MANHATTAN — Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber has not given up on struggling point guard Kamau Stokes.
On Sunday, Stokes had a long conversation with K-State assistant Chester Frazier about what he can do to help the Wildcats against Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. When the chat was over, Weber offered some extra words of encouragement.
“Don’t put pressure on yourself, let the game come, help us,” Weber recalls telling Stokes. “Work your tail off these next four days so you can have a chance to be successful on the court.”
K-State coaches are getting creative with Stokes, because he has been mired in a prolonged slump since recovering from a broken foot and returning to K-State’s rotation in early February. The 6-foot, 170-pound junior has gone from averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists in the first 15 games to barely contributing in the past 11.
His play seemed to bottom out at the Big 12 Tournament, where he scored a total of four points over two games while taking 14 shots.
It’s been a difficult run for Stokes. He began the season in the starting lineup and was one of the biggest reasons why the Wildcats won 11 of their first 15 games. Then he broke his foot on a freak play against Texas Tech, and everything changed.
Stokes raced back from injury in three weeks, but he needed more time to get back in game shape.
That much is obvious by his shooting numbers. Once one of the team’s best shooters, he has gone 11 of 53 (21 percent) from the field since returning to the rotation.
Perhaps a few days of practice and time in the weight can get him back on track.
“Hopefully he makes his shots and feels good about himself,” Weber said. “Maybe he can be the surprise, shining star on Friday.”
If not, K-State has other options.
The best one might be Mike McGuirl. It would take some guts to play a freshman with limited college minutes over a junior with NCAA Tournament experience, but he looked ready for a permanent spot in the rotation last week.
With starters Barry Brown and Dean Wade on the bench, McGuirl showed promise during an 83-67 loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals. He scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and sent out four assists in 21 minutes of action. He also looked solid on defense.
“It felt good being able to compete against a No. 1seed in the tournament,” McGuirl said. “It felt really good being back out there ... I already had confidence in myself, but it meant a lot that coach put me out there.”
Weber is not afraid to play McGuirl moving forward.
“What he showed you the other day, he showed in the summer all the time,” Weber said. “He was better than some of our other guys ... He has got a little bit of cockiness to him, which is a good thing. He’s not afraid of anything.”
A three-star recruit from Ellington, Conn., McGuirl was originally expected to help Cartier Diarra off the bench. But injuries kept him out of K-State’s first 15 games, and he planned to redshirt. Then things changed when Stokes broke his foot.
McGuirl did little as a reserve while Stokes was sidelined, but he could add valuable backcourt depth in the NCAA Tournament.