NCAA Football

Jerome Tang hits the right notes at Kansas State, where first-year coach is an instant hit

Jerome Tang hits the right notes at Kansas State, where first-year coach is an instant hit

MANHATTAN, Kan. – This is the job Jerome Tang wanted. More than others. It was clear last spring, if a long time ago Baylor assistant set up his Alexa to play “Wabash Cannonball”. Kansas State The search committee entered the door.

Tan knew exactly what he was doing before the interview began. what K-State’s fight song was baked into the fibers of every Wildcat since it was the last piece of sheet music saved from a campus fire in the late 1960s.

The 56-year-old native of Trinidad and Tobago wanted to be a part of that fiber.

“We had to do a two-hour interview,” K-State athletic director Gene Taylor recalls. “After an hour, he was talking the most. He led us through attack, defense. He said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I said, “Guys, I’m done. What do we do? Let’s propose.” “

That’s the short version of why Kansas State is ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25, its highest ranking since reaching No. 3 in 2010-11, and leads the Big 12 heading into the halfway point of the conference season. After firing Bruce Weber, Tan took over a team that had two scholarship players, added 13 new faces and mixed it with what is currently the nation’s top Division I head coach (17-2). The Cats won three more games than they did all of last season.

The long story has as many layers as the coach himself. You just need to be patient to clear them. You should have watched all the way to the postgame celebration after K-State’s 68-58 victory Texas Tech. Tang rushed into the student section to dance with the students to the music of this beloved fight song.

It was the same game”Sandstorm” – the 1999 electro-synthesizer song that became the Wildcats’ hype song – was played at Bramlage Coliseum this season. It was drowned out because the students traditionally chanted “F— KU” along with the beat. On Saturday, they instead rhythmically chanted “KSU”.

And they were proud to take Tango’s message to heart: Make it more about Kansas State than the opponent and ditch the profanity.

“We couldn’t play it,” said a giddy Taylor. “I would try before he came and they started chanting and I stopped. I just cut it off. We did everything. I went to the students. The presidents left. [to them]. He alone got it [done].

“This is the first time we’ve played Sandstorm without ‘F-KU.’ “

It’s an added advantage for a full team that features the 2020 SEC Player of the Year ahead of the season (Florida transmission Keyonta Johnson) and one of the smallest players in Division I. Tough guard Marquis Nowell listed at 5’9 but says he’s a “legitimate 5-7”.

The fifth-year senior point guard is also the second leading scorer in Big 12 games.

“Nothing scares me,” said Nowell, one of four New York natives on the roster. “I give everything I can to this game. An old man in New York told me that if I could survive in New York, I could survive anywhere. I did a pretty good job surviving in New York.’

Let’s put it this way: There’s less contact in the Big 12 than at legendary Rucker Park on 155th Street, where Nowell perfected his game.

Wildcat fans are raving about Tang

Tan was Scott Drew’s trusted right-hand man, recruiter and one of the most respected assistants in the country for 19 years. But who knew that suddenly there was a candidate for the national coach of the year this instant turn ability and …bribe?

Students participated in a Tang huffing contest during time out. Fans lined the courtside for the audience Saturday after the coach’s postgame talk on Wildcat radio wearing T-shirts that read “Tang You Very Much”

“They’re selling like crazy,” one snide fan told Tang.

That doesn’t ignore “Hangin’ With Tang,” a series of conversations with the coach who came up with pulling a couch into the student union and rapping with the rank and file.

Tan danced on the court after the win but spontaneously decided to join the students on Saturday. All of this seems natural, rather than ostentatious in a sport whose culture is much more vibrant than his college football counterpart.

Who knew Tang had such charisma… and influence? On Tuesday, after the upset of then-No. 2 KansasTan grabbed the microphone, jumped on the minutes table and gave out what might have been his A wild cat manifesto about sportsmanship and kicking your opponent.

“I told you we’d give you one court storm,” he concluded. “From now on, expect to win.”

Thirty-four-year-old Bramlage Coliseum may never have been louder.

“All of America is listening,” Tan told CBS Sports after Saturday’s win. “We have a few minutes to send them a message. Is the message that we want to hear “KU” — even if they don’t hear “F” — or do we want them to hear “KSU”?

At least until the nation has its answer. Picked last of 10 teams in the Big 12 preseason, the team is now ranked in the top 10 in the nation. These Wildcats fit into the lovable underdog role that football coach Bill Snyder has cultivated over the years. Five stars don’t usually come to Manhattan. Kansas State is a developmental program in both major sports.

But there’s rarely a better time to be a Wildcat. K-State won the Big 12 in football with a backup quarterback (Will Howard), a 5-6 quarterback (Deuce Vaughn) and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (Leader Felix Onudike-Uzoma) arriving on campus as a three-star prospect.

Tango’s greatest player arrived with promise, fanfare and history. Johnson has not played since December 2020, when he collapsed on the court in Florida. The exact nature of the heart condition, which caused a nine-day hospitalization and included a drug-induced coma, has never been revealed.

