K-State hoops squad chats Wednesday

MANHATTAN, Kan. (K-State Sports) With anticipation building for a team with numerous preseason Top 15 rankings, the Kansas State men’s basketball hosted its annual media day at the Ice Family Basketball Center on Wednesday afternoon.

Seventh-year head coach Bruce Weber kicked off the day with his annual media day press conference before members of the media visited with various players and watched an open practice.

Returning All-Big 12 selections Dean Wade (16.2 ppg., 6.2 rpg.) and Barry Brown, Jr. (15.9 ppg., 3.1 rpg.) form the core of a veteran group returning for the Wildcats, who won 25 games and advanced to the Elite Eight for the 12th time in school history and the first time since 2010 in 2017-18. In all, K-State returns 10 lettermen in 2018-19, including six players who combined to start all 37 games. The Wildcats also return rising juniors Xavier Sneed (11.1 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) and Makol Mawien (6.8 ppg., 3.4 rpg.) as well as point guards, senior Kamau Stokes (9.0 ppg., 3.4 apg.) and sophomore Cartier Diarra (7.1 ppg., 2.0 apg.).

Full transcript from today’s media day follows:

BRUCE WEBER, HEAD COACH

Opening statement...

“This is always a fun time of the year for our players. They have been going about six months since we got going again in the spring and they have worked really hard and they anticipate this and you always look forward to practice, and then it starts and they’re all like oh my goodness we have to go through this again for the next six weeks. But I think that this group is very focused, very dedicated to being special and it’s been fun, the spring, summer and fall with them because they work really hard and I anticipate it will be fun through this early part of practice and getting ready. So as a coach, as a staff, you’ve got veteran players back, you’ve got lots of minutes, lots of points, lots of experience. So it makes it easier on us as far as the teaching and now we’ve approached it a little bit different than how we have in the past, we have a few new guys that have to learn some stuff but with the older guys we have tried to go as slow as possible, not putting too much stress on them right now and building up as we get into practice. Every time we go at it full go they compete so hard that it’s almost like we have to call it off because we don’t want anyone to get hurt and it’s way too early. It’s that kind of team because of their leadership and their experience and toughness it makes it different as a staff to kind of coach them. We’re looking forward to it, there is no double about that, and I know they are.”

On the vibe going into practice this week...

“They’re excited, there’s no doubt about it. The season last year, we won 25 games and ended up in one of the best 10-team leagues in history and finished fourth. All those four teams finished in the Sweet Sixteen, three in the Elite Eight, one in the Final Four. They felt good about themselves. I said a year ago, ‘getting into the NCAA Tournament, winning one game is a great motivator.” And I really believe that it is another step that we took and it has helped with our guys, they’re driven. Barry (Brown Jr.) wants to be special, he wants to be one of the elite in school history. Dean (Wade) wants to do the same type of thing. Kamau (Stokes), you feel bad for him because it has been up and down for two seasons with injuries and he would like to finish on a good note. And the other guys, Xavier (Sneed), kind of having a breakout in the NCAA Tournament. Mike McGuirl getting his opportunity. Makol (Mawien) having a great game against Kansas. They all have little special moments and their opportunities and I think that has kind of kept them very driven. Our weight coach Ben (O’Donnell) has done a great job. We did the 185 bench press max, which is the test that they use in the NBA. We always try to prepare our guys to help them if they get to the combine or get a tryout they know the different tests and have been through it. We would have three guys, Makol, Dean and Barry would have been one, two, three in last year’s combine on the 185 max. So Ben has done a great job, the guys have done a great job in buying into it and it makes it fun for the coaches and makes it easier on the coaches. The last two weeks we have been gone on the road recruiting, I think I came back for one day to do workouts then recruit on the weekend if we have a football game. But just trying to give them their space and time and letting them push themselves and fight through the adversity of conditioning and the challenges that Ben put in front of them and again, it makes it easier on us.”

