Jerome Tang hopes the following statement doesn’t sound like trash talk.
Kansas State’s men’s basketball coach isn’t trying to say anything negative. He is simply trying to explain why he expected, and even welcomed, the opportunity to build a roster from scratch after the Wildcats lost nine scholarship players to the NCAA transfer portal earlier this spring.
“This is no offense to the staffs before me or any of the players, but when I was coming in I thought there were only three guys I would want to stay,” Tang said in an interview with The Eagle. “And two of the three stayed. I knew what was going to happen.”
At its smallest, the K-State men’s basketball roster shrunk to just two returning players with Tang at the helm — senior point guard Markquis Nowell and junior forward Ismael Massoud.
Both are solid foundational pieces for Tang, even though he presumably would have preferred to also retain leading scorer Nijel Pack, who transferred to Miami and got a NIL deal worth $800,000. Nowell averaged 12.4 points and five assists per game on his way to all-Big 12 honorable mention last season, while Massoud started 18 games in the front court.
That left Tang with 11 roster spots to fill. It was time for him to start recruiting. He has been hard at work ever since and has signed five incoming players (LSU transfer Jerrell Colbert, Mississippi State transfer Cam Carter, junior-college transfer Nae’qwan Tomlin, Taj Manning and Dorian Finister) to put a dent in that number.
But he still has six available scholarships to work with during the 2022 cycle, an abnormally large amount for early May.
Tang admits there is “a little bit of anxiety” beginning to creep into the back of his mind, especially after the Wildcats recently missed on potential impact transfer Antoine Davis and five-star recruit Julian Phillips.
“It is really cool to be able to put your team together, though,” Tang said. “It is a little bit trickier than I thought it would be with all the different variables that are at play. But I wouldn’t trade it. I am just grateful that two of the three guys that I wanted to stay decided to stay with us.”
From here, the challenge for Tang is obvious. He needs to identify and land impact transfers over the next few weeks, otherwise the Wildcats won’t have a competitive roster in his first season as a head coach.
He has a specific number in mind.
“I need four guys who can play 30 minutes per game and average double figures,” Tang said. “That is where my focus is right now.”
Tang would ideally prefer to sign six more players before summer school begins in early June. But he is comfortable holding a spot or two open for late arrivals, even as late as August if need be. He said the Wildcats are also waiting until “late summer” to hire their third assistant coach.
“I knew it would take a little time to put it together,” Tang said. “I can’t tell you that there’s not a little bit of anxiety about some of it as it is going along, but we’re not going to take a bad player to fill a roster spot. We’re not going to do that. All the guys we get to come in here are going to be Big 12 players.”
Two names to keep an eye on: Missouri State transfer Isiaih Mosley and Oklahoma transfer Umoja Gibson.
Even though he’s not a transfer, top 50 forward Shawn Phillips would also qualify as an impact newcomer. He is considering K-State and will announce his college decision on May 17.
Tang said he has already obtained a silent pledge from a high school recruit he isn’t allowed to mention publicly, per NCAA rules. In his mind, he only has five scholarships left to fill. But it is imperative that K-State fill four of those openings with veteran players who can contribute right away.
“Those are all going to have to be impact guys,” Tang said.
Few of Tang’s current players seem ready to average 10 points and 30 minutes next season, outside of Nowell and Massoud.
Surrounding them with enough talent to win next season will be Tang’s top priority over the next month. He wants to reward them for staying.
Then he hopes to recruit smaller classes in the future.
“In college basketball, you have got to get old before you can be good,” Tang said. “But if you want to be really good you have got to get old and experienced within your program. These young guys that I’m bringing in will get experience with what we do over the next two years so that in their third year they’re all able to really have an impact.”
This story was originally published May 11, 2022 5:00 AM.