KSU Rookies Inconsistent, But Improving

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State has five first-year players who have each, in varying degrees, helped the Wildcats to a 12-1 start to the season. While showing promise, coach Frank Martin's patience is being tested with their collective inconsistencies.

Wally Judge is one to suggest that Kansas State's freshman class is one of the best in the country. And, it just might be.

After all, what other program can line up a group of true-rookies that includes a 7-footer at center in Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, Judge as a 6-9 power-forward, small-forward Rodney McGruder, and a backcourt of Martavious Irving and Nick Russell?

With any freshman, coach Frank Martin says it is going to be a gradual process with some good days to go with some stinkers … and it has been just that.

"They hit a plateau in late-November where

they flattened out, but just before Christmas break they were pretty good," said Martin.

"This is a critical time for them because they have no other responsibilities until January 14 (the start of second semester). They need to get in here and develop the best possible understanding of our game. They need to get to the point where they don't think the game, but they play the game."

The cast of freshmen weren't thinking, or playing the game on Tuesday when they collectively pretty much just went through the motions in an 85-56 victory over Cleveland State.

Judge played only 11 minutes, contributing eight points and six rebounds. The other four first-year players combined to played 25 minutes, contributing zero points and five rebounds.

Given the opportunity to finish the game at the 3:04 mark, the cast of newcomers were out-scored 7-0 with two turnovers before a peeved Martin sent the starters back in with 2:26 remaining.

"Frank made a statement to show them that he won't allow just anything just because the game is out of hand," said junior guard Jacob Pullen. "As upperclassmen, we want them to be energetic when they step on the floor. They came out kind of lethargic and threw the ball away. Frank showed them that that's not acceptable."

Martin has constantly said that the biggest difference between an 18-year-old freshman and a 22- or 23-year-old senior is "consistency."

"The reason that older guy plays better is their peaks and valleys are smaller," said Martin. "Young guys have trouble forgetting the last play. Older guys with experience may make a mistake, but it is somewhat forgotten about, and they move on."

In addressing the next two weeks of practices, Martin said, "One of our biggest challenges in becoming a better basketball team is to have those freshmen grow up. When those freshmen learn to play at a faster rate, they will connect and gain the trust of those upperclassmen. Right now when they don't play at the same speed as the older guys, they stick out like a sore thumb.

"With our defensive principles, you can't just stand around," Martin stressed. "If one guy doesn't understand where to be, we're going to have a breakdown defensively. You have to be in the right place and play with tremendous energy and enthusiasm."

As a group, the five freshmen are contributing 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. But, they also have 39 turnovers compared to just 36 assists.

McGruder is averaging 5.4 points, which includes a sizzling .576 accuracy (10-of-18) from 3-point range. Inside, Judge is hitting 51 percent of his attempts for a 4.8 average. Irving is averaging 3.2, Henriquez-Roberts 3.0 on 57 percent shooting, and Russell 1.9. Judge and Henriquez-Roberts have each started five games this season, while each freshman averages between 8 and 14 minutes per game.

The Wildcat first-year players get another opportunity to show their development Sunday at noon against South Dakota in Bramlage Coliseum.

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