In his first year on campus, Bruce Weber learned in a hurry how passionate Wildcat fans are about their sports, especially in a year when Kansas State won a pair of Big 12 championships in football and men’s basketball.
For Weber, both sports were a high to be a part of.
“This is the first time that I’ve coached at a program where football was really good. What we did by winning the Big 12 title in football and basketball is really an accomplishment. As a basketball coach, coaching here with the success the football program is enjoying is nothing but a positive,” said Weber.
“There’s not a 100,000-seat stadium like you have at some of the Big Ten schools, but the quality of experience is really something. I brought friends and relatives back for games, and they were just in awe of the experience.”
While Weber’s focus is on the court, he’s also well aware that coach Bill Snyder is in his seat only several rows above the K-State bench.
“I really appreciate that. Bill is such a positive fan and influence on all of us whether it’s coming to talk to our team, being in the stands, or writing letters to our players,” said Weber.
“That’s a great statement to all of us to see him there. I know he’s said he loves basketball and the Big 12 tournament is one of his favorites.”
The high of winning a Big 12 championship came less than 12 months after being relieved of his coaching duties at the University of Illinois making for a wild emotional ride off the court.
“My whole life I’ve been very blessed to be associated with winners and champions. We won at Illinois more than at any time in the program’s history, so how it went down is very disappointing,” said Weber.
“But I’m a person of strong faith, and my whole life I’ve worked under the philosophy that everything will work out for the better … and this has worked out.”
While Weber, himself, was introduced to the “what have you done for me lately” side of sports a year ago, he’s seen other coaches last month lose their jobs, even though reaching the NCAA Tournament in some cases.
To that, he says, “The social media has made it so difficult. The intensity of faceless fans through the social media makes it hard to stay very long. I was at Purdue for 18 years and Illinois for nine. Jed Heathcoat (former Michigan State coach) called me when I was let go and he said, ‘You start with an 80 percent approval rating and every year lost 10 percent.’ It was the truth.
“You have faceless opinions on the internet or on talk radio saying things that they would never tell you personally. That’s the craziness of it,” he continued. “Someone throws an opinion out there, then the legitimate media members have to react to it and things are blown out of proportion. It’s the worst part of our business. It really doesn’t allow most coaches to stay very long in one place.”
Now to keep his job secure at K-State comes the recruiting spot and filling the voids left by this year’s senior class of Martavious Irving, Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez.
Looking ahead, Weber said, “We had some nice pieces returning, but they have to get better. Shane (Southwell) needs to decide if he loves it and wants to put in the time. He’s made strides and has the intelligence to play any position on the court when some of our guys don’t know their position. He can play them all, but at times he thinks too much. You become a better player during the summer. He needs to decide whether he wants to do that.”
In looking forward to recruiting classes to come, he said he hopes to start close to home and work his way out.
“We want to start in Kansas and the Kansas City area, but we also want Texas to be a good base because of the population, quality of play, and the connection it has with the Big 12,” said Weber.
“The third area is probably back east with the prep schools and the connections we’ve established with our New York kids.”