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Big 12 Media Day: Roundup from the rest of the conference

KJHK hit the road to Kansas City for Big 12 Media Day this Tuesday. Here’s some notable quotes from the other head coaches of Big 12 basketball teams.

Bruce Weber, Kansas State

Kansas State comes off of a 17-16 season in which his team finished 5-13 in the Big 12, good for eighth in the conference. They return senior Wesley Iwundu, and sophomore Dean Wade.

Weber on Wade: “I think you’ll see he’s much stronger, much more physical. That’s the first thing. The second thing is just being confident. I don’t think there is any doubt he was intimidated. To go against Georges Niang or Perry Ellis, guys he grew up watching and all of a sudden there he’s out there, and we keep trying to tell him, hey, you’re as good as him. You’re a good player. You’ve got to come up every day and say I’m better than these guys and play like that and produce it.”

Since Weber’s first season with the Wildcats, when they finished tied for first in the conference with Kansas, their record in Big 12 games has gotten worse every single subsequent year.

Weber on how K-State can succeed this season: “I feel good about our top seven guys. I think they have some experience. They’ve made nice steps. Now, if we’re going to be really good, if we’re going to live up on those three votes in the top 25 poll, now who is going to be 8 and 9, and are they going to be productive and give us something every game? Because when you get into foul trouble or you have somebody with the flu or a sprained ankle, you need somebody there. That depth makes a difference. That’s probably our next question as a staff as we move into this first month of the season.”

Chris Beard, Texas Tech

First-year head coach Chris Beard comes in from Arkansas Little Rock, who finished 30-5 last season. Arkansas Little Rock made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament last year before falling to the Iowa State Cyclones.

Beard on what he hopes to accomplish at Texas Tech: “It’s time for us to have a nationally competitive basketball program. Everybody in our program feels the urgency of this, of certainly being able to come back home to my home state and coaching in the Big 12 has been special.”

Texas Tech finished 9-9 last season, after a dismal 3-15 season in 2014-15. Joe Lunardi had them as one of his first four out in his final edition of his bracketology last season, and they are returning three of their four leading scorers in Big 12 play.

Beard on the expectations for this season: “I don’t consider our job a rebuild at all. I have a lot of respect for Tubby Smith and his staff and the job they did. We inherited a great foundation. In this year’s team we have 12 players that are going to be on the active roster. I believe seven of those are returners and five [are] newcomers. The balance of our program, we have eight returners and eight new players. So I think our job is to try to take the program to the next level.”

Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State also brings in a new head coach this season in Brad Underwood. Underwood comes in from Stephen F. Austin, where he lost only one conference game in his three seasons as head coach. His Lumberjacks capped a successful season last year with a Round of 64 upset over West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.

Underwood on the challenges of being a first-year head coach: “I think you’re trying to establish your culture. I’ve been very fortunate. Our guys are both feet in. They’re committed. Understanding how hard you have to work, understanding the nuances of a new offensive and defensive scheme, all those things take time.”

After a disappointing 2015-16 season in which the Cowboys finished ninth in the Big 12 with a 3-15 record, former head coach Travis Ford was fired over the offseason. Despite the rough season last year, the team still returns fifth-year senior Phil Forte, who was granted a medical redshirt after an injury plagued 2015-16 campaign. He will be paired in the backcourt with sophomore Jawun Evans.

Underwood on Forte: “I’ve said this many times with Phil. I don’t know how any coach could be any luckier than what I am to have a guy that works so hard every day at his craft. Here’s a guy who shoots 600 balls a day. No matter what our practice schedule is, this guy works. He’s committed and dedicated his life to be the best he can be at it. And you know what? He’s going to break our three-point field goal record, and I think he’s going to have a great year. His leadership has shown our young guys how to do things, and that’s helped me tremendously establish that culture.”

Steve Prohm, Iowa State

Second-year head coach Steve Prohm guided last year’s Cyclone’s team to a 23-12 record overall, and a 10-8 one in the conference, good for fifth in the league. He’s losing player of the year finalist Georges Niang, but still has an experienced team with seniors Naz Long, Monte Morris Matt Thomas, and junior Deonte Burton.

Prohm on Burton: “Deonte Burton, starting with him, probably the most improved, has really changed his mindset, his approach, his focus, his work ethic. He’s had a great, great off-season and [I’m] looking forward to him having a really big year for us. He’s a guy that I think we can utilize him, similar to Niang in a way of just a mismatch guy.”

Prohm on Burton, Long, Thomas, and Morris leading Iowa State this season: “Those four guys are what I’m really going to lean on and rely on. I think if it’s their team, if we let them lead this team, I think that gives us the best opportunity to be successful.”

Jamie Dixon, TCU

TCU’s Jamie Dixon, the last of the new faces among the Big 12 coaches this season, comes in from Pittsburgh where his Panthers qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the 13 seasons he was the head coach. His new team, though, hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

Dixon on a potential culture change: “There’s no excuses. We’ve got to move on, and again, it’s new. I’m excited because who gets that opportunity? I don’t think anybody’s looking to say what we’ve done. We’re all about the future. We’re all about going forward, and that is the best way to sell it.”

