This unsung freshman has Jerome Tang excited about Kansas State basketball’s future

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Markquis Nowell didn’t want to take all that much credit for Kansas State’s victory over TCU this week. Even though he led the Wildcats in scoring and broke the school’s single-season record for assists in the game, he considered the result a complete team win.

So much so, that he shared credit with five K-State basketball players who didn’t see a single minute of action against the Horned Frogs.

“Shoutout to the scout team,” Nowell said, “because they did a good job of preparing us for this game with rebounding and giving energy inside of practice and making it tough for us in practice. They didn’t let up. Each and every day they gave us their best shot and that is why we were so prepared and focused tonight.”

This was not the first time K-State basketball players and coaches have praised their practice squad for helping them win games this season.

You don’t hear that kind of talk much in college hoops, because few teams have a true scout team to test them in between games. But the Wildcats are blessed with three redshirt players and two walk-ons who focus almost all of their energy on giving K-State starters the best possible preview for their next opponent.

The scout team consists of freshman forward Taj Manning, LSU transfer Jerrell Colbert, junior-college transfer Anthony Thomas, plus walk-ons Peyton Ackerman and Nate Awbrey.

K-State coach Jerome Tang was ecstatic when Colbert, Manning and Thomas opted to redshirt during the preseason, and he seems even more excited about their decisions now.

“Our scout team is really good,” Tang said. “They really help us prepare and I leave practice a lot of times thinking we’re going to be pretty good next year.”

There is more potential than usual on K-State’s practice squad. Colbert is a former four-star recruit who might be the best shot-blocker on the team at 6-foot-10. Thomas is a 6-foot-7 guard who averaged 11 points at Tallahassee (Florida) Community College last season. And Manning might have more potential than anyone else on the roster.

Manning, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward from Grandview, has been turning heads since he stepped on campus.

“At some point in time, Taj Manning is going to be an all-conference player and he’s going to help us win a ton of basketball games,” Tang said. “Every year he’s just going to continue to get better and better.”

Tang could have stopped the hype train right there. Instead, he kicked it into high gear.

“One day, y’all will be sitting here writing stories about maybe the all-time winningest player in K-State history,” Tang said, “because he does all the little things and big things that help you win basketball games. Nobody likes to see him at practice. Nobody wants him guarding them. Every day at practice, he says, ‘Keyontae Johnson, I’m guarding you.’ It doesn’t matter how ticked off Keyontae is about how physical he is with himself. He does it every single time and he goes to the glass hard.”

K-State players are also high on Manning.

They joke that his hands are magnetized to explain how he comes up with so many rebounds in practice.

“He does a lot of great things,” senior guard Tykei Greene said. “He really matches my physicality so we just go at it with each other and make each other better. He is going to be a great player.”

At 19-5, K-State is off to its best start in years. But its frontcourt has been a weakness at times this season. Some have wondered if Tang might try to improve that area through recruiting before next season arrives. While that certainly is a priority, it’s worth remembering that the Wildcats have some up-and-coming forwards already on their roster.

They just aren’t playing in games right now.

Shoutout to the K-State scout team.