How Jerome Tang Rebuilt Kansas State basketball in one year

Heading into his first season as the coach of Kansas State Basketball, Jerome Tang faced significant challenges. For starters, the team wasn’t particularly good, coming off three consecutive losing seasons. Making matters worse, the team was barely even a team—nearly the entire roster either graduated or transferred, leaving behind just two holdovers when Tang took the job last spring. In this sense, the Kansas State Wildcats’ 75-69 victory over blue-blooded Kentucky to make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament is especially remarkable, the byproduct of the right coach and the right group of players led by Keyontae Johnson finding each other and rebuilding a Kansas State basketball program essentially from scratch.

“(Tang) had literally two guys (on the roster)” Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor told Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, “and as of late July, early August, he had five. I said, ‘Coach, are you getting nervous? I’m getting nervous.’ He said, ‘Gene, we’re going to get dudes, but we’re going to get the right dudes.’”

Needless to say, Jerome Tang found the right dudes. Keyontae Johnson, a former Florida star who had hardly played after collapsing on the court during a game in December 2020, committed to Kansas State in August; this season, he averaged 17.7 points and 7.1 rebounds and made First Team All Big 12 and Third Team All-American. Nae’qwon Tomlin, who keyed Kansas State’s surprising upset of Kentucky with his energy and defense against Oscar Tshiebwe, committed to Kansas State after playing three years across two junior colleges. Paired with Markquis Nowell (one of the two returning players), Tang’s coterie of transfers changed the entire program’s trajectory, improbably carrying them to a top 25 ranking and only the school’s third Sweet 16 appearance since 1988.

“Once he got everybody here,” Taylor continued, “he told me that by the end of the year he thought we could be potentially be an NCAA tournament team. I don’t think anyone saw a No. 3 seed and where we are. It’s amazing.”

Leave a Comment