Picked eighth in the conference or eighth in the nation makes no difference to K-State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber.
“You can’t worry about expectations,” Weber said Thursday at the Topeka Catbackers gathering at Bettis Family Sports Complex. “Last year there weren’t any expectations. It didn’t matter. This year there are some, and it still doesn’t matter.”
Last year, Weber’s Wildcats surprised the experts by finishing fourth in the Big 12. Then they utterly shocked the nation by playing their way into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
“Last year the Big 12 might have been the best 10-team league in college basketball history, so to do what we did was really special,” Weber said. “We had great depth, and we believed in ourselves.”
With every major contributor back from that squad, the Wildcats are considered worthy of top-10 status in some early rankings.
When asked about the expectations being high for the upcoming season, Weber shot back, “They are?”
“When I addressed the team this week (upon returning from a break) that was my whole thing. We can’t worry about that,” Weber said. “What matters is your day-to-day work ethic, your discipline, your togetherness and your leadership.
“That’s all we can worry about. If they do that, good things will happen for them.”
For his seventh season at K-State, Weber returns seniors Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes plus a supporting cast that gained experience when each senior was slowed by injuries at one point or another.
Following the end of the semester in early May, the team took approximately three weeks off, during which most of the players went to their hometowns. When they returned June 4, they brought highly-recruited junior college transfer Austin Trice and freshman Shaun Neal-Williams with them.
“They’ve been great, but the month of June is usually all right,” Weber said. “When the dog days of July hit, (the coaches) have to go out recruiting a lot, that’s when the leadership really is important, and their work ethic comes in.”
Not everyone hit the ground running, however. Wade, Stokes and Nigel Shadd have been essentially restricted from activity while they rehab injuries.
“Those guys are mad,” Weber joked. “They want to be part of it.”
Shadd did receive some good news this week. The NCAA ruled that due to his injury, he would have his lost freshman year of eligibility reinstated.
The Catbackers filled the concourse of the Bettis facility with their lawn chairs and dined from food trucks. Football coach Bill Snyder spoke to the gathering about the upcoming season, as did women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie. Topeka native Peyton Williams answered questions from Wildcat announcer Wyatt Thompson.
All eyes were on Weber, though, in the aftermath of his most successful season in Manhattan.
Weber found little time to rest following his team’s memorable run in the postseason. In the middle of an intense recruiting season, he squeezed in a wedding for one of his daughters, celebrated the birth of twins to another daughter, and the baptism of another grandchild.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve slept in my own bed since (the tournament),” he told the gathering, “but it hasn’t been many.”