I don’t have confidence in Bruce Weber as the head of K-State’s basketball program. There, I said it. I’m probably crazy for the statement, but this is something I’ve been chewing on for awhile and can’t get over it. I also want to make a clear distinction: I fully trust him as an in-game coach making substitutions and managing the game. Yet as the program’s manager, responsible for recruiting in addition to coaching, I’m not so comfortable.
No one can deny the job Bruce Weber does with the talent he has. Second year at Illinois, he leads the school to a 37-2 record and national title game appearance in 2005. Despite losing three starters to the NBA that summer, he followed up the performance with a 26-7 record and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. However, he pulled off those feats with players recruited by Bill Self.
The goodwill Weber developed with his initial success finally wore off in 2012 when Illinois finished ninth in the Big 10 with a 6-12 conference record. He was hired 20 days later when Frank Martin departed for South Carolina to get away from John Currie, who seemed intent on making Martin’s tenure hell.
At the end of the day, you have to admit Weber wasn’t left with a particularly powerful class of players to work with upon arriving at Manhattan. Angel Rodriquez is a phenomenal point guard and Rodney McGruder was among the 30 best players in the NCAA, but the roster didn’t have a single player that was or will be drafted. There was no dominating big man, forcing Weber to run a lot of four-guard sets. And all he did with that collection of talent was tie for first in the Big 12 regular season, reach the conference’s title game, and win the Conference Coach of the Year after going 25-6 overall and 14-4 in the league.
So Weber is able to take good players and exceed expectations, but his track record at Illinois was of a coach that couldn’t even land in-state recruits. ESPN speculated he was likely to be fired due to this deficiency in February of 2012, and he was released that March. If he wasn’t able to bring in kids from the overflowing pot of talent that is the basketball paradise of Chicago while at Illinois, how should we expect those kids to follow him to Manhattan?
Of course, it’s unfair to judge a guy without looking at his entire body of work. But I can’t believe this team is in position to grow upon last season’s successes. Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez (along with Martavious Irving) graduated. Those are two excellent talents that need to be replaced. Angel Rodriguez opted to transfer, although I’m hesitant to hold that against Weber as Rodriguez was ready to transfer last year and I don’t begrudge any decision driven by family considerations. The decisions for Adrian Diaz and Michael Orris to transfer raise more eyebrows.
So what has Weber done to replenish the talent pool? The recruiting class was finalized in early July, and can be found here. At the end of the day, it leaves me underwhelmed. Size is the biggest need, and of the five players the Wildcats got two 6’7″ small forwards (Neville Fincher was supposed to be the big get at power forward/center, but was ruled ineligible). The other three guards are good and I’m happy to welcome them on aboard, but none of the five are among the top 100 players in the country.
There are a couple transfers coming into the program as well that could be solid contributors, but no game changers. The Big 12 had a down year last year, but should be more stacked for 2013-14. With the kids KU brought in, the Jayhawks are the very obvious favorite to win the conference and Oklahoma State looks the most ready to upset them for the title. With Will Spradling and Shane Southwell poised to knock down big shot after big shot and Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams having shown tremendous growth after the past year, the Wildcats should still be competitive. But the last recruiting class still concerns me, and I’ll be waiting to see if Weber can score a solid class in 2014.