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Willingham leaves Wildcats

Wooldridge says program will move on

Published on Tuesday, August 24, 2004

K-State's Dez Willingham battles with Missouri's Arthur Johnson and Travon Bryant last season. The sophomore point guard has left the basketball program.

File Photo/Collegian

Josh Witt

Kansas State Collegian

Sophomore point guard Dez Willingham has left the K-State basketball program, Coach Jim Wooldridge announced Monday.

After averaging 4.4 points and 2.8 assists and starting in several of the 22 games in which he played during his freshman campaign, the once highly-touted Wooldridge recruit was expected to start at point guard for the Wildcats this upcoming season.

Willingham's decision came as a shock, Wooldridge said.

"We got word a week ago Monday, he wasn't coming back," he said. "We had no idea Dez had entertained this kind of thought."

Wooldridge said he had spoken to Willingham two or three times this past week about the point guard's future in the program.

In the end, though, Willingham opted to stay closer to his family in DeSoto, Texas.

"I really felt like we had a good relationship," Wooldridge said. "Our conversations were between two people who had personal respect for each other. It just came down to Dez wanting to stay with mom and dad, and that outweighed his commitment to K-State."

Wooldridge said he did not believe any other collegiate programs were courting Willingham and was not sure if basketball was in Willingham's immediate future, though he said the guard was planning on enrolling in a junior college in the DeSoto area.

"The most frustrating part about this is the timing of it," Wooldridge said.

What about the possibility of Willingham coming back to the program?

"I don't even think that's in the ballpark," Wooldridge said. "On the flip side of that, our program will move forward."

Willingham is the second highly-regarded player to leave the K-State during the Wooldridge era.

Guard Nick Williams transfered after his freshman year in 2001-02, to the University of Cincinnati after averaging 9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.


The loss of Willingham creates another question mark in the K-State back court, as the squad was already adjusting to the losses of departed senior guards Frank Richards, Jarrett Hart and Tim Ellis.

However, the Wildcats still have six guards on the roster who will be competing for increased playing time including junior Schyler Thomas, sophomores Lance Harris and Fred Peete, freshmen Curtis Allen and Clent Stewart and senior walk-on Mark Frederick.

K-State is practicing in preparation for a four-game exhibition tour, Oct. 8-12, in British Columbia.

The tour will be an opportunity to work on adjustments to the backcourt, Wooldridge said.

"It's going to give us a chance to experiment a little and look at different kinds of combinations," he said.

When asked who was most likely to fill Willingham's spot, Wooldridge said freshman Clent Stewart could be the man.

"Essentially what it does is move Clent Stewart into that spot," he said.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Broken Arrow, Okla., has the capability to play both the point guard and shooting guard positions, according to Wooldridge.

"I've always had a good feeling about this kid," Wooldridge said. "If you want to give Clent a name, he's a combo guard who leans more toward the point."

Wooldridge said he could think of only one negative to Stewart moving into the starting point guard position.

"The only downside is he's very young," he said.

As for Wildcat player reaction towards Willingham's decision, Wooldridge said the team was obviously disappointed.

However, Wooldridge added he believes his squad's hard work over the spring and summer will still translate into a good year.

"They understand and believe they can have a successful season," he said.

Wooldridge said he would not be surprised if people doubt the Wildcats' capabilities after losing Willingham but feels his team will still compete at a high level.

"I know there's people out there who are going to look at this and say we're through," he said. "I don't believe that's true."

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Former DeSoto star comes home from K-State

Member of 2003 state basketball champs leaves K-State

12:54 AM CDT on Friday, September 17, 2004

By TRACY SCHULTZ / The Dallas Morning News

Dez Willingham's life has changed. For the moment, anyway.

After years of basketball practices and games, he is taking a break. Instead of pouring in points, Willingham is poring over books.

Willingham, who in 2003 helped DeSoto to its first state championship, left Kansas State after one season. He is taking classes at Mountain View College.

"It's different being a regular student," Willingham said. "But I'm just going with the flow. It's kind of nice to just go to class and go home. I work out, but it's not so structured."

It's quite a change for Willingham, who helped build DeSoto into a title team.

He spent four years on DeSoto's varsity. As a freshman, Willingham helped the Eagles to 18 victories. He averaged 15.3 points and eight assists in his final season and was named first-team all-state by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches as well as SportsDay's player of the year.

At Kansas State, Willingham jumped into the mix quickly. He played in 22 games, starting 11, as a freshman. Willingham averaged 4.4 points and 2.8 assists.

With Willingham, Kansas State posted a 14-14 record. It was the first time in five seasons that the Wildcats didn't finish with a losing mark.

But the contributions were painful. A shoulder injury in December hindered Willingham for most of the season. Despite the pain, he kept going.

The Wildcats noticed. During the team's annual awards banquet, he received the most inspirational player award.

The support of the Wildcats wasn't enough, though. Neither were the visits from his parents, who traveled to all home games.

Willingham was homesick. The injury only added to it. After undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of the season, Willingham was unable to participate in workouts.

"It gave me a lot of time to think about stuff," Willingham said.

Willingham said he realized he didn't want his parents making the 1,060-mile round trip between DeSoto and Manhattan, Kan. He didn't want to be away from them, either.

"I don't think I picked the wrong place," Willingham said. "I just wasn't thinking about being so far away from home. It was hard leaving my teammates. I had fun, and it was a good experience. But I wasn't thinking about basketball. I just wanted to be closer to home."

Willingham said he has requested a release from Kansas State. He plans to remain at Mountain View through the spring. He has his sights set on returning to Division I basketball after earning his associates degree.

"I'm going to use this as a redshirt year," he said. "After this year, I'll be energized and ready to go."

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