While Kansas State only has three returners from last season who actually played substantial minutes, the ‘Cats still managed to redshirt two (possibly three?) players last season. These guys are champing at the bit to show what they can do in the Octagon of Doom after spending a season grinding away at practice and in the weight room and cheering from the sidelines during the games.
In case you forgot, let me reintroduce you to a few guys that should fill important roles in 2023-’24.
Taj Manning - SF/PG - 6’7”, 220 - RS FR
Manning, a consensus three-star product out of Grandview, Missouri, via Indiana basketball factory La Lumiere, is K-State’s last vestige of the Bruce Weber era. He originally committed to the previous staff, but the new staff liked his size, athleticism, and skill set, and decided to retain the talented wing.
From all accounts, that should pay dividends next season. Coach Tang declared that Manning would “eventually be an All-Big 12 player”. Manning figures to be a power forward in Coach Tang’s style of play, but has the athletic ability to move out to the wing and play the 3 as well. If Tomlin doesn’t return, it’s possible Manning will have a shot to earn a starting spot. If Tomlin does return, I still expect Manning to play an important role with Tomlin shifting back and forth between the 4 and 5 like he did at times last season.
Shooting is going to be the question for Manning. Tomlin and Johnson’s ability to stretch the floor from was crucial last season. Coming into K-State he was considered more of a high level athlete than a developed player, but a year of working with the coaching staff should help him further diversify his skill set and should pay dividends moving forward. If his shot is right, Manning’s ability to defend and rebound will make him a difficult guy to keep off the court next season.
Jerrell Colbert - PF/C - 6’10”, 235 - RS SO
Coach Tang parlayed his earlier attempt to recruit Colbert to Baylor into snagging the LSU big man out of the transfer portal for Kansas State last season. In fact, Colbert holds the distinction as the first ever addition to the Tang Cats. Things started fast with Colbert but then slowed way down, and that is a good thing for the former four-star out of Memphis, Tennessee.
At one point in his high school recruitment, Jerrell was considered the tenth best player in the 2021 class. That should give you an idea of his upside. He slipped down the rankings as the 2021 class shook out, ending up just outside the top 100 nationally. He signed with Will Wade and LSU over schools like Baylor, Arkansas, Houston, and Texas Tech, but only managed four games as a true freshman before hitting the portal.
Coming out of high school, Jerry Meyer, 247 Sport’s director of basketball scouting, said this about Jerrell: “Thin but has great length for a skilled power forward. Very mobile and a quality athlete. Has good footwork offensively. Can score facing up off dribble and can score turning to either shoulder. Adequate ball handler and passer at this point. Has potential as a jump shooter and potential overall offensively. Good rebounder and top notch shot blocker. High ceiling as a prospect. Does need to fill out some and get stronger.”
If the official K-State roster is accurate (and I have no reason to believe it isn’t), Jerrell entered K-State around 215 and is now around 235. I’d call that “filling out and getting stronger.” His willingness to transfer and then redshirt shows his faith in this coaching staff, and he should be in perfect position to show off his newly developed body and skill set in the ‘23-24 season. At this point he’s the only true center on the roster, but Nae’Qwan Tomlin can play 3-5 if needed. The idea of a front line of Tomlin and Colbert is an opposing guards’ nightmare and a dream for any K-State guard looking to throw the oop.
Dorian Finister - SG/SF - 6’5”, 190 - RS FR or SO?
Colbert was the first ever signing for Coach Tang, but Finister was the first high school player signed by the head ‘Cat. The former three-star player out of New Orleans was a bit under the radar, but it’s important to note that he had listed offers from Texas A&M and Houston. Those two programs specialize in recruiting Louisiana and were some of the first teams to offer the lanky shooting guard.
In high school Finister dominated at G. W. Carver Collegiate Academy, including leading his team to a Class 4A State Championship in ‘21-22. Over his four year high school career, he scored 1,300 points in 103 games and appeared in three Louisiana High School Basketball Final Fours.
Louisiana Hoops.Com said this about Dorian coming out of high school: “Dorian Finister possesses a excellent wingspan, athleticism, great size at 6’5” which allows him to see over most defenders at his position and does a great job of forcing turnovers on defense. Finister does great job of pushing the ball in transition and rebounds the ball well from the guard position. He possesses elite court vision, ball handles, and next level passing ability. Finister is a great facilitator that always knows where his teammates are on the floor and is a dynamic perimeter defender that can effectively defend both guard positions. He does a great job of playing the passing lanes and is a player that impacts the game without having to score the ball or having to be his teams primary ball handler. Finister possesses the ability to deliver pinpoint passes to his teammates, especially in the spots where they are comfortable. Finister is a player that moves the ball extremely well and possesses the ability to make quick decisions. He does not over dribble and does a good job of keeping everyone involved. He is very unselfish and does a good job of initiating and playing thru contact that allows him to get to the free-throw line. Finister is a excellent mid-range scorer that does a great job of attacking the rim.”
He isn’t a total unknown at the college level. If you watched K-State in the non-conference last season you saw him on the court for 52 minutes, including a 22 minute run against UIW where he put up ten points (including going 2/2 from three), seven rebounds and four assists. That’s a solid stat line for a true freshman. I, along with everyone else, was surprised to see Finister on the court last season. Six non-conference games doesn’t seem like a good return on a year of eligibility. That still may be true, however, the NCAA appears to be poised (but who knows with them) to adjust the basketball redshirt rules to be more in-step with football. The rumor is that basketball players will get somewhere between 6-8 games a season while still maintaining their redshirt eligibility. I’m not sure if that means anything for Finister but maybe?
In case y’all haven’t figured it out yet, Coach Tang wants to pair long athletes capable of finishing around the rim with explosive point guards that can get into the paint off the dribble. Last season, Markquis Nowell, Nae’Quan Tomlin, and Keyontae Johnson introduced everyone to K-State’s new high flying attack. Manning, Coleman, and Finister are all capable of taking the mantle and pushing the Wildcats to new heights.
Everyone (including myself) likes to talk about scoring points, but the staff is building a defensive monster. If you’re interested in blocked shots, Manhattan is the place to be these days. Manning, Colbert, and Finister are all plus defenders with long arms and quick feet. Any team looking to drive the ball will be met with long arms poking the ball out and layups ruthlessly rejected. If you’re into driving and kicking out to shooters, the ‘Cats are going to close out on your shooters with guys who could double as Inspector Gadget, but without the gadgets (I’m dating myself).
This team may not have the experience of last year’s squad (although Tylor Perry will help) but they should be a better defensive and rebounding squad with the addition of these three guys and the return of Tomlin. If people thought last year’s run was a one-off, they’re going to be highly disappointed.