On Freshman Shawn Williams getting acclimated…

“You know, he’s two months behind. He wasn’t here for the summer, the summer is the introduction. When the NCAA changed that rule for freshmen to come to campus, I think it was such a benefit because it has helped kids graduate, because they get their six hours or nine hours, whatever. But the other part is just getting acclimated to campus. It’s almost to me a dress rehearsal or a trial run, so he missed that part. Then all of a sudden he is thrown into full-load of classes, weights, conditioning, all of that stuff, which it used to be that’s how every freshman went through it, and I used to say to all of the freshmen, ‘two weeks into it you want to quit and transfer three times in these first two weeks.’ I am sure he went through that because it was hard. Then you throw in an older team, and these are experienced veteran guys who have played a lot of games so it doesn’t make it any easier for him but I told him, ‘it’s going to take you two months to catch up at least.’ You can see after last week after we did our team workout it was probably his best one of the year where we are starting to feel a little more comfortable and understand what we are doing, catching up with everything, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy on Austin (Trice) either, even with being here this summer more than anything because we have so many veterans. And those guys, I say a drill and they know what it is, where those two (Trice and Williams) look at me and still don’t have that name recognition and not only understand how to run the drill but what we are trying to do in the drill, and that will just take some time.”

On the veterans setting an example…

“It’s the thing that coaches talk about and what coach (Bill) Snyder has done for years. Building the brand. And they set that, we encourage it, but they set it. They have to set those expectations, those standards on a daily basis. You know, Rodney (McGruder) was an unbelievable leader, and I have had some other guys through the years, but Barry (Brown Jr.) might take the top. It’s just amazing. I mean, he’s a hooper, he loves it, he wants to be around us. He was there this morning, he’s there every morning. He’s in with the coaches talking, sometimes it’s just chatter, but he just feels comfortable with being there. We added a new device in the gym, it’s called Shot Tracker, it tracks every shot that they take. Barry has some weeks were its 3,500-4,000 shots in a week. That’s unbelievable. He wants to be good. Now, everybody is like, because it’s on the board, ‘can I compete with Barry? Can I get to 3,000?’ So it just pushes them. Same thing with the weight room, they have set the standards. You talk about Dean (Wade), when he got here he could barely do one on the 185. Then he got it up to five or six (reps), then you know he had pneumonia and was back to one or two when he first got here. But now you’re talking 17 of those. Even Kamau (Stokes) was at a career-high in that number where he was at 9 or 10 on the 185, before he was two probably. So they’ve set the standard and it pushes to everybody in the program and makes it easy on the coaches. Hopefully that will continue for us as a program.”

On spreading out playing time between guards…

“You know, last year I talked about the one thing that we had was competition and then all of a sudden Mike (McGuirl) was hurt, and then Kamau (Stokes) got hurt, and it ended up that all of those things happened, and you think things in life happens for a reason and it did. You know, Cartier (Diarra) got his chance, Mike got a chance later on and came back and fought through his adversity. Now it created a little bit of a dilemma, now, I would like to say it is going to be tough but is everyone going to stay health? That’s the first factor. But if they do stay healthy, the thing that I’ve talked about since day one, and I showed them Villanova’s minutes, the national player of the year averaged 32 minutes. The sixth man got drafted and had 27-28 minutes a game. I show them, and it’s not just how many minutes they get, but what they do with their minutes that help as a freshman, everyone wants to play all of these minutes, but as a freshman Barry (Brown Jr.) couldn’t do anything at the end, he had no life, no energy. So that is what we talked about, having energy at the end of games, having energy at the end of the season, getting more out of your minutes and competing. That’s the thing that I have talked about with our guys and again we’ll see how it plays out. I hope we don’t have injuries, but we’ll have some along the way, no major ones. But if that happens, hopefully we can get more out of the guys and be more efficient with their minutes.”

On Kamau Stokes’ recovery…

“His (Kamau Stokes) foot, as far as his actual physical foot is the best it has been since he got hurt. We just did an MRI, his latest x-ray and you could say it is healed. He has had a couple of little setbacks, tweaking and things, working out on orthodox, stuff like that, but I would say he is close. More 90 some percent, where when he played, you have got to give the kid credit when he played for us in the NCAA tournament, because he was probably 60-65 percent. We didn’t realize until even after the season where he was. He wanted to help and be a part and obviously do something special.”

