Welp, 2015 is nearly done.
It was a full year in our home - one stuffed with what seemed like a larger-than-normal amount of life events. In other words, we did some good, solid livin' these past 12 months. K-State also had a monumentally busy calendar year, and that said, I've created my list of what I felt were the 10 best K-State stories (best doesn't necessarily mean positive) in 2015, starting from 10 and working down. So, off we go ...
10) Breanna Lewis -- Prior to her sophomore season, the new coaching staff thought they saw superstar potential for Lewis in the Wildcats' new defensive system, and she delivered during the 2014-15 campaign by being the first player in KSU history with more than 90 blocks in a season; not to mention she led the team in scoring, rebounding as well as blocked shots. So far in her junior year, Lewis currently averages a team-best 17.4 ppg and 6.9 rpg.
9) Women's Basketball lands Canada's top player -- While appearing to get things cranking on the floor (see No. 7), Jeff Mittie's program made national headlines off it in November when the Wildcats signed 6'2 forward Eternati Willock to a Letter of Intent for 2016. There might be no more fruitless conversation in college sports than recruit rankings, but since we're here ... if Willock is half the player her rankings indicate, she could be a Big 12 Conference MVP-type.
8) Dean Wade -- While it's early in his freshman season, Wade has already become perhaps the biggest symbol of positive changes within the Men's Basketball program. He hit the game-winner at Georgia, and it's obvious that the offense runs more smoothly when he's on the floor. He'll be up-and-down as freshmen typically go, but the 6'10 forward appears to be one of the best K-State surprises in 2015.
7) Jeff Mittie's first season -- Bottle up things like Nos. 10 and 9, along with the efficient, immediate way Mittie has established his own program, and you have one of the best stories of the year. The Wildcats made it back to the postseason, and Mittie set a KSU first-year coaching record with 19 wins. In his second year, Mittie has KSU at 10-1 and sitting somewhere just outside the Top 25. (They're No. 24 in RPI ranks as of Dec. 28.)
6) Morgan Burns / Special Teams U. -- The 2015 football season dug up a host of intriguing or feel-good stories for K-State, but one of the best was watching Morgan Burns explode from a pretty good defensive back with great speed into the latest All-America chapter added to the lore of Special Teams U. The senior team captain's play was one of the major reasons KSU football enjoyed the season it did.
5) Hello, young boys (Duke Shelley) -- In 2015, injuries opened a door normally locked by Bill Snyder as the coach was forced to allow true and redshirt freshmen to see major game action. How'd that go? K-State fans got to fall in love with cornerback Duke Shelley and other young guys who turned in spectacular seasons -- all things considered. One can hope the forced experiment will loosen Snyder's general belief that young talent has to spend a year or two on the bench before seeing game action.*
*Pot-stir alert: Then again, maybe all of that is a question for the next head coach in a year or so ...
4) Hello, again, Wesley Iwundu -- When nobody really would have blamed Iwundu for wanting to distance himself from the unbelievable craziness that surrounded him last spring (see No. 3), he decided to act like the team captain the program desperately needed him to be. He stayed, and he since has thrived in his leadership role -- leading a host of new players to a far better start than most would have predicted. It is impossible not to wish continued good things for the junior whose overall game and attitude continue to grow and serve as a living example of the K-State way.
3) Marcus Foster and friends' mass exodus -- One of the most polarizing figures in K-State basketball history, Foster's unexpected rise from relative obscurity to star proved too much to handle for everyone involved - player, coach, and fan. The exasperating, season-long saga served as exhibit No. 1 for those who wanted fuel for their fire-the-coach agenda as Tre Harris and Malek Harris also were shown the door. The entire event even shook the faith, even if only slightly, of some fervent Weber supporters. Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas also left, thus putting the cap on one of the most toxic locker room situations in recent memory.
2) K-State football makes a bowl game -- Nothing spectacular was expected from K-State football in 2015, with most projections centered on 7 or 8 wins. Then, injuries came. Lots of injuries. Lots of injuries to key starters on both sides of the ball. And then, injuries shredded the QB depth chart to the point that a walk-on and a wide receiver were trading conference game snaps. And then, six straight losses opened Big 12 play. And still, K-State managed to finish 6-6 after winning three games to end the regular season. Pretty remarkable stuff from Bill Snyder and his entire program.
1) Bruce Weber -- Regardless of which side of the yea/nay fence you reside, it would be intellectually dishonest to disregard Weber's quick restructure of his roster and re-establishment of order. Though Weber never lost administrative support, a large contingent of KSU fans were ready to write Weber off as ineffective and unable to lead K-State basketball. He and his staff navigated that entire storm, brought in a slew of new guys and molded the group of youth and inexperience into something good enough to nearly knock off North Carolina. Expectations shouldn't be blown out of proportion based on that, but this group appears to be responding to Weber and his staff's instruction with enthusiasm and effort. And man, that oft-under appreciated trait is welcome after last year.