Tuesday is the last night Kansas State fans will see Rodney McGruder, Martavious Irving and Jordan Henriquez play in Bramlage Coliseum. All have contributed greatly to this year’s team, but most of the focus – and understandably so – will be on McGruder.
In a time of transition, McGruder has been a constant. Looked to by his teammates as a leader, McGruder quickly bought into the system of first-year coach Bruce Weber and his staff. Weber is fully aware of how crucial McGruder’s cooperation was to the progress of this year’s team and the success the Wildcats (23-5, 12-3) have captured so far.
“When you’re the face of the program – which he is, I don’t think that’s saying something out of the realm of the truth – for him to buy in and really just right from the get-go accept what we believe in and what we do and not really rebel at all – if anything he just jumped on board, and that was so important,” Weber said. “You’ve got to appreciate that.”
Unlike some of the other (and younger) players, McGruder never wavered on the question of whether to stay at Kansas State after former coach Frank Martin’s departure to South Carolina. He had to see what could happen in Manhattan.
“I fought here for three years, and I think that would have been messed-up to leave what I built in this program,” McGruder said. “I wanted to finish what I started.”
Not surprisingly, all the other players followed suit. Now the team is tied with Kansas for first place in the Big 12 with three games remaining in the regular season. The senior class now has more wins (97) than any other class in Kansas State history, and Weber is tied for the most wins ever by a first-year Kansas State coach (23).
McGruder will hold all kinds of records at what will shortly be his alma mater, but that’s not what people will remember. They’ll remember the way he floats in the lane, the way he knocks down free throws, the way he drains 3s, the way he took ownership of a program going through a major transition. Mostly, if they read a little bit about him, they’ll remember the way he always had faith in what he and his teammates could accomplish at Kansas State, even after the departure of the popular, successful, fiery Martin.
“When that happened, a lot of stuff is going through your mind,” McGruder said. “You don’t know what to expect. When Frank first left, you didn’t know who your coach was going to be, but then the program went into Bruce Weber’s hands, and you saw the things that he accomplished at Illinois. You knew that big things could happen because I knew we were a pretty good team last year, but we had some plays that slipped away from us, so I knew that we could be good, and Bruce has proved that this year.”