MANHATTAN (AP) — A couple of years ago, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber headed to Texas on a scouting trip to see Marcus Foster. He was playing in an AAU tournament, but his team was so laden with talent that Foster barely got into the games.
Until this past weekend, that may have been the last time Foster truly saw the bench.
The All-Big 12 guard started every game as a freshman last season, averaging 15.5 points while helping the Wildcats reach the NCAA tournament. But after a slow start this season, and a poor response to it, Foster found himself riding the pine during a game at Oklahoma State.
“It was tough, something I hadn’t been through in a while,” he said.
Not only did he go scoreless in 14 minutes in the loss, Foster responded to his demotion by sulking on the bench. He showed poor body language. He seemed disinterested. And in what perhaps the cardinal sin of team sports, Foster appeared to have given up on his team.
Foster spent the bus ride after the game thinking about things. He thought about the way everything seemed to come easy last season, and what had suddenly gone amiss. He thought about the way he had become the face of an entire program as a sophomore, and how much the rest of the guys on the bus — including Weber — were counting on him to turn things around.
With newfound resolve, Foster had two of his best practices of the season on Monday and Tuesday. Once again relegated to the bench Wednesday night, he responded by pouring in 23 points, hitting the crucial free throws that lifted Kansas state to a 58-53 victory over TCU.
“It was kind of like, ‘I’m back.’ It was a good feeling,” Foster said afterward. “Going through such a slump like that, it can really hurt a player’s confidence.”
It can really mess with a player’s psyche.
Foster has never been one to sulk. When he wasn’t being recruited by many Division I schools, he played harder. When he finally impressed Weber enough to earn a scholarship offer, he thanked him by getting in better shape and honing his game ahead of his debut season.
Foster has always met challenges head-on. Until this past weekend.
“Me just not being me, honestly,” he explained. “Bad body language, bad attitude. That’s something I’ve never done. Something that’s never going to happen again.”
Something that can’t happen if the Wildcats (8-7, 1-1) have any prayer of playing for a Big 12 title, or clawing their way into the NCAA tournament after a horrendous non-conference showing.
Kansas State has had enough trouble scoring this season, averaging 66.2 points to rank 215th out of 345 teams in Division I. They’re last in the Big 12 in scoring margin, rebounding, blocked shots and several other categories.
In other words, they desperately need their best player at his best.
Foster scored 34 points in a win over Texas last year. The Wildcats scored 46 points total in a New Year’s Eve loss to Georgia, when Foster first drew Weber’s ire. Already, he’s had a dozen games of at least 20 points, and his game against Oklahoma State was his first scoreless outing.
“For us to be successful,” teammate Wesley Iwundu said, “Marcus plays a big part in it.”
Weber only obliquely reference what got Foster into hot water Wednesday night. He alluded to comments made by Kobe Bryant about the way basketball players have taken a “me-first” approach to the game, and how skills have eroded beginning at the AAU level and into the college ranks.
“Too many people worry about being a great college player. Worry about today, worry about that,” Weber said. “You can’t worry about the future. Who knows what will happen? I just wish kids would appreciate their opportunity more. This is a rare opportunity to play college basketball.”
Weber was asked whether Foster had done enough to earn back his spot in the starting lineup. The Wildcats head to No. 16 Oklahoma, which has established itself as one of the league favorites, for another important game Saturday night.
“If he comes back (Thursday) and Friday and plays his butt off, I’m all for it,” Weber said, “but you know, this is about him not only now but in the future, too. I think he’ll respond well.”