Kansas State junior guard/forward Shane Southwell is having a breakthrough season for the nationally-ranked Wildcats, as the Harlem, N.Y., native is averaging 8.3 points on 50 percent shooting with 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 22.1 minutes per game. He came into the season averaging a mere 2.5 points on 36.1 percent shooting with 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game in 62 career games.
While Southwell is enjoying his highest amount of individual success in his career this season, his first two seasons as a Wildcat were filled with adjustments he had to make on and off the court.
"I guess I'm still adjusting, but they were really hard during my freshman year," Southwell said. "New York City is a big city. It is one of the biggest cities in the world and I felt like I needed to go to a smaller city, so I could mature into a young man. Coming to Manhattan has helped me mature a lot."
It is never easy on an athlete when they are not playing as much as they would like to. Athletes either will make the best of it or give up and quit their sport. Instead of quitting, Southwell used his lack of playing time as motivation.
"It was hard not playing a lot and not playing as much as I wanted. However, I had to keep motivated and get better every day because I knew I would get my chance one day," said Southwell. "When I got that chance, I knew I had to make sure and take full advantage of it."
This year, Southwell is much more comfortable with the system in place than his previous two seasons, in large part because of head coach Bruce Weber's motion offense.
"The motion offense is better designed for the small and power forwards that know how to make plays, which really fits my game," Southwell said. "Last year, our system did not fit me very well. Coach Weber has helped me a lot with maturing my game and maturing a person. This system has helped me a great deal."
Up until this year, Southwell was primary a small forward that played some shooting guard. This season, he spends most of his time on the court as a power forward. Although he has thrived as a power forward, there are advantages and disadvantages to the position because of his size.
"It is hard going against bigger players than me," Southwell said. "This wears me out at times because I am not naturally as big as other players I am playing against (at the power forward spot. On the other side, players are not used to guarding me or someone like me who has been a shooting guard or a small forward their whole career, so it is a win-win situation."
Going from not playing very many minutes a game for two years to playing starter-type minutes can take a toll on the body of a basketball player. Due to this, Southwell has worked harder than ever before to keep his body in peak condition.
"More rest, water and Gatorade," Southwell said. "I have to lift harder than I ever did to gain more muscle and not lose any muscle at the same time. That is because I am playing bigger players. The biggest thing is to rest and eat right just to stay healthy."
All of the hard work Southwell has put into this season has been noticed by Weber. He has seen him have a major impact on the team.
"First off, he is very talented," Weber said. "When I got here, I asked each individual player when I had individual meetings about who here is talented and they said that Rodney (McGruder) put up the best stats. "However, the majority of the players said the second-most talented player on the team was Shane."
"As the season started, we talked to him and Nino (Williams) and asked who wanted to play the small/power forward role," Weber said.
Southwell was excited at first, but wasn't sure if it fit him as a basketball. That hesitation allowed Williams to grab the spot. However, just a few games in, Williams got hurt, allowing Southwell another shot and this time Southwell seized the opportunity.
"He is smart and one of the two savviest players we have," said Weber. "Shane can be a point forward and is one of our better passers. When he screens for Rodney, he finds himself open to make 3-point shots and stretch the defense."
Southwell has scored in double figures in four of the last five games and is averaging 11.9 points on 52.5 percent shooting with 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 25.9 minutes per game in the last seven games. Recently, he achieved a career-high in points, scoring 19 points against the current No. 1 team Kansas on Jan. 22.
Southwell's improvement has been noticed by other Big 12 coaches as well.
"I think he is being more assertive, is more serious and has worked on his shot. From working on his shot, his 3-point percentage has improved," Weber said. "(Kansas head coach) Bill Self said he is one of the most improved players in the conference, which is a credit to him. We knew he had talent when we first worked him out. Now it will be about him putting it all together."
Southwell is also pleased to see other coaches across the Big 12 see his hard work and perseverance pay off, but is not satisfied with where he is at the moment.
"Coach Self is one of the best coaches in the country, so for him to say that I am one of the most improved players in the conference is a big deal to me," Southwell said. However, I still have to improve. We are just in the middle of our conference schedule. There are still a lot more games left, so I have to keep playing hard and get better each day."
The one thing Weber likes the most about Southwell is his court intelligence.
"He has a great feel of the game," Weber said. "Shane has made suggestions in huddles while not even in the game. An example was during the Oklahoma State game, Nino was playing so well that Shane told the coaches not to put him in the game and let him keep playing. Shane was happy to be on the bench cheering the team on. He is a team-first player, which is a very positive quality."
Southwell knows now from the experience he has gained this season what it will take to finish the season strong.
"I just have to keep working and keep helping my teammates, so we can win games," Southwell said. "We took two losses to quality teams in Kansas and Iowa State last week, so our game against Texas on Wednesday is an important game. We have to keep improving as a team and I have to keep improving individually because if I get satisfied, that is when I will not get better."