Spring workouts leave Kansas State coach Bruce Weber pleased with Wildcats' progress

Returning players continue to show improvement

Arne Green
Salina Journal
Kansas State guard Nijel Pack (24) returns for his sophomore season as the Wildcats' leader in scoring and assists form 2020-21.

While Bruce Weber went about restocking his Kansas State basketball roster last month, the players remaining from this past season were quietly putting in work toward 2021-22.

That behind-the-scenes effort, Weber said during a news conference last Wednesday, was telling.

"We feel good about our group," he said of the holdovers from a 2020-21 team that went a disappointing 9-20, but finished strong by winning four of its last six games. "We've had a great spring. They've really been focused (and) they've worked really hard."

The Wildcats return a core group led by super-senior guard Mike McGuirl and freshmen starters Nijel Pack, Davion Bradford and Selton Miguel.

"It's been all positive energy, a lot of skill development, a lot of time in the weight room, so it's been good," Weber said of the spring regimen. "Obviously, we've got five new guys coming in June and it will be different, but this core group that we have that finished the season (and) played well down the stretch, they've been great. It's been fun to coach."

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Getting McGuirl to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restores a veteran presence for the Wildcats in the only link to their 2019 Big 12 championship team. They also added Missouri graduate transfer Mark Smith, who has postseason experience.

"Now you've got two guys in Mike McGuirl and Mark Smith that have both played in the (NCAA) Tournament," Weber said. "They're older.

"I can't say enough about how our guys finished (the spring). We're excited to have Mike McGuirl back. I think he's playing at a whole other level this spring."

McGuirl averaged 11.8 points a game last season, second to Pack's 12.7. Seven-footer Bradford made 25 starts, averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds

Miguel who started 22 games as a freshman, will spend part of his summer playing for the Angola national team in Olympic qualifiers.

The addition of shooting guard Smith, point guard Markquis Nowell from Little Rock and Wake Forest stretch forward Ismael Massoud should give Weber more lineup versatility. The Wildcats also will have center Kaosi Ezeagu and power forward Montavious Murphy back from injuries, plus incoming freshman wing player Maximus Edwards and big man Logan Landers.

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"We have options," Weber said. "I think that's the best thing. Can we have a system where we can make the easy transition from either playing big or playing small? Maybe a little different look."

Barring a new virus outbreak, Weber and his staff will have a full summer and fall to incorporate new players and strategies, something they sorely missed last year at the height of the pandemic.

They even got a visit one evening this spring from campus police, who were unaware that the practice gym was again open to the players at night.

"We had guys shooting in there and I guess it wasn't communicated to campus police," Weber said. "So they were, 'Who the heck is in the building?'

"It was our guys. That's what you want. You want them in the gym, you want them playing (and) you want them excited."