ATLANTA—Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber is more of a country music fan than hip-hop. However, he can relate to words of Houston rapper Mike Jones.
To paraphrase: "Back then they didn't want me, now I'm hot they all on me."
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Despite receiving a two-year extension last offseason, Weber came into 2017-18 on the hot seat, according to NBC Sports. The team was coming off an NCAA tournament appearance, but it was only a First Four game. Kansas State didn't go dancing at all in 2014-15 and 205-16. Sporting News predicted an eighth-place conference finish for this season's Wildcats. Now, they’re one of the eight remaining teams playing basketball in the country. Going first four to a game away from Final Four is a testament of the wild ride this season has been
On Selection Sunday, many people, including supporters of the program, predicted an early exit for the ninth-seeded Wildcats. Then, they won their first-round game against Creighton. After that, they beat everyone's darling No. 16 UMBC in the second round. Thursday night, they held on to beat Kentucky.
Weber and his team stand a game away from the Final Four as the prepare take on 11th seeded Loyola Chicago Loyola Saturday in the South Regional final.
Now, he's able to smile a bit about the criticism.
"It doesn't bother me. Obviously, I'm human," Weber said. "I really try to stay away from social media, from papers. I used to listen to talk radio and then I became a head coach, and I had to go to country music, so -- just to have something to listen to and not hear people talk about me."
His players also heard the chatter. Now, they're happy hear the silence success brings. Point guard Barry Brown hit the game-winner on Thursday to knock off Kentucky. Afterward, he shared a hug with his head coach. He was one of the guys who wanted prove that Weber is a deserving coach.
'We're on social media more than coach so we definitely heard it," Brown said. "We got tired of people coming for his job, so it motivated us even more. We know that a lot of people cheering for us now were likely in that group. We changed their minds but we still have work to do because it can change again."
Weber preaches defense. Holding Kentucky to 59 points on 38.1 shooting from the field, including 25.1 from 3-point range. It was the seventh time the Wildcats held an opponent under 59 this season. The game marked season lows for Kentucky in points, field goals, and shot attempts.
"Yo, he's really funny," said Kamau Stokes, who had six points, five rebounds and three assists against Kentucky of Weber. "It's a dry wit, so you have to pay attention, But he makes you think. He's a really smart guy and when we started hearing the rumblings (that he should be fired) we wanted people to see who he really is. He is a great man and I'm honored to play for him."
Brown has been with Weber for three years and is more sold now than ever on the coach.
"I knew coming in, the program had some rebuilding," Brown said, "But I knew with the pieces we had, we just needed time to get a little bit of experience, gel together, and come together and really buy into the program. And I feel like this year is the first year we have just that experience that we need and everyone buying into it, and not really worrying about their own individual accolades and goals and stats and stuff like that. I feel like we're all really here to play K-State basketball. I knew this time was coming. It was just a long time coming, a lot of hard work and dedication and preparation."
When asked, 'What is K-State basketball?', Brown smiled and winked at Weber.
"It starts with the coach," Brown said. "We take a lot of pride on defense. Got to get better at rebounding. Once we get that stop, pushing the ball in transition, making the right pass, playing for each other. Just making open plays, staying confident no matter what the situation is, what the score is, and what's going on in the game. Just staying together, never getting away from each other, and picking each other up when we're down."
The same question was then posed to Stokes, Cartier Diarra, Makol Mawien, and Xavier Sneed. To a man, they all agreed. Saturday will provide the players and their coach one more time to prove each other right.
"We have a chance to make history," Stokes said. "We have a chance to do something special and I can't think of a coach I'd rather do it with,"