Head coach Bruce Weber of the Kansas State Wildcats yells from the bench during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 11, 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Photographer: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - An earlier start to practice sounded just fine to Kansas State coach Bruce Weber.
The Wildcats, who won a share of the Big 12 title last season, have to replace their top two scorers in graduated senior Rodney McGruder and point guard Angel Rodriguez, who transferred to Miami. So it's safe to say that Weber will take every minute he can get.
"I don't think there could be for us a better timing of it with the early practices" he said Thursday, on the eve of practices starting. "I looked at it and I figured out we have seven extra days of practice than we did a year ago. With half your team being new people, we can use all the days we can get."
In the past, practice began roughly four weeks before the season. Now, men's basketball teams get to conduct 30 days of practice in the six weeks prior to their first regular-season game.
Weber hopes he's able to ease the duration of the practice schedule prior to the season in order to keep his players fresh.
"My goal is to go a couple days then a day off, three days and then a day off," Weber said. "You've got to give them 12 days off before the start of the season. If we have a stretch where we get some injuries or something, I'll give them two days off."
The Wildcats play their first exhibition game Nov. 1 against Pittsburg State. They begin the regular season the following week against Northern Colorado.
Extra weight will fall on the shoulders of Thomas Gipson, Will Spradling and Shane Southwell as the top three returning scorers this season.
It's a message that Weber and staff have communicated thoroughly.
"Since last spring, that's all we've talked to them about," Weber said. "Their experience is going to be so valuable."
Durability and conditioning has been a long-standing question for Gipson. Now looking at a significant role on the younger squad, the junior big man lost 35 pounds over the offseason.
"I'm lighter on my feet," Gipson said. "I jump quicker, I'm jumping higher and I'm not as winded as I used to be running up and down the court. I just feel lighter and a lot better about myself. It's just boosting my confidence."
As practice begins, being able to put together a rotation in the frontcourt will be a priority for Weber and his staff. Gipson and 6-foot-9 forward D.J. Johnson played most of the minutes in the paint last season, but 6-5 junior Nino Williams will also have to help out.
Kansas State would love to have the services of 6-foot-11 Brandon Bolden, a transfer from Georgetown. But he'll sit alongside Maine transfer Justin Edwards, last year's leading scorer in the America East, as they fulfill their NCAA transfer requirements.
In the backcourt, the Wildcats will rely heavily upon Spradling, but they welcome a pair of freshmen in Nigel Johnson and Marcus Foster. Jevon Thomas will factor into the mix, but he's not eligible to hit the court until the end of the first semester.
"Marcus Foster is good," Weber said. "He's strong, he's solid and he works very hard -- very consistent. We were very fortunate to get him.
Weber said a newfound sense of athleticism is credit to his freshman class. Height will be the downside since most of those players work on the perimeter.
"We're way more athletic and those guys are athletic," Weber said. "We're a lot quicker than we were last year. We definitely replaced that. We didn't replace JO's (Jordan Henriquez) height and length and that's one that we're a little bit leery about. There's no doubt."
With a new year comes a new identity, and Southwell believes the Wildcats will be ready.
"It's a new year and I don't know who wouldn't be excited," Southwell said. "Hopefully, we can get another banner because we've got a big chance to prove ourselves. A lot of people are kind of doubting us, so it's another big year for us."
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