By Jon Rothstein
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Bruce Weber must feel like he’s experiencing déjà vu.
Just like when he was hired at Illinois in 2003 to replace Bill Self, Weber’s appointment as head coach of Kansas State to succeed Frank Martin gives him a roster that’s ready to win immediately.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s similarities,” Weber said of the two situations. “When I took over Illinois, there was a coach who had success and was well liked. He created a winning culture and there was an older team to inherit. It’s almost the exact same deal here at Kansas State.”
Other than power forward Jamar Samuels, each and every piece returns from last season’s Wildcats team that lost to Syracuse in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The general feeling is that Kansas State should be picked along with Kansas, Baylor, and Texas as part of the handful of teams that have a chance to win the Big 12 in 2012-13 — and a big reason why is Rodney McGruder.
The 6-foot-4 senior to be has steadily improved throughout his college career and should be a legitimate candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year next season. McGruder averaged 15.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a junior.
“He’s as quality a kid as you come across in this business,” Weber said of McGruder. “He’s made steady improvement throughout his career and if he proves he can become a reliable outside shooter, he’s going to be a guy who can play at the next level.”
In addition to McGruder, the Wildcats should possess one of the more seasoned back courts in all of college basketball. Returning for Kansas State are starters Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling along with Martavious Irving, whom Weber said “has no idea how good he can be.”
“There’s really good depth on the perimeter,” Weber said. “Angel’s freshman year at point guard will only make him better and Spradling is a guy who can do a little bit of everything. We’re going to need someone like Shane Southwell or Jeremy Jones to step up and be our 5th guard eventually but it’s nice we have so many options.”
The front court is also mostly set.
6-foot-11 big man Jordan Henriquez played his basketball during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.5 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks in two games. He should be one of the better baseline players in the Big 12 — and maybe even the country according to Weber.
“He turned things up another level towards the end of last year,” Weber said of Henriquez. “He’s a better shooter than people give him credit but I’ve told him to just keep doing what he does well. That’s rebounding and blocking shots.”
Burly big man Thomas Gipson is the likely starter at power forward next to Henriquez and Weber says “as long as he gets some pounds off, he’ll be fine”.
“He’s a load to stop if he gets a body on you,” Weber said of Gipson.
A new coach with a new team always needs extra time with his players and a trip to Brazil in August for 10 days should be the perfect way for Weber to build his own bond with a team that’s ready to win immediately.
“The trip is going to be unbelievable for us,” Weber said. “We’ll go to Brazil and get to practice and play some exhibition games and spend some time together. Every team I’ve ever taken abroad has benefited from a trip and I’m sure the same will be true for us. This is a really good group of kids and they like each other. That’s always a good start.”
How good will Kansas State be next year? Be heard in the comments below…