Hughes 'earns' more playing time

Tyler Hughes went from, "Who's that big kid on the end of the bench?" to a crowd favorite in a span of about six possessions Saturday afternoon at Bramlage Coliseum.

Playing against the Missouri Tigers and the likes of the burly Arthur Johnson and the bulky Travon Bryant, there was Hughes' drop-step move for a basket, then an assist, then a blocked shot, then a no-look pass, then a hustle-dive to try to save the ball from dancing out of bounds.

Oh, that doesn't even count a slam-dunk by the 6-foot-11 Olathe North product later in the half that brought the grandest cheer of all from the 10,083 in attendance.

Of the semi-thunderous dunk, Hughes said, "It was nice, but I didn't really do anything."

The 10 minutes of work was Hughes' longest stint of his brief 11-game Wildcat career. His six points, on 3-of-3 shooting, was a career high. In fact, it was two more than he had scored all season. His two rebounds tied a single-game high and his two blocked shots tied his season total.

While K-State fans might have been surprised, Hughes' teammate Jarrett Hart was not.

"We've been seeing it in practice, and practice is what gets you playing time," said Hart. "I'm glad he's taking it over from practice to the game. He's a big guy, a big body and can do a lot for this team."

And that's what coach Jim Wooldridge saw in practice, as well.

"Tyler has been doing much better in practice and earned his way onto the floor," Wooldridge said of his freshman center. "We've struggled at that spot at times through the conference season, and we always said Tyler had a lot of talent. We saw some of that."

Wooldridge added that it was simply a case of "... playing harder, completing harder in practice. We tried to boost his confidence thinking we would give him a turn in the next two games."

While having played in just one Big 12 game prior to last week, Hughes played three minutes at Iowa State on Wednesday prior to his 10-minutes of work Saturday.

"Coach just came to me and said that it's never too late to contribute to the team. I just tried to step up and be mentally tougher," Hughes said. "I've gotten beat up in some practices and quit playing hard. I had to learn how to

To that, Wooldridge added, "Every player gets challenged through his career. Some players take longer than others to respond to how you want them to respond.

"He's gone through a process throughout the year," Wooldridge said. "He's hit rock bottom at certain points of the season. But he came back and showed some fortitude and commitment. If he continues to do that, he will be a player here. He had to take that step; only the player can do that."

As for the difference from his early play, Hughes simply said, "Working harder."

He added, "I would have liked more minutes in the first part of the season, but it was my fault. I didn't work as hard as I should have this fall, so I didn't deserve those minutes."

Hughes was a two-year starter for Olathe North, which around these parts, is a school better known for producing Darren Sproles, the Wildcats' all-time leading rusher in football.

He was a second-team Class 6A all-Stater averaging 13 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots per game.

A 230-pounder, Hughes came to the Wildcats as a raw product, which needed to bulk up his frame.

"I need to improve every part of my game, and the weight room is definitely a part that I will be hitting," Hughes said. "The Big 12 really surprised me. I didn't think it would be this physical."

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