No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Kansas State: McGruder meets all challenges

Listed as 6-4, guard plays tough, leads Kansas St. on boards
2011-03-19T00:00:00Z No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Kansas State: McGruder meets all challengesDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 19, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Jacob Pullen was on the All-Big 12 first team. Curtis Kelly was a high school All-American. Combined, the two seniors average 30.1 points per game and are known as the leaders of Kansas State.

But, neither player can say he's accomplished some of the things sophomore Rodney McGruder has this season.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound guard was Mr. Dependable and Mr. Versatility for the Wildcats wrapped in one.

This season, the Washington D.C., native:

• Is the only Wildcat to start all 33 games;

• Has played more than 1,000 minutes on the year, also the only Wildcat to do that;

• Leads the team in rebounding with six boards a game;

• Has the highest three-point percentage on the team.

On Thursday in KSU's win over Utah State at McKale Center, it was all on display.

McGruder started and played 36 minutes, just one fewer than Pullen. McGruder was 2 of 4 from three-point distance and grabbed six rebounds to lead the team with Kelly, who also had six.

On the season, McGruder is averaging 11.4 points per game to go with his six boards per contest and is shooting 41.3 percent (69 167) from long range.

"We know how good he is," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of McGruder. "You just got to try to get him to not be able to get into a comfort zone."

For all he's done on the court, ask Kansas State coach Frank Martin what he likes the most about his sophomore, and he'll gush more about Rodney McGruder the person than Rodney McGruder the player.

In December when the NCAA suspended Pullen and Kelly for receiving impermissible benefits, McGruder showed his toughness and stepped up and played some of his best basketball.

In the three games both players were out, McGruder had a 24-point game against Missouri-Kansas City, a double-double against NCAA tournament team UNLV and a solid performance against North Florida.

If he had not had Martin's full respect by then, he earned it at that point.

"When we had Jake and Curt go through their situations earlier this year, he stepped up and wanted that responsibility to keep our team moving forward," Martin said. "He's got a tremendous heart and tremendous will.

"When you see a young man that is still a sophomore in college be so willing to do different things, to accept responsibility, it makes you have a lot of confidence in him as a coach."

Teams struggle to stop McGruder because he's such a difficult matchup. At 6-4, he's a guard by height. He also has the shot and passing abilities to back up him being listed as a guard on the Wildcats roster.

But, his rebounding average and his desire to want to play down by the hoop against the other team's post players gives him forward features.

"I guess I'd say I'm a guard," McGruder said. "I try to knock down shots, be a good passer and play on the perimeter. At the same time, rebounding is something that's really important to me. So, I like going down in the block and battling for rebounds."

McGruder's desire to be such a good rebounder comes from Martin. The guard was continually challenged in practice to go harder on the boards and be a big-time rebounding presence.

And, as Martin points out when McGruder is given a challenge, he usually rises to it.

"This day and age, when you challenge young kids, they roll their eyes, they pout, they whine," Martin said. "You challenge (McGruder), he is coming. And that's the kind of guys I like."

Today

• What: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Kansas State

• When: 5:40 p.m.

• TV: TNT

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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