PUERTO RICO -- Though they have never met before, Kansas State and Charlotte will have an idea of what to expect when they play at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday in the opening game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, to be broadcast live on ESPNU. That’s because while the Wildcats and the 49ers might be strangers on the court, their head coaches know each other well.
Kansas State's Bruce Weber and Charlotte's Alan Major first met more than 20 years ago, when Weber was an assistant at Purdue under Gene Keady and Major was a student manager. Major later spent time as an assistant on Weber’s staff at Southern Illinois.
“I’ve known Bruce a long, long time,” Major said. “So regardless of his personnel, I can tell you right now it’s going to be a team that plays very tough man-to-man defense. They’re going to run their motion game really well. They’re going to have a balanced lineup where they’re probably not leaning on one guy to do the damage. And they’re going to be well coached. Without knowing his roster up and down, I can definitely tell you that’s going to be the character of Kansas State.”
Weber has been equally impressed with the job Major has done during his three seasons at Charlotte, improving the 49ers from a 10-20 team to a 21-12 record last season. “Alan Major is a good friend of mine,” Weber said. “He loves basketball, is very dedicated, and has done a great job in trying to reenergize that program. I admire him and his dedication and work ethic and love for basketball. Other than on Thursday, we’ll always be cheering for him.”
Both teams are dealing with a lack of experience during these early season games. Kansas State (1-1) has seven new players (five freshmen and two transfers), which might have been a factor in the team’s 60-58 season-opening loss to Northern Colorado. The Wildcats bounced back with a 71-63 victory over Oral Roberts, led by freshman Marcus Foster’s 25 points.
“I think he’s the second player in the history of K-State to get 25 as a freshman,” Weber said. “He’s been our leading scorer in our scrimmages and one of our better players. And then in the first game, freshman Wesley Iwunda had a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds). He’s a long, athletic player who can get to the hoop and is good in transition.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte (2-1) has an experienced starting backcourt in juniors Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams – who have combined to average 31 points and 12.7 rebounds through the first three games – but the rest of the roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. “We’re not quite as deep as I’d like to be, but I like our pieces,” Major said. “They’ve got a great spirit with each other.”
Cary Estes is covering his fourth Puerto Rico Tip-Off. A freelance writer living in Birmingham, Estes spent 15 years working as a sportswriter for daily newspapers, mostly at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Estes has been a fulltime freelancer since 2006 and has continued covering sports for Associated Press, nbcsports.com, SI.com (NASCAR) and several daily newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, Charlotte Observer and Cincinnati Enquirer.