On scheduling opponents …

“Well I think scheduling, as I have talked about before, it goes back to conversations with coach (Gene) Keady when I was a young guy, it can be at times more important than recruiting. If you have a young team, you don’t want to over schedule. If you have an older team, you want to give your guys competition so you’re ready. You know, you’re looking at the bigger goals. Every year you have to be smart about it, sometimes, and the other thing is, I was at an NBA practice yesterday and talking to Tad Boyle from Colorado, and he just said to me, ‘is scheduling getting tougher for you?’ and it’s tough all the time. And he was just saying, ‘I couldn’t get a BCS team to play me.’ So people just don’t understand, they think just call some team and we’re going to get a game, it’s not happening. Then who’s refs, what place, and all that stuff, it’s just a difficult process. We have a veteran team, we thought we could challenge ourselves, the only thing that we really didn’t get that we thought we could get was a higher BCS team at home this year, and we just couldn’t do it. I had a lot of cuss words on text messages sent to me from a lot of coaches. But still, Marquette, BPI, they’re rated number four in the country, on the ESPN thing or something or one of those. So they’re very good, they have one of the best guards in the country, they have big guys, so it will be a challenge. Obviously we get to play Missouri with (Jontay) Porter, All-American on somethings, (Jeremiah) Tllmon, (Kevin) Puryear,, you’ve got some really good veteran players. At Texas A&M, they were a Sweet-16 team last year, they do a great job there. And even, I think the other thing we have really done is our other games, Georgia State is going to be really good. Southern Miss is going to be really good. George Mason is a really well-coached team. Instead of trying to get some guys experience, we have that experience. Now it is going to be a challenge every single year finding games and hopefully preparing us later on. We’re playing Georgia State because they play a zone. I talked to Tom Izzo after they (Michigan State) lost to Syracuse in the NCAA’s, he just said, ‘our one day prep, we didn’t have enough time to be prepared for Syracuse’s zone.’ Now we get to play Baylor, so you play as many different styles and different conferences and all that stuff and hopefully it helps us in our preparation.”

On Makol Mawien’s recovery…

“Yea he’s back, fine. We held him out about a month. I think it was July they held him out. And you can see what he did, he got in the weight room and if you haven’t seen him he is just huge. It’s like, how the heck did this happen. You know, for him, motivation, he came to us after Kentucky last year, he said, ‘man coach, those dudes are big, strong and if I want to compete with them I have to get bigger. So I think that pushed him, and then when he had the injury, instead of wearing down and running up and down he took that opportunity and got in that weight room and really worked at it. Right now, I would say he’s 100 percent. Everyone gets worked up and has sore muscles after conditioning but he’s doing fine and is ready to go.”

On Barry Brown Jr. returning for his senior season…

“Well I think it started when Kamau (Stokes) got hurt last year after Texas Tech. It’s the story where he said, ‘we’re practicing tomorrow coach whether you guys can be there or not.’ That showed his determination and his leadership and he just said this team is not failing. He put it on himself and he takes credit for Dean (Wade) taking a big step and that’s fine if he helped him, and that has continued, it has not stopped. When people say, ‘oh he put his name in (to the NBA), he’s not going to come back,’ I think he handled it really well, it was an experience to learn, to listen to people to find out what they said, and it’s probably the same thing we said, but now it’s Magic Johnson, or it’s the (Brooklyn) Nets’ GM or whatever. He has taken that in and he wants, 1. To leave a legacy here, 2. He wants to prepare himself for a chance to play professional basketball and play in the NBA. It would be a great story. Rodney McGruder is a great story, Wesley Iwundu is a great story, Barry would be an unbelievable story, if he gets that opportunity. But he knows that it’s hard. It’s hard. If he was 6’5” it would be different, and he’s not, but he gets the most out of his ability and playing without the ball was one thing that they all told him, and he has worked on that and his consistency, 3-point shot he’s worked on that, passing, cutting down on the turnovers. Those are all things that we will see as the season goes on. It will be, obviously, whatever our team does that will leave the legacy, but all of those things will help him and help us.”

