Home » 'I'll Be Forever Grateful' – Kansas State University Athletics – K-StateSports.com

'I'll Be Forever Grateful' – Kansas State University Athletics – K-StateSports.com

by Arifa Rana

Football was my first sport. I loved playing basketball, but I had more fun playing football because I liked to hit, and I believed that I was more talented at football. As a kid, I always dreamed that I could play in the NFL and NBA. I took basketball seriously in middle school and realized I was a good player. I believed that basketball could take me places. I couldn’t have been more right.  
I’m grateful for all the places basketball has taken me in my life.  
My high school coach, Luke Reilly, instilled toughness, and confidence into me. It was tough love. He was a tough, caring coach, and he taught me much about being a good basketball player and a good person, as I grew physically and matured. My first scholarship offer came during my sophomore year. I was surprised. I hadn’t yet thought about scholarship offers. Once I received my first scholarship offer, I wanted more. In summer 2016, Kansas State assistant coach Chester Frazier contacted me. Apparently, I had caught his attention when I performed well against some of the nation’s top high school players in a tournament in Atlanta. I was blown away. Kansas State was my first scholarship offer from a high-major college. 
I immediately knew upon leaving my official visit to K-State that I wanted to be a Wildcat. I was blown away by the facilities, the practice facility, how serious K-State took basketball, and how important success was to the players, fans, and Manhattan community.
Like most freshmen, I thought I’d come in and average 10 points per game, but that wasn’t the case. It was much more difficult than it seemed. I was dealing with an ankle issue and consequently I redshirted for a while. Then Kamau Stokes got hurt. Coach Bruce Weber asked me if I was ready. I said, “Yeah, I’m ready.” Once I came out of my redshirt, Cartier Diarra began playing at a high level, and I returned to the bench. Then Barry Brown got scratched in the eye when we played Kansas in the Big 12 Conference Tournament. Coach threw me into the game. Here I was in Kansas City with nothing to lose against Davonte Graham. I actually ended up playing pretty well. That gave our coaches confidence in me heading into the NCAA Tournament. I had no clue what was going to happen, but I was ready to play, and I was excited. I just went out there to have fun.
All the sudden we played Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. We were in March Madness — what I’d dreamed about my whole life. The atmosphere against Kentucky, though, there wasn’t anything like it. We were just so good with Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed, Cartier Diarra, and of course, Dean Wade, who was hurt but still gave it a go. The thought I had for me was, “Give the ball to Barry and get out of the way.” We went on a run. It was very special.  
Being a student-athlete is physically demanding, it demands your time, and you also carry the mentality of a student. We have practice at 2 o’clock, so I’ll arrive at 1, prepare, then we practice, watch film, get up extra shots, go through treatment, and I probably won’t return home until 7. Then I have homework, and I call my family. It took me a while to become acclimated to this life as a student-athlete, but it’s such a blessing and honor to have the opportunity to play college basketball.
Those experiences as a freshman gave me a lot of confidence going into my sophomore year. Knowing I had to get stronger because the other guys were bigger and stronger motivated me to work extra hard. We had a good team and all I thought about was fulfilling my role in order to help the team win, which was my goal throughout my basketball career. Unfortunately, there were ups and downs my junior season. Just when I believe our luck had changed with a victory over TCU in the Big 12 Tournament — bang — COVID hit, and our season was over.  
COVID took so much away outside of basketball across the country and the world. It was surreal. Throughout it all, the experience helped me to grow as a person. Perhaps what I most realized was that there were more important things in life than basketball. We were blessed with basketball, but in basketball, as in all areas of my life, I had to focus and give it all that I had in whatever I did. You never know when it’s going to end.
When we returned to the court, everything was different. No crowds. It was a tough year with COVID. There was a lot on my shoulders, and I assumed a role I’d never been in before. We had a bunch of new guys. I tried to be my best self while helping everybody else become their best selves, but it was difficult. I wanted to win, but it takes a team to win. I gave it my all. I’m proud of how the season ended.  