Dixon also brings in four-star point guard Jaylen Fisher, a four-star recruit who ranked 57th on Rivals top freshman for this season. 

Dixon on Fisher: “He’s what we needed, most importantly. Point guards win college basketball games, and he’s as good as there was available. But I think he might be as good a point guard as there was last year, as far as a true point guard. He’s the guy that wants to give other guys shots. He’s the guy that wants to win. He’s an amazing teammate, and that’s what’s great to see.”

Scott Drew, Baylor

Baylor had a rough end to last season, due to a Round of 64 loss in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, but look to finally make a deep run into March this year led by returnees Al Freeman and Johnathan Motley.

Head coach Scott Drew on Motley: “J-Mot’s gotten better every year, now we’re looking for more consistency out of him. And I think he’ll have that opportunity, playing-timewise because he’s the man now as far as experience-wise goes. He’s had some great games. But now we just need him each and every night. And that’s what experience does is it helps you be consistent.”

Drew on Freeman: “He came in as a gifted scorer, but I think he’s also a facilitator and can pass the ball. I think he’s done a good job growing and improving in that. We’re trying to make sure he’s not just scoring, but also getting his other teammates involved and making them better. He’s somebody that had a good summer, has worked hard, and is our leading returning scorer. So we hope and expect big things from him.”

Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Sooners are coming off of one of the better seasons in program history, capped by a Final Four appearance. The departures of last year’s National Player of the Year Buddy Hield, and fellow starters Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins leave a lot of question marks for the Sooners. However, Jordan Woodard comes back as the Sooners leading returning scorer.

Head coach Lon Kruger on Woodard: “He knows that this year the target’s going to be on his back, where last year it was on Buddy’s, Ryan’s, Isaiah’s. And maybe he’ll have to work a little harder to get the same looks that he had last year, and maybe get the same results he had last year. So I think he understands the preparation is going to be huge in terms of being in great condition and ready to work hard to get those same looks.”

Kruger on adapting without Hield: “The biggest challenge is getting these young guys to grow quickly and the Big 12, like in most leagues, it’s not great to be young in any league, but [the] Big 12 especially. But our guys understand that. We’ve got Khadeem and Jordan who were starters last year, and a lot of other guys played significant minutes. They know what it took for that team to do well, and they benefited from that. So they’ve transferred that to the work during the off-season, and now early season practices.”

Bob Huggins, West Virginia

The Mountaineers finished 13-5 in the Big 12 last year, good for second in the conference. They’re losing two main pieces on the offensive side of the floor in Devin Williams and Jaysean Paige, though they have managed to maintain their trademark depth for this season. Head coach Bob Huggins is bringing in three 3-star freshman, along with redshirt freshman James Bolden, who didn’t play last season due to a torn ACL.

Huggins on his incoming freshmen: “We’re going to play a lot of people, so they’re going to play. Our two bigs are going to play, whether it’s the 6’10” freshman, whatever he is, 6’8″, freshman, they’re going to play. I hope we can get into other people’s bench and make them play guys that they haven’t played a lot and just a cumulative effect of what we do.”

Huggins, whose team was picked to finish second in the Big 12 this season, on Kansas’ dominance of the conference: “It comes down to three things: They’ve got a great coach, they’ve got great players, and they never lose at home. Until we start beating them at home — and we had chances, we had chances. We missed free throws and a lot of crazy things happened at Allen Fieldhouse. So we end up losing. If we had beaten them, I think somebody else would have had a chance to maybe tie for the league championship or whatever.”

Shaka Smart, Texas

In Shaka Smart’s first season as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns, his team had a bit of an up and down year. Despite the rocky waters, Texas was still good enough to earn a six seed in the NCAA Tournament. Smart is losing his three leading scorers in Isaiah Taylor, Cameron Ridley, and Javan Felix, but with strong sophomores like Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis, and Tevin Mack, along with a strong group of freshmen, things are looking up for the Longhorns.

Smart on how his team will be different from last year: “I think it’s definitely a more versatile group from the standpoint of last year the ball was in Isaiah Taylor’s hands, and he was going to make a decision to make a play. Everybody knew that on our team. Everyone knew that on the team we were playing against. I think this year there is going to be more interchangeable parts, particularly on our perimeter with different guys playing the point guard position. Different guys playing off the ball. We’re going to have to play point guard by committee, and that will be interesting to follow.”

Smart on his top freshman, Jarrett Allen: “He’s a phenomenal player, and he’s only getting better and better. He’s a rare blend of a guy that is very, very long and athletic and has great size, but also has very good touch around the basket and just has some great natural instincts. So for us, he’s going to make a big impact right away. We’re going to play him at multiple positions. He’s going to be a guy that gets better and better over the course of the season.”

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