On Xavier Sneed’s confidence…

“They have all worked hard and he’s in that mix, because of his athleticism and he does bring the excitement. He does some things that nobody else on our team can do. His thing is just to get better at ball handling, putting it on the floor, being able to shoot off the move. I think he’s playing at a high level. Two weeks ago we had a team workout and it might have been the best he has ever played, he looked like he understood and he knew what he was doing. With all of those guys, one of the number one things we need to do is rebounding, so obviously we addressed it, hopefully with Austin (Trice) and bringing him in, but it will also be those guys. Makol (Mawien) has to be better, Dean (Wade) has to be better, Xavier (Sneed) has to be better. If they are all better, then you add Austin to the mix, they could take a negative and hopefully make it a strength.

DEAN WADE, SENIOR FORWARD

On where he’s at with his recovery from injury…

“I’m feeling normal right now. There’s days where sometimes I feel like my conditioning went down a little bit, but we took a little break after the season so I think everyone’s trying to get their conditioning back. I feel pretty normal right now.”

On the frustration felt getting injured and missing the end of the season…

“It felt like I played all the hard parts of the season, then when we got to the fun part, I had to sit in timeout the whole time. It was just great to be a part of it really. March Madness is amazing, no words can describe how it felt. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

On his level of confidence after experiencing success last season…

“I have the utmost confidence in myself. I’ve made huge strides the past three years, four years now I guess, on the basketball court and as a person. I’ve got the utmost confidence in myself and always think I’m the best player out on the court, every time I step on the court - but that’s just the basketball mentality, all the great basketball players always have that mentality. I think it was just me coming into myself and realizing I can play basketball at the highest level.”

On considering last year his last at K-State and entering the NBA Draft at any point…

“No, not really. Honestly, I was like if I get to that point, I’ll worry about it after the season. Then I got hurt and there was no point in me doing it, even looking into it really. I couldn’t work out for any teams or anything. If I was going to do it, I was going to look at it after the season and I didn’t make it to that point so there was never really a point where I looked at it like it really was my last season.”

On thinking about the chance to potentially play in the NBA after this season…

“It’s kind of different, coming from St. John, small town and thinking I’ll have the opportunity to play in the NBA, that’d be great. Nothing’s promised, I still have to come out and work everyday, do what I can.”

On constantly being associated with his hometown of St. John, Kan., and small-town-kid identity…

“St. John really made me who I am today. All the people in St. John pretty much raised me as one of their own. It’s an amazing little community, I can’t thank them enough. Anytime they say Dean Wade from St. John, I’m proud of it.”

On how many more rebounds Coach Weber has challenged him to get this year…

“Just a few more. Really the only thing is you have to have the drive to go get it. At times last year I didn’t really have the drive in games to go get it, go outside my rebounding zone and get loose balls and stuff like that. This year I’m going to be driven to go out of my own zone and really chase rebounds.”

BARRY BROWN, JR., SENIOR GUARD

On the team’s overall improvement over the summer…

“It was great man, we came here everyday and worked hard. But we’ve still got something to prove, and so everything we are doing in order to prove it has been great. I think we all improved and we all had something to get better at on the court. I feel like we all made those adjustments and we are just getting better day by day.”

On his main areas of focus…

“I have really been trying to work on my 3-point shot. My passing, my decision making, stuff like that.”

On how special the team could be this year…

“We could be real good, we’ve got the team to do it. We had a great run last year, but we didn’t really play as well as we wanted to in the Big 12. So I think that’s one of our main goals, is to come out and compete everyday in the Big 12, and the non-conference.”

On what he wants to leave behind…

“Just as someone that came here, worked hard, played every game like his last. Care about his teammates, care about his fans. I get my drive from knowing that I have to be better and by putting myself in the best position to help my team win.”

KAMAU STOKES, SENIOR GUARD

On the areas he’s worked on the most for improvement...

“The biggest area I have been working on is getting stronger in the weight room. Of course, coming off my injury last year I didn’t shoot the ball as well, mainly because I didn’t have my legs underneath me. So, I’ve been in the gym shooting, everyday. I feel great, foot feels fine.”

On getting back into the rhythm of practices…

“The hardest thing to get back and used to was trusting my foot. Trusting that I can do things without it hurting or thinking that it was going to hurt. I feel like that was my biggest thing, but now I am getting back into the rhythm of playing and being there.”

