Key Losses: F Marques Hayden (6.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg), F Jeremiah Massey (17.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg), G/F Fred Peete (13.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.8 apg), C Justin Williams (4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Paris, France/Medical Redshirt 2004-05
Canton, MI/Schoolcraft (MI) College
Apple Valley, MN/Eastview
Hampton, VA/Eastern Oklahoma CC
Philadelphia, PA/Neosho County (KS) CC
Taybron, a junior college transfer who picked K-State over Oklahoma, could be a steal. Yearby was Detroit's Mr. Basketball and can play several positions. Hoskins is likely to contribute early with his playmaking ability off the dribble. Wright could get minutes, too; he ranked fifth among junior college point guards with 6.7 assists per game.
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Jim Wooldridge guided Kansas State to 17 wins last season, the school's highest total since 1998-99, but finished with familiar results -- no postseason berth. Again. Patience is wearing thin in Manhattan, and reaching the NCAA tournament is a must in Wooldridge's sixth season.
The loss of Jeremiah Massey combined with Fred Peete's unexpected transfer leaves K-State without its top two scorers and rebounders. That spells trouble for a program that hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 1996. But Wooldridge returns a stable of decent defenders and will move to a more up-tempo offense in hopes of scoring more points in transition.
"We're excited about the type of players we have and the improvement in the quality and quantity of players we have in the program," Wooldridge says. "That should give us as good of a chance as we've had to improve on last year's team."
Options and time are running out.
Wooldridge had hoped to beef up his frontcourt by adding Sidiki Sidibe, a 7-foot-1, 265-pound native of France, but in late July the Wildcats learned Sidibe would remain in Europe to play professionally.
With or without Sidibe, Wooldridge had planned to utilize a single-post attack and flood the floor with four guards. He did so down the stretch last year, and the Wildcats won four of their final five regular-season games.
"We've had a contingency plan for quite some time [if Sidibe did not show up], and we'll have somebody in here who can compete for that single-post position," Wooldridge says.
The top candidates to fill the spot are Tyler Hughes and Dramane Diarra. The 6-11 Hughes has yet to strike fear in Big 12 defenders and must significantly increase his 2.2 point-per-game average. His five starts are the most of any returning big man.
Diarra comes off a foot injury that kept him off the court last season. He plays bigger than 6-8 and can muscle inside.
Cartier Martin was used in the paint late last season. He has the second-most starts (28) of any current Wildcat and is the top returner in rebounds (4.8) and total steals (25). He will likely be a frontcourt contributor again.
Darren Kent (6-10) is the tallest newcomer and is noted as a face-up attacker with a nice shooting touch.
Clent Stewart, who started every game and broke Steve Henson's freshman record for assists, has the ingredients to become a star at the point. This season, Stewart will be asked to increase his offensive production -- he averaged just 4.8 shots per game -- and continue to provide leadership running the team.
Senior Schyler Thomas might get the first shot to back up Stewart, but junior college transfers Mario Taybron and Akeem Wright are both playmakers who will battle for time on the perimeter.
Stewart will get help from 2-guard Lance Harris, the Wildcats' most improved player last season. Harris is a proven threat in transition and should produce more than his team-leading 58 3-pointers a year ago.
Harris and Martin are the only returning players who averaged double digits in scoring. That means Curtis Allen, one of the team's best defenders, must step up his productivity.
With Martin likely seeing time in the frontcourt, the newcomers must pan out in a hurry. Most are cut from a similar fabric -- tall and athletic -- but are relative unknowns. Junior college transfer David Hoskins is a threat off the dribble, and freshman Delivez Yearby has tremendous hops and a good mid-range jumper.
The good news? K-State has looked its best under Wooldridge when it's played an up-tempo game. The not-so-good news? Wooldridge must find an inside presence or veteran Big 12 frontcourts will adjust and destroy the Cats in the paint.
A soft non-conference schedule should give this group time to jell, but an upper-half finish in the league and an NCAA berth will be a daunting task to say the least. Either way, the madness of March will hit Wooldridge.