Kansas State basketball coaches are still months away from selecting a starting lineup for next season, but assistant coach Chris Lowery wants to get one thing straight right now.
Xavier Sneed will remain the Wildcats' starting small forward.
He won't move to power forward with Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade off to pursue pro careers. K-State won't surround him with three guards and a center. No way. The Wildcats might have done that in the past when injuries forced them to get creative with their lineups. But that's not the plan moving forward.
"Xavier is a three man," Lowery said Friday at a Catbackers event in Olathe. "Xavier has had his best games and his best defensive efforts guarding people that are wings."
K-State fans rejoiced when Sneed withdrew his name from the NBA Draft and decided to return to Manhattan for his senior year of college basketball earlier this week, but many of them wondered how head coach Bruce Weber planned to deploy him next season.
Sneed began his K-State career on the wing, but often shifted to power forward over the past two seasons whenever Wade was injured or in foul trouble. At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Sneed has the versatility to play both forward positions, and the Wildcats took advantage.
Some of their best moments occurred late in the 2017-2018 season when they rode a small lineup that featured Sneed at the four all the way to the Elite Eight. He even had 22 points and nine rebounds in a Sweet 16 victory over Kentucky.
It was natural to wonder if Sneed would continue to play out of position for the Wildcats. But Lowery, K-State's associate head coach, says that is no longer in the cards. At least not on a regular basis.
"Xavier is a wing," Lowery said. "We are going to play with him out there, because when we lose Barry we can't allow those guys out front to get going and Xavier can really cancel guys out on the perimeter. We need a guy who can do that out there."
So who will take over for Wade at power forward?
All eyes now shift to incoming freshmen Montavious Murphy and Antonio Gordon.
"We have to throw them in the fire," Lowery said. "We don't want to play small like that, because obviously for Xavier it's the wear and tear. He's strong, but he's still not at 230 or 240 (pounds), so we want to play him at the wing and allow him to continue to develop there. But we have to develop one of those younger guys at the four spot."
Having Sneed to use at either forward position is a blessing for the Wildcats. They didn't know if he would even be on the roster before Wednesday evening when he sent a group text to teammates and coaches saying that he had decided to return to school.
Sneed waited until the last minute to make a decision on his basketball future, because his time testing the professional waters went better than expected. He worked out for the Sacramento Kings, participated in a combine and showed off his stuff at a pro day in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
After his last auditions were over, his draft chances looked slim. But there was a chance he could catch on in the G League or earn a roster spot overseas.
He deliberated for a long time about his options, but ultimately decided to return to school in part to earn a business degree.
K-State also convinced him he will be the team's go-to guy next season.
"We just had to talk to him about how now it's your turn," Lowery said. "He just wanted to hear that it was his team and his turn finally. He really just wanted our support throughout the whole process. Coach did a great job of supporting him and giving him feedback."
Lowery feels Sneed is ready to show he is one of the top players in the Big 12.
"We were talking to NBA teams about him. Was he going to keep his name in or was he not? I think the biggest thing for him was just realizing his value and knowing that he was going to come back and be one of the better players in the league," Lowery said. "That's something that he has always wanted."
His teammates are thrilled to have him back.
"I was jumping for joy," K-State guard Mike McGuirl said. "I wasn't as much excited as I was relieved. There were a lot of people on edge. Is he really going to go? Wow this might really happen. But he came back and everyone was excited."
After operating in the shadows of Brown, Stokes and Wade the past three seasons, the spotlight will finally shine on him.
He should contend for all-conference honors.
The Wildcats will surround him as best they can at small forward.