K-State basketball faces challenges
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was thrilled when he got permission to bring in Big 12 referees for a recent basketball practice.
With COVID-19 concerns preventing exhibition games and scrimmages, he desperately wanted to see how his young team would handle the scrutiny of officials in a game setting.
Well, chalk up another one for the virus.
“Basketball is played with five guys on the court, and we've had seven in practice, we've had eight," Weber said Tuesday. "We scrimmaged with refs the other day for the first time.
"They allowed us one time with Big 12 officials, and we had eight guys who could practice, so we played four-on-four."
Hardly what Weber was looking for with a team that returns just one senior and is trying to break in eight new scholarship players. Especially with the Wednesday afternoon season opener against Drake just around the corner.
"I asked them after the scrimmage, 'What did you learn from today?’ and the first thing Rudi (Williams) raised his hand and said, 'Twenty-eight minutes is a long time,' " Weber said. "That extended minutes and trying to play defense and get up and down. We try to do it, but we have so many limited numbers."
It has forced Weber and his staff, not to mention the players, to adjust on the fly.
"The last 10 days or so, we've only had four guards in practice, so they never get to come out," Weber said. "I even make up drills — two-on-two, so somebody gets a rep off. Three-on-three so one guy does.
"We've gone five-on-zero, we've done shooting. Every day I challenge our coaches, 'Think of a creative drill.' "
Williams, a junior point guard from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and one of the eight newcomers, said the virus and the protocols that come with it have made for an interesting transition when it comes to team-building.
"If there was no COVID right now, we'd be able to do much more. Guys would be able to hang out with each other," he said. "Sometimes we just keep our space.
"But I also feel that it's been good, because all we've got to focus on is school and basketball, school and basketball. A lot of us will go from doing our school work to head to the Ice Facility, so we get to spend a lot of time by ourselves."
Weber did take the team bowling one time, as a diversion, but there are limits to how much time they can spend together while still staying safe. That's where basketball comes in.
"Before we started team workouts, we were always in the gym as a team in the night time, so I feel it helped us build chemistry on the court and helped us get a feel for each other and everyone's different playing styles," Williams said.
The pandemic has made it more difficult for the coaches to evaluate individual players, but Weber gave the team credit for grinding through.
"They care, they work very hard (and) they’ve gotten better," he said. "I know they're ready for games or something. It would be nice to scrimmage with refs.
"I think that was enjoyable for them, even though it was hard. Especially when you haven't had those game-like conditions."
If the recent spike in COVID-19 cases weren't stark enough reminders for the players, what is at stake, K-State announced Tuesday that there will be no fans in the stands at Bramlage Coliseum for the rest of November.
"I feel like the coaches have done a good job of keeping us under control (and) preaching to us to do the right thing," Williams said. "If it's on the weekend and we get a day off or something like that, making sure we're doing the right stuff.
"I think we all understand that there's so much to lose right now, so we've been trying to do the right thing. You won't see any of our guys going out and stuff like that, and being out and about in town. I feel like we all understand there's a lot to lose and we've been working hard to get to this point, so we want to have our season and play."
For his part, Weber has tried to balance the roles of counselor and taskmaster while preparing his team for an opener that's less than a week away.
"It hasn't been easy, but our guys have stayed the course," he said. "You try to keep encouraging the players.
"I told them, I could give in and feel sorry for you and not expect excellence — that was our whole theme (Monday) — but I'm not going to do that. I want excellence every day, and if you demand it of yourselves, we'll be OK."