Jerome Tang and his Kansas State basketball team build chemistry on and off the court

·6 min read
Jerome Tang is getting ready to embark on his first season as Kansas State men's basketball coach after spending 19 years as an assistant at Baylor.
Jerome Tang is getting ready to embark on his first season as Kansas State men's basketball coach after spending 19 years as an assistant at Baylor.

Jerome Tang has been a taskmaster for the past two months, putting his Kansas State basketball team through a rigorous workout regimen, both on and off the practice floor.

But he's also a firm believer that all work and no play makes for a bunch of dull Wildcats.

Building a team and establishing a winning culture, he'll tell you, is as much about relationship as it is x's and o's.

More: Jerome Tang's patience rewarded in adding Rodney Perry to Kansas State basketball staff

"A lot of time and energy and intentionality," Tang said Thursday during a news conference with media members before he and the team take a short break from each other ahead of the fall semester. "A lot of just giving guys the opportunity to share their hearts and what's important to them, and us as a staff sharing our hearts and what's important to us and linking hearts.

"When you get guys caring each other, it's easier to move forward."

The K-State men's basketball Twitter feed (@KStateMBB) has no shortage of videos showing the players grinding in the weight room, the gym and even the Bramlage Coliseum parking lot. But you'll also see them playing virtual golf and stacking wooden Jenga blocks, while assistant coach Jareem Dowling recently posted footage of a spirited karaoke session.

Kansas State's Markquis Nowell, left, and Ismael Massoud were in Wichita last month supporting the Purple & Black alumni team during The Basketball Tournament at Koch Arena.
Kansas State's Markquis Nowell, left, and Ismael Massoud were in Wichita last month supporting the Purple & Black alumni team during The Basketball Tournament at Koch Arena.

"Everything is very intentional and very important. Everybody preaches family, and family does a lot of things," Tang said. "If the only time we spend together is in the gym, then we're not a family.

"I want the guys to feel very comfortable around me and the whole staff and see us as human beings and understand that we love them and care about them. And when you spend that kind of time with them, and you show your heart to them off the court, then you earn the right to hold them accountable on the court."

Important as group activities are for team bonding, Tang added, they serve they provide the coaches useful insight into the players' psyches as well.

More: Former Kansas State basketball players are bullish on Wildcats and new coach Jerome Tang

"Some people you have to give the message a different way, and the only way you can learn to best communicate with your guys is to spend time with them," he said. "And that's been very important to our staff. This is how I've always wanted to be.

"Dinner at my house, dinners at the coaches' house. Games. Playing really, really hard (and) working really, really hard, but understanding that we're all in it together."

'We're going to be fun to watch'

But it hasn't been all fun and games. Tang and his staff also have learned a few things about the 11 players on their roster in the gym as well. Just don't ask him about wins and losses just yet.

"We've got super competitive guys who care about winning," he said. "And they care about each other. So I'm excited about what we have and what's going to happen moving forward.

"I can't predict what we're capable of, but I do know that we're going to play extremely hard, we're going to play together and we're going to be fun to watch."

As for how that that will look, come November, Tang is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I think (we'll know) when we finish assembling the roster," he said. "We're going to guard you. We're going to guard and we're going to rebound.

"If you're talking about the offensive end of things, I'm not real sure yet."

More: Jacob Pullen's 3-pointer sends Purple & Black past Lone Star Legends in TBT opener

While the current roster stands at 11 players — two short of the scholarship limit — Tang said he hopes to add at least one more.

"The goal was to be 12 and two (commitments for 2023) and we're at 11 and two right now, so we've got one more thing to get done," he said.

So for, the only known 2023 pledge is four-star guard Darrin Ames from Chicago. But Tang sent out a Twitter "Cat signal" on Thursday, suggesting that he indeed has another one in the fold.

The most likely candidate is Plano, Texas, shooting guard RJ Jones, another four-star prospect.

Taj Manning, Nae'Qwan Tomlin turn heads

Asked if summer workouts have produced any surprises so far, Tang was quick to single out 6-foot-8 power forward Taj Manning from La Lumiere Academy in Indiana.

"He's an extremely hard worker, and that stood out," Tang said. "Just his competitiveness and toughness has stood out.

"And because he spent so much time in the gym, his shot making ability is growing. In fact, he hit the game winner in our last game today. He rose up and knocked it down like a champ, and I'm very, very proud of him."

Bishop Miege’s Taj Manning (0) shoots a layup while being guarded by McPherson’s Adam Elliot (23) during the fourth period of the 4A state semifinal game.
Bishop Miege’s Taj Manning (0) shoots a layup while being guarded by McPherson’s Adam Elliot (23) during the fourth period of the 4A state semifinal game.

Other than returning 2021-22 players Markquis Nowell and Ismael Massoud, Manning is the only one on the roster not recruited by Tang and his staff. He originally signed last November with former coach Bruce Weber, but Tang invited him to stay.

"I didn't know a lot about him," Tang said of Manning, a Kansas City native who helped Bishop Miege win a Kansas Class 4A state championship as a junior before transferring to La Lumiere last year. "I called his high school coach, who I had known before, and (ex-Baylor forward) Jeremy Sochan had gone to school at La Lumiere for a year, and that coach had coached a lot of really good players.

"I asked him about Taj, and he gave me his thoughts on him. I shared with Taj what I expected of him moving forward, and he went back to school and he did the things that I asked him to do, and then he showed up here in the summer, and he's a very competitive kid and just a terrific young man."

More: Kansas State basketball doubles up with pair of additions to 2022 recruiting class

Chipola's Nae'qwan Tomlin (35) dunks the ball during their NJCAA Div. I Men's Basketball Championship Basketball Tournament game against Shelton State at the Sports Arena Wednesday at the Sports Arena. Chipola defeated Shelton 73-60.
Chipola's Nae'qwan Tomlin (35) dunks the ball during their NJCAA Div. I Men's Basketball Championship Basketball Tournament game against Shelton State at the Sports Arena Wednesday at the Sports Arena. Chipola defeated Shelton 73-60.

Tang was less surprised by junior college transfer Nae'Qwan Tomlin, though he has been no less impressed by the 6-8 forward, who twice helped lead Chipola College (Fla.) to the NJCAA national tournament.

"Man, he is competitive," Tang said. "And he doesn't know how good he can be.

"But he is super competitive and really talented. I look forward to just expanding his confidence. I want him to feel like the best player in America, because he's got that kind of talent."

Vacation time at last

After four-plus months on the job, Tang admitted that he was ready some family down time.

"It's been a heck of a summer," he said. "I've never looked forward to a vacation more than I am looking forward to this one."

So what's the itinerary?

"We're going to see a Bruno Mars concert in Vegas and see my two older boys that I adopted, and their wives," Tang said. "And then we're going to spend a few days and try to put our feet in the water and put the phone down.

"But we've still got a little more work to do before we head out of here."

Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at agreen@gannett.com or on Twitter at @arnegreen.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas State basketball coach Jerome Tang bonding with players