After collapsing on the court while he played for Florida, Keyonta Johnson has thrived for the Wildcats.

Getty Images

Florida paid a $5 million premium on an insurance policy that guaranteed funds in case Johnson’s professional career was affected. However, the school did not examine him. Johnson entered the transfer portal last May. Johnson told CBS Sports in October that he didn’t start working out until two months ago “when Kansas State released me.”

“Some schools were definitely afraid to take a chance on me,” Johnson said before the season.

Still, Kansas State wasn’t alone in believing Johnson was worth a shot. Johnson said he was also harassed Western Kentucky, USC and Memphis.

“I call it a revival, a second chance,” Johnson said. “[God] gave me a second chance. I thank him for the opportunity to wake up every morning.”

K-State also had to investigate sexual assault allegations against Johnson last year. Florida prosecutors said it did not proceed in part because Johnson and his accuser had previously been in a consensual relationship. Johnson argued in the statement he did nothing wrong at the time.

“Jerome got a lot of stories and police reports,” Taylor said. “I just asked him to dig in and he did. We felt pretty good. There were no accusations.”

In the middle of what projects will be his final season before being shot at NBAthe muscular 6-6 Johnson leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding (third and second in the Big 12 in those categories).

Johnson didn’t make a field goal with 10 minutes left in Saturday’s game. He had his third double-double of the season (15 points, 11 rebounds).

Nowell had 36 against earlier this season Texas and 32 against Baylor in back-to-back games. He is just the third Division I player to record at least 65 points and 20 assists in consecutive games in the last 10 years, according to Sports Illustrated. The other two were Trae Young and Ja Morant.

How Tan rebuilt K-State’s roster

College football whining about a transfer portal should take a cue from college basketball. Over the years, the sport has seen tremendous roster turnover. Tan has perfected the art. Nowell and Ish Masood were the only fellows left. Massoud, a wiry 6-9 reserve power forward, was so efficient in conference play (52% from the arc) that his nickname became the “Big 12 Ish.”

Seven Wildcats entered the season with one or two years of eligibility.

“It really reminds us of what we did last year,” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said.

In Adams’ first season, the Red Raiders won 27 games and reached the Sweet 16 after losing eight players to graduation or transfer.

“We were able to bring in some quality transfers that were seniors,” Adams added. “There’s a lot to be said for guys who have a year left, even two. These guys come with a new sense of urgency. They want to be coached to make this final year special.”

Roster management shouldn’t be a problem at K-State. Tang was with Drew when they were making a list of people who were mostly walking after being crippled NCAA Sanctions after Scandal with Dave Bliss in 2003.

That near-death penalty was the reason Drew was hired and eventually got Baylor — with Tango’s help — into a national program.

“There were times this summer, in July, where Jerome was still looking for guys,” Taylor said. “I’m like, ‘Are you panicking because I am?’ He said, “Oh, no, Gene.” He could be [OK] but he was a good front.”

No need to panic. Tan convinced Johnson and his parents by reminding them that he coached two Baylor players with heart problems, Jared Butler and King McClure. Both continued to play after being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Butler played in the NBA.

“I know how to help them get back in shape,” Tan said. “I’ve done it before.”

But why Kansas State and why now? Drew told CBS Sports that his former assistant would earn interest from 1-2 programs a year. Tan was interviewing, but the time was not right. Tang and his wife, Carilien, were empty-nesters for the first time. Both children (Sam and Eileen) are in college. The question arose: why no K-State?

Yes, it lives in that long, long shadow cast from the road in Laurence. But it is still a high specialty with a lot of tradition. K-State has recently won a share of the Big 12 regular season title twice since 2013. Weber’s group in 2018 made it to the elite eight.

“Coach Drew told me, ‘Take it and then make it up when you want,'” Tan recalled. “If I were to say, ‘Well, I’m not sure,’ then maybe I’m not the best version of myself. So I just went at it like it was the only job I wanted in America.”

Tan doesn’t just answer questions. He examines them, turns them around in his big basketball mind, and reveals himself – yes, layer by layer. Only Nowell and Masood remained as Fellows. But they wanted to stay.

They just needed a reason.

Nowell realized this when he texted Taylor urging him to hire Tang. The guard received an intelligence report from his 28-year-old brother, Marcus, who was doing his research.

“He’s seen 19 years of winning,” Nowell said. “He told me that Coach Tang is the guy that K-State really needs to hire … He’s the guy that God sent me to Kansas State University.”

They wanted structure.

Last week, Tan stopped practice and sent his players home after experiencing a hangover in Kansas. With 13 minutes to go Saturday, the hangover didn’t seem to go away. The Wildcats were down eight to a team that hadn’t won since December.

Tan called a timeout. Something was said in the tumult, and the Wildcats went on a 31-13 run, into the Sandstorm madness and into a wide-open future with their coach dancing to the Wabash cannonball.

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