunity to play (Saturday) and we were able to get it done."

The Wildcats have one more chance to get it done at home for the first time since Dec. 29 when they face a red-hot Oklahoma team (14-5, 9-4 Big12) that has won three straight games and eight of its last nine. The Sooners beat K-State, 76-50, on Jan. 19 in Norman.

Weber would like McGuirl to return next year in part because he thinks a two-time senior can continue to lead the Wildcats as they grow and mature. But he also feels an obligation to McGuirl after asking him to give up his redshirt year as a freshman when starting guard Kamau Stokes went down with an injury.

McGuirl played in just 12 games in 2017-18, though his 17-point performance was instrumental in the Wildcats' first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Creighton.

"I've always felt awful that we pulled him out of a redshirt, and then the circumstance where Carti (Cartier Diarra) suddenly really played well and Mike didn't get a lot of minutes," Weber said. "Although he was really important in our run through the NCAA Tournament.

"But I felt like he missed a lot of his freshman year. I've told him, 'I always say God has a path for you and now you have this opportunity to get this freshman year and so I hope you come back.' "

NO. 7 OKLAHOMA AT KANSAS STATE

Tipoff: 8 p.m., Tuesday, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan.

Records: Oklahoma 14-5 (9-4 Big 12), Kansas State 6-18 (2-13).

TV/Radio: ESPN2/Salina: None; Topeka: WIBW-AM (580).

Next up for K-State: at West Virginia, 3 p.m. Saturday, Morgantown, W.Va.