Kansas State coach Bruce Weber shouts to players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in the first round of the Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, March 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner
March 12, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Bruce Weber spent more time babysitting his players than coaching them this season.

That's not the assessment of the Kansas State coach, either. That's the opinion offered by forward Nino Williams, who watched his career with the Wildcats come to an end with an uninspired performance against TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.

The Wildcats (15-17) struggled on offense. They struggled on defense. In the end, they struggled to a losing record for the first time since 2003, missing out not only on the NCAA tournament but any other postseason tournament that might have considered them.

Weber called it a microcosm of the season, one that will be forever remember for suspensions, injuries and so much infighting that nobody ever seemed sure who would be available for games.

''You know, it's just a shame,'' Weber said, ''because we had enough tools to be better than we were. I'm not saying we could have been 30-0 or anything, but we should have been a handful of games better than we were.''

Weber had reason to be optimistic early in the season, too.

Leading scorer Marcus Foster was returning off a dynamic freshman season. Williams and big man Thomas Gipson had matured into senior leaders. An influx of freshmen and transfers were poised to provide some depth, and a tough schedule figured to prepare them for the rigors of the Big 12.

Instead, things start to unravel right from the start.

The Wildcats lost to Long Beach State three games into the season. They got waxed by Pittsburgh in the Maui Invitational. They lost a heartbreaker to Tennessee, then bottomed out when they lost back-to-back games to Texas Southern and Georgia at home in late December.

That was part of a three-game skid that culminated at Oklahoma State, where Foster openly pouted on the sideline when things weren't going his way. The dissension that had been festering for weeks in the locker room had finally spilled onto the court. Foster wound up playing just 14 minutes in that game, and would later be suspended for violating team rules.

There were bright spots the rest of the season, including a win over rival Kansas. But it seemed that more trouble was never too far away.

Freshman forward Malek Harris was suspended, sophomore guard Jevon Thomas briefly kicked off the team. Williams had to undergo a series of minor knee surgeries, forward D.J. Johnson never played after surgery on a broken foot. Another forward, Brandon Bolden, broke his left wrist last month. Wesley Iwundu and Harris both missed time with shoulder injuries.

''I can't speak for the team,'' Gipson said, ''but for myself, it was kind of frustrating.''

That may be an understatement. But then again, Gipson rarely speaks out. The big man was the consummate team player during his four years at Kansas State, a stretch that included three trips to the NCAA tournament and one trip straight back home.

''I'm just sad that it's all over,'' he said. ''It happened so quick, and right now, I'm just reflecting on everything I've done these past four years.''

Williams and Gipson are graduating, but the Wildcats should return the bulk of their roster next season. That is, of course, assuming Foster does not transfer.

Asked late whether he was planning to return, Foster replied: ''That's the plan right now.''

Iwundu and Thomas both said they planned to return, though both acknowledged in the locker room after a 67-65 loss to TCU on Wednesday night that they want to see changes.

Not in the coaching staff, but in the players. They want to see some maturity. They want to see a better work ethic. They want to see the same kind of hungry hustle that had been the hallmark under former coach Frank Martin.

''I was the one who said from the beginning, when there was a lot of hype going, I was cautiously optimistic,'' Weber said. ''I thought we had some pieces and, you know, I was still worried. I was worried that we didn't have experienced guard play. I was worried about the injuries, and that we didn't have the depth we needed, and I was worried about maturity.''

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