MANHATTAN, Kan. — Jerome Tang reflected upon last season, when the first-year Kansas State coach led what was nearly an entirely rebuilt roster to within a couple of buckets of the Final Four, and decided that the remarkable turnaround was pretty good.
This year, he wants to the Wildcats to be great.
That meant time spent talking with other people who have achieved greatness, and that led to a trip to Colorado and a meeting with Deion Sanders. Tang had known Ray Forsett, the chief of staff for the Hall of Famer-turned-college football coach dating to his days at Baylor, when Forsett was a prep coach and Tang was recruiting one of his players, Isaiah Austin.
“I wanted to expand what I was doing because there's a fine line between going from good to great,” Tang said. “Ray opened the opportunity for me to meet with Deion and find out about roster management, staff management, things like that from him.”
Tang also spent time with Constance Schwartz-Morini, who along with Michael Strahan founded the sports branding company SMAC Entertainment, and who helped him learn what it would take to expand the Kansas State brand.
“Not just make it national, because it already is, but make it global,” Tang explained, “because I believe that I'm in the best place in the world to compete for national championships every year. I want to do my part to put us in that position.”
Rebuilding a roster that lost Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell to the NBA is a good place to start.
Tang started that process by landing two of the nation's top transfers, high-scoring guard Tylor Perry from North Texas and Creighton swingman Arthur Kaluma. Then he put the finishing touches on one of the best recruiting classes in school history, featuring a trio of four-star guards in Dai Dai Ames, Macaleab Rich and R.J. Jones.
Six-foot-10 forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin, versatile David N'Guessan and breakout candidate Cam Carter are back from last year and, coupled with the new additions, have the expectation to get right back to where they finished — and a step farther.
“New season,” N'Guessan said, “new goals.”
Perry's arrival at Kansas State is the latest stop on a slow climb through college basketball. The 5-foot-11 guard nearly committed to play at Division II Central Missouri before landing at Coffeyville Community College, where he caught the eye of North Texas — and now Texas Tech — coach Grant McCasland. Together they won the NIT title last season.
“I used to pray to be here. Used to dream to be here,” Perry said. “I can't help but be grateful that I'm here.”
Tang still isn't quite sure how Kansas State went on such a successful late-season run, but he has an idea: “We had 10 state championships on our team last year,” he said, referring to high school titles his players had won. “We had guys who had won. They'd won the last game in their career at some point in time.”
Kansas State's recruiting success, both with its incoming class and 2024 class, is a byproduct of the way the team performed last season. The more the Wildcats won, the more attention they got and the more prospects were able to see them.
“Last year, we recruited 75 guys. We did 75 Zooms with video and everything to sign 11. So 61 guys told us no," Tang recalled. “During the NCAA Tournament, I got a lot of text messages from 61 guys saying, ‘Coach, I messed up.' Or, 'Congratulations.’ My message to the new guys is you can either send me a congratulatory text or you can enjoy it with me.”
TAKING THE NEXT STOP
Tomlin was a big part of the Wildcats' postseason run, and his performance on the NCAA Tournament stage suddenly made him an NBA prospect. But to take the next step, Tang said, his athletic big man needs to stay out of foul trouble. Tomlin fouled out of four games, and finished with four fouls in eight more, and that limited the minutes he could be on the floor.
Kansas State will be tested right out of the gate by No. 21 USC on Nov. 6 in the Hall of Fame Series in Las Vegas. After games against Bellarmine and South Dakota State, the Wildcats head to the Baha Mar Hoops Championship in the Bahamas. They also have non-conference games against Providence, No. 22 Villanova and Wichita State.