Why Shane Southwell expected big things for Ismael Massoud, Markquis Nowell at K-State

·5 min read
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

The man who convinced Markquis Nowell and Ismael Massoud to play basketball at Kansas State was smiling ear to ear as he watched both of them make big plays in the final moments of a 75-69 victory over Kentucky last weekend that propelled the Wildcats to their first Sweet 16 in five years.

It didn’t matter that Shane Southwell was watching from his home a few hundred miles away or that he no longer has any connection to the team aside from being a proud alum.

He has a lifelong connection with those players.

“I will forever be indebted to those two,” Northern Illinois associate head coach Shane Southwell said in a phone interview. “They were my first recruits. I will always cheer for them. That’s just how New York rolls.”

Southwell is a former K-State basketball player and assistant coach. He started out as a guard under Frank Martin and then helped the Wildcats win a Big 12 championship after Bruce Weber took over as coach. When he decided to get into coaching, Southwell returned to Manhattan as an assistant on Weber’s staff and he helped the Wildcats in numerous ways.

His recruiting impact is still being felt, even though he now coaches for a different team.

Southwell grew up in Harlem and leaned on his New York connections when he was searching for incoming freshmen and transfers in the spring of 2021. That led him to a 5-foot-8 guard who was looking for a new home after leaving Arkansas-Little Rock and a 6-foot-9 forward who was saying goodbye to Wake Forest.

Neither of them knew much of anything about K-State. But they knew everything about Southwell, because they all grew up in the same borough. That was enough for them to take a leap of faith.

“I knew right away that I wanted to come to Kansas State because of Shane Southwell,” Nowell said. “He is a New York native and he showed me great things about the university.”

Both players have turned out to be excellent fits in Manhattan. After each of them turned in solid debut seasons with the Wildcats, they have truly thrived under new head coach Jerome Tang.

Nowell is averaging 17.1 points and 7.8 assists. He was the star of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. He has also been named a third-team All-American and a first-team All-Big 12 player.

Massoud has become a valuable role player who averages 5.1 points per game and hit enormous three-pointers in wins over Baylor and Kentucky this season.

After watching them play for years in New York, Southwell expected big things from both.

“When we recruited Markquis we talked about him having this type of impact,” Southwell said. “He was super confident and had a work ethic like no other. I knew he was going to be a great player. Did I know he was going to be an AP All-American? No. But I really did think he was great. I figured he would be an all-conference player, because he has done that everywhere he has been.

“With Ismael, you could tell he could do a lot of things as a stretch four or a stretch five. His ability to shoot the ball was off the charts. We knew what we were getting with those two. Nothing that they’re doing right now is surprising. If anything, I thought they would be even better than this.”

Southwell praised Tang for bringing the best out of them this season.

When told many remember him fondly for recruiting Nowell and Massoud to campus, Southwell deflected credit to someone else.

“I appreciate that, but once this year is over I really hope Bruce Weber gets some respect for that,” Southwell said. “I don’t know if this is a hot take or not. It shouldn’t be. But I think Bruce Weber deserves a little bit of credit because his starting backcourt is in the Sweet 16 right now. They could end up playing against each other in the Final Four. Has that ever happened before? From a recruiting standpoint, he did pretty good.”

Southwell made those comments because K-State fans continued to give credit to Frank Martin long after he left the Wildcats and Weber was the one leading the team. It frustrates him that few seem willing to tip their caps to Weber for any reason now that Tang is in charge.

There is no doubting that the previous staff did a nice job recruiting two key players on this team, as well as Nijel Pack, who transferred to Miami and is also in the Sweet 16 with the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who gets the credit for bringing Nowell and Massoud to campus, Southwell is glad they are here now.

“We were really excited to get them both,” Southwell said, “and it’s incredible to see what they are doing now.”

It was easy for him to recruit them both.

He called Nowell a “no-brainer” and Massoud an easy target because the Wildcats were one of the worst three-point-shooting teams in all of college basketball the year before he arrived.

In hindsight, he thinks he got lucky with Nowell. In 2020, Nowell led Arkansas-Little Rock to a Sun Belt championship and was destined to play in the NCAA Tournament until the coronavirus pandemic canceled the event. Had Nowell played on the biggest stage in college basketball that season, there’s a chance he would be playing for a traditional power right now.

“He would have gotten so much more exposure,” Southwell said. “Imagine him at a Little Rock playing with a No. 15 seed and dropping 27 points on a No. 2 seed. He had two more years left. Imagine where he could have transferred. That would have made my job a lot harder. We had a great relationship, but that would have put it to the test.”

Southwell ended the conversation with some thoughts on what he expects from the Wildcats later this week when they play Michigan State in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden.

“They can get to the Final Four,” Southwell said. “They are playing really well and they have more scoring punch than Michigan State. Then it’s Tennessee or Florida Atlantic. They could win that game, too. They’ve got a chance to do something really special.”