This week, the Kansas State men's basketball team will join nearly 25,000 of their peers on the Manhattan campus as fall classes begin. However, it will be hard for them to forget where they were less than a week ago.
The Wildcat players and coaching staff just returned to the Little Apple from a successful 10-day trip to Brazil consisting of several cultural experiences including site-seeing, strolling the beaches, community service, exotic food and, of course, basketball.
On the trip to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero, K-State finished their four-game schedule with a 2-2 record with wins over Mogi Das Cruzes (79-72) and Pindamonhangaba Club (59-46) and losses to Sao Jose dos Campos (81-67) and Tijuca Club (74-72). Sure, the Wildcat players probably wanted a better record, but winning and losing was not the issue to Coach Bruce Weber.
"This is summer basketball," K-State's first-year coach said. "We're trying to get better. We're trying to learn about our guys."
The Wildcats were scheduled to play a fifth game, but was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. Regardless of the cancellation, it was ample experience for this year's squad as they played together against other competition and professional-style teams for the first time.
"Overall, I thought it was a good trip," Weber added. "We learned a lot about the guys. I think there were some real good moments."
Sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez led the Wildcats in scoring (10.3 ppg) assists (4.8 apg) and steals (2.3 spg) on the trip. It is something that drew praise from his coach.
"Angel played real well early, the first couple (games)," Weber said. "He played like I wanted him to play, be a point guard."
It wasn't just all Rodriguez, though. There were several players that contributed to the balanced scoring attack. Adrian Diaz, Rodney McGruder and Nino Williams all averaged nine points per game. Junior Will Spradling added 8.5 points per game and senior Jordan Henriquez chipped in 7.3. The team averaged 69.3 per contest on 41.6 percent shooting.
On the rebounding side, Williams led the squad with 6 per game. He also was the team's best shooter by hitting 60 percent of his shots from the field and connecting on 83.3 percent from the free throw line.
"He's really played well for us," Weber noted.
Weber said each player averaged between 16 and 22 minutes a game, including the two freshmen, Michael Orris and D.J. Johnson. The 6-foot-2 Orris saw increased playing time the final two games after senior Martavious Irving aggravated his hamstring. Johnson, a power forward from St. Louis, Mo., was second on the team with 5.3 boards per game and played significant minutes due to foul trouble, particularly in the last game.
In a 74-72 loss to Tijuca Club, the Wildcats had multiple players foul out. In fact, the two teams combined to shoot 78 free throws, including 47 by the home team. Weber stated the referees did not let them play as physical as the first three games.
"Obviously, the free throws, the fouls got lopsided," he said. "I think we had five or six guys foul out and another three or four with four (fouls). I think Thomas Gipson might have played five, six minutes in the game and had five fouls. (Shane Southwell) about the same. It is what it is."
On top of that, the Wildcats were whistled for four technical fouls including two on Weber that led to his ejection. Comically, Weber didn't even know he could get tossed in a FIBA game.
"I just said, 'Hey, I just want fair," Weber said. "I didn't go nuts or go crazy or anything. We just didn't want anyone hurt. That's the biggest thing."
Despite the whistle-happy affair, K-State had their chances to win. That's something that pleases the coach, who watched the remainder of the game from the stands.
"I was just happy our guys responded and finished the game," he added.
Weber acknowledged it was a great experience for the team and his staff, both on and off the court. The team bonded. But now, it's back to work for the coaches, back to school for the players and back to reality for everyone involved as they prepare for this upcoming season.