On the new players that joined the team…

“We got two new guys, Austin (Trice) and Shaun (Williams). They are in the learning process right now, but they are doing real good. They are picking up things. They finished conditioning, which was probably tough on them, but they are bringing a lot of energy to us right now and I feel like that’s the biggest thing right now. Right now, I feel great about the team, we’re like a family. We stick together, we’re having fun and ready for this year.”

XAVIER SNEED, JUNIOR FORWARD

On this year's team compared to last year...

“Just that hunger and we got more experience overall as well - another year of knowledge and having that is key.”

On returning starters’ chemistry…

“It just comes from on and off the court, just being here with these guys all the time, and you know we just love each other and that family experience that we have. Just having that on the court goes a long way.”

On biggest challenge this team faces…

“Making sure we don't get complacent. You know, of course we got a lot of big tags over our heads right now but just staying on course and make sure we don't stay complacent.”

On expectations for this year…

“We got a big year ahead of us, of course we're trying to win the Big 12 championship first off, and of course we want to be undefeated in our conference. Just having those goals and that mind for us to just push us everyday and keep going hard.”

CARTIER DIARRA, SOPHOMORE GUARD

On how competitive the guard spot is…

“It’s very competitive. We try to push each other everyday and make each other better. We need competition and that’s how we’re going to get our guards better and play hard. It really comes down to team pace. Nobody cares about how many minutes they played, we just work hard and try to make each other better.”

On the team’s mentality at practice...

“Everybody goes out there and plays the best that they could play. Whenever coach wants a sub or anything like that, then everyone is cool with that. We’re just trying to win games.”

On how he wants the team to be remembered…

“I envision something greater than the Elite 8. I envision a tournament championship, going undefeated, those are the things that will be remembered forever. I mean, knocking Kansas off of Big 12 champs, things like that is how you become legends.”

MAKOL MAWIEN, JUNIOR FORWARD

On where he’s at with his recovery from injury…

“I don’t think it affected me too bad. It was something I had to get through during the summer, but right now I’m healthy and things are pretty good.”

On Austin Trice…

“He’s really an energy guy, relentless off the boards which will be good for our team.”

On his progress in the weight room…

“From last year I put 25 pounds on. I am about 250 now. I made a point to get stronger and I think I have done that. I still need to progress and put on more weight if I can. On the court, I feel like I am a little stronger.”

On future rebounding improvement…

“We have no ceiling. I feel like we have gotten surprisingly better from last year which is crazy to me since we were already pretty good. Everybody has improved in rebounding.”

On his decision to pick to K-State last year…

“Beforehand you do not know what you are going to get into but it was a good decision on my part. From the jump I felt pretty good about my decision and now that I can look back I know it was the right choice.”

On the Elite Eight run…

“It was really fun. Going through those games and going that far in the tournament was amazing.”

AUSTIN TRICE, JUNIOR FORWARD

On process of building up weight during off-season…

“It was a tough process. In the weight room constantly, everyday working hard. On the court working hard and then off the court just eating the right things, putting the right things in my body like protein, vegetables, fruits. I'm feeling good and I feel like it's had an affect on my athleticism.”

On the way this team works together…

“Ever since day one I found out that this team is very close, you know we're like brothers, on and off the court, it's unbelievable. So I feel like that's one of the main key points of our success and how successful we'll be this year because we work on an everyday culture, all the time someone is getting better and we work to get better everyday.”

On what his role on this team is…

“I go out on the court everyday with a Dennis-Rodman mentality. I try to rebound, I feel like rebounding is my niche. During the season I will try and go get 20 rebounds a game.”

On biggest adjustment when coming into an experienced group…

“The high level of competition, the intensity, the work ethic, it's a lot different than junior college but I've jumped right into the path of everything and I feel like I'm rolling right along with the team.”

LEVI STOCKARD III, SOPHOMORE FORWARD

On focus during the off-season…

“Just getting better, you know we had a great run but now it's over and we just have to keep getting better for this next season.”

On team routine over the summer…

“We've just been hitting the weights hard, we've been focussing on getting our bodies right. You know coming off of a long season, just getting our bodies better, stronger and more explosive.”

On personal goals for the season…

“I just want to come out and compete, man, just whatever I can do to help the team win.”