Iwundu-rful stuff, but inconsistent at Kansas State

K-State's Wesley Iwundu

FEBRUARY 2015 – One game he’ll show up on the ESPN highlights with a high-flying dunk. The next game he’ll barely show up on the stat sheet. Welcome to the world of—channeling our inner-Chris Berman—Wesley Iwundu “What He’s Gonna Do Next.”

Iwundu, the talented, versatile 6-7 Kansas State forward, has pro potential if he can focus and channel his talents. But that’s a big “if.”

“I think he can be really good,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said. “He should be really good. He should be a stat-filler. He should be getting at least five of every stat. He should get 10 to 12 points, 5 or 6 rebounds, 4 or 5 assists, 4 or 5 blocks or steals every game. He’s that kind of player.”

He should be, but he isn’t, and that’s the frustration for Weber. In the late January home victory over Oklahoma State, Iwundu had six points and no rebounds. In the previous game against Oklahoma, he had two points and two rebounds. Not the numbers Weber wants to see next to Iwundu’s name on the stat sheet.

“I think consistency, strength and confidence,” Weber said when asked what Iwundu needs to improve the most.

surplusexchange.orgHis inconsistency has led to diminished minutes. After playing a minimum of 30 minutes in each of the first five Big 12 games, Iwundu played 20 and 21 minutes in the next two games. He is averaging just 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds a game.

“I think a lot of our freshmen worked really hard last year,” Weber said. “They were hungry and a little bit scared. They had success and they probably didn’t realize that you have to continue to work hard moving forward. I think what happened is Wes thought it was going to be easy. Obviously it’s not easy.

“You have to keep trying to get better. I thought right at the beginning of December, coming off a handful of awful games, he got it. We had to talk to him as coaches, and he started coming in early, working one-on-one and working extra time. At the Texas A&M game it all connected. He made some progress and gained a little more confidence.”

Having 10 points in the previous five games, the Texas A&M game at Sprint Center in December is where Iwundu started showing up on the highlights. He was fired up because it was the last game before a short break for Christmas. It also was his 20th birthday.

In a 30-second span, Iwundu made a couple of SportsCenter highlights. He skied for a defensive rebound, dribbled through traffic the length of the court and threw down a thunderous dunk. Seconds later, Jevon Thomas stole the ball at half court, threw it ahead to Iwundu who, in one motion, grabbed the ball before it went out of bounds and flipped it behind his head to Nino Williams for an easy lay-up and a 15-point lead. He appeared less out of breath than you are after reading that sentence.

Iwundu agrees that consistency is his biggest challenge.

“It’s pretty much comes down to if I come into the game focused and what kind of mindset I bring into the game,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been doing better at recently. I’ve worked with the coaches. I’ve been more focused coming into the games.

“It’s definitely something that’s fixable. I’ve been working in that area, but there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. I’m getting to the gym earlier and getting extra work in after practice. I’m giving everything to basketball and keeping the outside things away.”

Weber said NBA scouts have noticed Iwundu, who played point guard for most of his high school career. He added about five inches between his junior and senior seasons, making the switch to forward an easy one. But he still possesses the skills to play the point.

“I think we have to get his handles a little more secure (to play him at point guard),” Weber said. “He’s so long that the little guys can get into him. Last year we experimented. Jevon couldn’t practice (at the beginning of the year). We had Will (Spradling) and Nigel (Johnson), who got mono. We had him playing point guard in practice. He’s a versatile 1-3 guy. He can be a point-forward.

“Last year when NBA guys would come to look at Marcus Foster, a lot of them would talk to us about Wes because of his length and his versatility.”

While ball-handling may still be an issue, Iwundu had another outstanding game against Baylor in mid-January. Kenny Chery, the star point guard for Baylor, had lit up the Wildcats for 16 points in the first half—on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range—and the Bears led by nine. He finished with just 21 points, mostly because Iwundu matched up against him on defense.

“It happened on a switch a couple of times,” Weber said. “I think the length bothered Chery. We forced him to his left. We were switching some things and it just kind of happened. When we subbed Nigel for Jevon, they had (Lester) Medford and Chery in there. We put Nigel on Medford and Wes on Chery. We kept with that match-up.”

As good as Iwundu was on defense, he also keyed a 17-2 K-State run that turned a 12-point deficit with 11:27 left into a 3-point lead with 5:36 left. All this happened with leading-scorer Foster on the bench with four fouls.

“We found a group that defended pretty well and made some stops,” Weber said. “Wes started attacking the zone a little better. He got into the paint and made some nice plays. That, with the defense, was the key.”

There was one other memorable play in the Baylor game, during that big run. Iwundu, who may be the team’s best passer, threw a bounce pass to Williams under the basket for a lay-up.

“Wes had probably the worst pass in history,” Weber joked. “I don’t know how many times it bounced. It was so bad that it got through their legs. Nino grabbed it and laid it in.”

Even Iwundu laughed about the “effectiveness” of his pass. “I guess luck was on my side,” he said. “I really can’t tell you how the ball got there.”

Weber said he never knows which Iwundu is going to show up, but he’s enjoying a prime seat to find out.

“You’re going ‘No!’ a lot, but he finds a way to get it done,” Weber said. “He took a big step as a freshman. He surprised everybody, including the coaches. Now it’s taking that next step. The offseason is the most important time (for preparation), but he’s taking advantage of any extra time he can get in the gym and work on his game. It’s a continuing process. He has a great upside. He’s very versatile. As long as he doesn’t lose the focus, he’ll continue to get better.”

How good will he become? You can only (I)wundu.

Article by David Smale

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