Wildcat First Down: Irrational Optimism Derek Larson November 17, 2014 Features, Wildcat First Down Mondays at The Salute When it comes to K-State basketball, I’m prone to irrational excitement. It’s a problem that I’m aware of and that I’m attempting to deal with. In previous seasons, I’ve been convinced that Manny Dies could lead the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament, that Tony Kitt could put the Wildcats on his shoulders to beat Kansas, and that Dez Willingham could be the next great purple-adorned point guard. Jeremiah Massey got my hopes up. Michael Beasley had me thinking Final Four. And Jacob Pullen’s glory days had me dreaming of a “One Shining Moment” montage with Wildcats as the feature. When it comes to college basketball, I don’t just drink purple Kool-Aid. I brew it in a home distillery. Please, dear readers, keep all that in mind when I mention that I have a pretty good feeling about the 2014-15 Wildcats. It starts at the top… or on the side, more accurately. Wherever you want to picture coach Bruce Weber, you’re picturing a coaching that has led the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons as head coach and has lined up a squad that should make a third consecutive tournament happen this season. Despite the fact that he’s not Doug Gottlieb, he has shown an ability to get true talent and athleticism to Manhattan, a trend many thought might end when Frank Martin answered South Carolina’s call. Tournament success with the Wildcats has eluded Weber thus far – and it’s a factor that every coach is judged on – but one hot tournament run (granted, we hope for many more than that) could make the early exits of the past long-forgotten memories. Marcus Foster On the perimeter, the Wildcats may the most athleticism Bramlage Coliseum has seen since… well, ever. Marcus Foster returns after an All-Big 12 Second Team campaign wherein he averaged nearly 16 points per game. He scores seemingly by the bucket full and – as David Stockton can attest – he can jump out of the gym. Funny thing, though: this season’s Wildcats feature Justin Edwards, a player with more spring and possibly a better scoring touch (Foster himself predicted Edwards would lead the team in scoring.) Edwards, a junior, takes the court after sitting out a season as a transfer from Maine. He left the America East conference looking for better competition (and possibly a setting not drawn from a Stephen King novel). He led the America East conference in scoring as a sophomore and will team with Foster to attempt to posterize (are posters still a thing?) every opponent in their way. Wesley Iwundu Elsewhere on the outside, sophomore Wesley Iwundu and a pair of freshmen Harrises (Tre and Malek) bring more length and athleticism. Iwundu started all but one game as a freshman, and serves as a Scottie Pippen-type. I know it’s a stretch to compare the kid to an NBA Hall of Famer, but stick with me. He can handle the ball, shows a strong hoop IQ and has the potential to be a lock-down defender. All of that and we haven’t mentioned a jumper that steadily improved throughout his freshman season. The Harris brothers (disclaimer: not actual brothers) bring a bit of the unknown. They’ll have to earn time in the rotation of Weber’s deep bench, but both filled up box scores in their high school careers. If nothing else, we know that they’ll lead the conference in prompting cheers of “Go Tre!… I mean, Malek!… Wait, is that Malek?!” Jevon Thomas Running the point, sophomores Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson bring quickness reminiscent of Denis Clemente’s one-man fast breaks. Thomas brings court vision and defensive tenacity. Johnson – admittedly judging off the small sample size that this season has provided – brings an improved jump shot off the bench. While both will run the point, they’ll also team together in the backcourt to give the Wildcats a unit ready to run at any time. Down low, DJ Johnson’s injury hurts, but so will defenders who end up between Thomas Gipson and Stephen Hurt. Gipson is back for his senior season and brings his defensive end’s frame along with him. At 6-7, 265 lbs., No. 42 makes sure the opposition earns their rebounds when they attempt to box him out. Hurt, meanwhile, brings the pain not only with a 6-11, 265 lbs., frame, but also with shooting range that extends beyond the 3-point arc. Thomas Gipson The rotation down low will be bolstered by senior Nino Williams and sophomore Brandon Bolden. Williams completes his career as a WIldcat while Bolden – a transfer from Georgetown – begins his own. Undersized for the post, Williams relies on a deft mid-range shot to help stretch defenses. Bolden, on the other hand, may operate as “DJ lite” this season, bringing the sort of energy and athleticism that the Wildcats off the bench that Johnson injected the Wildcats with last season. If nothing else, Bolden has already put K-State on the map this season by going viral with an obliteration of a blocked shot against Southern Utah. Top to bottom, this K-State squad is deep. They’re athletic. They’re ready to threaten for a Big 12 Championship… Am I being irrational?