Because of COVID, I had the option to return and play a fifth year. Honestly, I made my decision to return very quickly. I liked how we had ended our season and what we returned, and I had great trust in our coaches that they would supplement our roster with Division I transfers who shared our passion and values. I wanted to come back right away and just work to improve myself, help my teammates, and help our program.
This year, we’ve had a bunch of really focused players, guys who are really focused on being their best self in the game of basketball and are anxious to help the team win. A part of my role was helping our new players learn what the Big 12 was all about. I mean, this is the hardest conference in the nation. It’s physically demanding. You have to be really sharp and bring it every day. It’s easy to slip up. I’ve spent the season trying to help our players to become great.  
I just try to be myself, honestly. I’d like to think that I help others on the team, and that’s by showing up, being positive, and bringing that positive energy, because there’s enough negative energy out there. I look at everything like, “Let’s win. Let’s win. Let’s focus on winning and focus on giving it our all.” 
We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve suffered many narrow losses. Honestly, I think about March. At this point, anything can happen. We can still achieve success in March. Nothing is off the table. Anything can happen in March. We just have to learn from our mistakes. The other day, we suffered another close loss, and it’s another learning experience, and something we can take into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma.
My focus isn’t as much on Senior Day as it is on just beating Oklahoma so we can get back to .500. It’s sad to know I’ll never play in Bramlage Coliseum again, but I’ve had the greatest experiences in Bramlage. I still remember my sophomore year when we trailed West Virginia by 20 points at halftime, and then we let loose, and Barry did what Barry does, and we were able to stage the greatest comeback in school history, turnaround our season, and become Big 12 Champions. I’ll never forget that.  
I’ll never forget our magical tournament run. I’ll never forget winning in the Virgin Islands, or the close wins, or fun matchups against Iowa State and Kansas. I’ll never forget playing through COVID. I’ll never forget how grateful I was that we were even able to play basketball because Division II and Division III cancelled their entire seasons. I’m glad for my fifth season. It’s been fun to be around my team. This team is so fun. Hopefully, the most fun moments are yet to come.
What does K-State mean to me? It means home, honestly. I’m just a kid from Connecticut, and all I ever wanted was to be on my own and play basketball, and K-State gave me a safe place to do that. K-State took me in, allowed me to be myself, and I have learned a great deal of life lessons while developing as a man that I might utilize the rest of my life.  
My family played a major role in helping me prepare for this stage of my life. My grandma, Dorinda, keeps my family together. I have my parents, Pat and Yovana, and my sisters, Alissa, Gabby, and Elizabeth — my grandma keep us together even though we’re spread out so far apart these days. I know it’s tough on my mom and dad that we’re far apart. My parents instilled hard work into me along with the importance of earning everything in life. When I was in the fifth grade, my dad made me get a job as a newspaper delivery boy — sometimes I drove through snowstorms — to pay for my phone and for basketball tournaments. My mom taught me hard work because she works, works, works. I thank my sisters for loving me and for being my biggest fans.  
Coach Reilly saw potential in me before I saw it in myself. My high school teachers taught me to be my best as a student. At K-State, I must thank Maryclare Wheeler and Liane Fowler, my academic advisors, for giving me freedom but for also always keeping me on track. 
I thank Coach Weber for believing in me. He believed in me, and he allowed me to come back, and he believed that I could help our team after last year. All along the way during my career, Coach Weber has always concerned himself with developing me as both a person and as a player, which means a lot to me. I thank Coach Frazier for making my opportunity possible to come to K-State.  
I’m grateful for the whole K-State community for supporting me and showing me love all these years. I’ll forever be grateful for the experiences I’ve had in Bramlage and as a Kansas State Wildcat.  
I remember as a kid, having these dreams. Many of those dreams have come true. 
I’m grateful.

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