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October 25, 2016

Bruce Weber

Kansas City, Missouri

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Coach Weber from Kansas State. Coach, your thoughts about the upcoming season?

BRUCE WEBER: Like everybody at this time of the year, you're excited. As a coach, to get into the season, to start building a foundation with the team, it's the fun time of the year. It's an important time of the year, the first 30 days of practices, how you're creating your culture, your foundation for your group. We had a little bit of an advantage this summer. Had one of the international trips, had an opportunity to go to Italy and Switzerland, ten extra days of practice, along with the five games. Just a great lifetime experience, and I don't think there's any doubt every time we've done these trips it gives you an advantage, not only the chemistry part, the travel part, dealing with some tough travel things, adversity, but also for the coaches to learn about the team, learn about the new players, the group, and figure some things out. Instead of learning about your team in November and early December, you're learning about your guys a little earlier. Have a chance, hopefully, to fix those things that need to be corrected.

As a staff, I think we've done that. As I've said, we have a good group. Pretty good culture now. Very competitive practice. We get going Friday night with our first exhibition game, and I know the guys are anxious for that, just to get against somebody else.

Q. You're ninth in the conference by your peers, but you've got votes in the coaches poll. Can you sort of explain that fluctuation? Also do you use the ninth place pick as motivation?
BRUCE WEBER: Well, I think with the ninth place pick, I think, and I talked in every radio interview I've done in this fall part, I think with our teams in the league, you lost a lot of valuable members of teams. Some of the greatest players in the history of Big 12 basketball from Buddy to George Niang to Perry Ellis, those guys, and I think if you look at teams, they seem to have parts back, but you're not sure about the other people. So I think you could make a case for a lot of teams. Are they going to be in the top 5 or not. You know, just looking at us, we were close last year. The double overtime losses, the overtime losses, the last-second shots if they go in, we win games.

Now, the question with us, did we take the step? Our freshmen were good players last year, you had an all-newcomer team, two guys, probably three, if Kamau doesn't get hurt. Do they take that next step? Do the seniors -- are they becoming and having their best years of their career, Wesley Iwundu and Carlbe Ervin and D.J. Johnson. So I think you could make a case for that.

I feel good about our guys. I think they've made the step. They've had a great summer, great fall. I think we're going to be very competitive in the league.

Now, you have to stay healthy, you've got to make some shots, win the close games. I think as far as the national poll, I think people that have watched us saw that and analyzed it. Hey, you know, Dean Wade's really good, Kamau Stokes has a chance, Barry Brown, Wesley Iwundu, if you've seen Wes's improvement with his shooting. So I think they're saying they have a chance to take that next step, and I feel good about it. I think our guys do.

Use it as motivation. There is no court. We brought it up, and hopefully there's a little chip on the shoulder, not only because of that, but just making the step last year to win some of those close games that would have made a difference and put us in the NCAA tournament, put us maybe more toward the top of the league middle or top of the league than where we ended up.

Q. Does Wesley go from being a 12-point guy to a 15- or 16-point guy? Do you need that to happen?
BRUCE WEBER: Well, it would be nice, obviously, if you have that consistency. But as long as he's shooting 50% and makes 40 from three and putting up tough shots. I mean, you'll be shocked if you haven't seen him, he put the time in, the discipline, really working on the shot. Saturday we had scrimmage, 20-some minutes. He had four threes in the scrimmage before that.

My big thing is with him, if he wants to stay at 15, he's got to still do the things he did last year and throughout his career. Getting out in transition. Using his athleticism. Getting a couple putbacks, getting to the free-throw line. Making his free throws at a 75% clip. That will supplement. Because everybody has bad shooting days and even though he's much improved, I wouldn't say he's a pure shooter yet. But he's going to have to do all those other things and distribute, lead, defend. And that's going to make him special and be a leader on our team and help us have a great season.

Q. The way Dean finished his year last year, it seemed like his arrow was really going up, and then had a tough one against Kansas in the tournament. What did you make of his seasoned finish and what do you tell him about this is how you keep your stock rising?
BRUCE WEBER: I think the big thing, one would be the physicality of his body. He had to get back in the weight room. He had two major setbacks last year. Had pneumonia. Practiced one day out of two weeks right before Christmas, so that was mixed in with final exams. Then in the spring he got the flu and he missed a couple more weeks. So he had to have a good summer in the weight room, eating, taking care of his body. I think you'll see he's much stronger, much more physical. That's the first thing.

The second thing is just being confident. I don't think there is any doubt he was intimidated. To go against George Niang or Perry Ellis, guys he grew up watching and all of a sudden there he's out there, and we keep trying to tell him, hey, you're as good as him. You're a good player. You've got to come up every day and say I'm better than these guys and play like that and produce it.

So I guess the confidence, and then it just comes down to consistency. Rarely you have a freshman that just steps in. One-and-done guys, he obviously wasn't quite there. He was still pretty good. He had huge games. Here the Oklahoma State game in the Big 12 Tournament, he was big time. Oklahoma, No. 1 team in the country, national TV, we upset them. He's big time. But he just didn't do that consistently. That's part of the whole process and hopefully the next step for him.

Q. Obviously you have a very young team. You have seven freshmen and four sophomores. How much of a crash-course learning will they have when they get into Big 12 play, and how much will you be relying on them in your experience?
BRUCE WEBER: I'm not sure. We don't really have seven freshmen. We have a bunch of underclass freshmen and sophomores. And just as I said, those freshmen from last year have to make a big step for us. The new guys, if we can get something out of two or three of those guys, it's going to give us some depth. I think the big thing though is going to be the seniors. It's Wesley, D.J., Carlbe Ervin. Even our walk-ons, the two seniors, Austin Budke and Zach Winter. Austin gave us some nice minutes last year. Zach's been a great leader just every day coming to practice, energy, the weight room, creating a great, positive culture in our building.

So those guys are going to be the key to make sure everybody else is doing what they're supposed to. But I feel good about them. My thing, I feel good about our top seven guys. I think they had some experience. They've made nice steps. Now, if we're going to be really good, if we're going to live up on those three votes in the top 25 poll, now who is going to be 8 and 9, and are they going to be productive and give us something every game? Because when you get into foul trouble or you have somebody with the flu or sprained ankle, you need somebody there. That depth makes a difference. That's probably our next question as a staff as we move into this first month of the season.

Q. D.J. took a pretty major step forward last year, probably bigger than anyone would have expected with him coming off the injury and everything. Is he capable of sustaining that or improving on it even though he might be sharing the minutes a little bit more in the middle?
BRUCE WEBER: I don't think there is any doubt he can do it. He can take that next step and he's already done it. All of a sudden, last fall he comes to me because he says, Coach, I'm not sure I can do it. I'm not sure it's worth it. 16 months, boots, cast, two surgeries? I just said, Hey, let's slow down. You've spent all this time, why would you give up on it now? And he pushed his way through it. Then all of a sudden, without really prosecuting for 16, 17 months, he's stuck in there and with his athleticism, his energy, his passion, he got a lot of stuff done in the Big 12.

Now, for the first time from this summer on, he's actually practiced. First time in two years where he goes the whole practice. He's in the gym shooting extra time instead of being in the training room and getting therapy just so he can be in the game. So I think there's no doubt he's made that nice step. He's improved his shooting, his free throws. I think he can give us not only just the energy he's given us since his freshman year and physicality, but he's going to be able to score for us. Hopefully intelligence-wise, basketball-wise, that IQ part of it, he's taken a step. I don't know if he'll share minutes, but I'm hoping for a good 28, 30 minutes from him every game and being very productive.

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