SAN JOSE, Calif. — Cartier Diarra's first thoughts when it was all over turned to Kansas State's three seniors, his teammates who no longer would be once they arrived home in Manhattan.
"They're my brothers for life," Diarra said Friday after the Wildcats' 70-64 first-round NCAA Tournament loss to UC Irvine at the SAP Center. "Great players. Love them (and) love playing beside them."
Yes, Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade may be his brothers for life, but life goes on. And next season, the Wildcats will have to adjust to life without those senior leaders, who helped propel K-State from near the bottom of the Big 12 as freshmen to conference champions this year.
Diarra, a redshirt sophomore guard and the team's sixth man for most of the season, will join junior starters Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien to form a new foundation to try to carry on a legacy that produced 25 victories each of the past two seasons.
"We got great (leadership) from the seniors," said Mawien, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound post player, who for the second straight year had to step up his game at the end following Wade's season-ending foot injuries. "They showed us what to do, to give us the DNA.
"Me, X (Sneed) and Carti, we're seniors now, so we've got to be the leaders now on this team, and I feel like as long as we keep their example in mind, it will help us out."
Mawien, whom K-State coach Bruce Weber has praised for his defense in the middle, also was an offensive bright spot in the loss to UCI, posting his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He averaged 7.0 points and 4.9 rebounds for the season.
Sneed is the team's top returning scorer with 10.6 points per game and rebounder with a 5.5 average. When Wade went down, he seamlessly moved from the wing to the power forward position.
Then there's Diarra, who returned from a broken finger just in time to take Wade's place in the lineup after serving as the Wildcats' super sub most of the year. He averaged 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds.
"Mak had an unbelievable game, except for the (six) turnovers with 14 (points) and 12 (rebounds)," Weber said. "Xavier has had unbelievable moments and Carti, obviously you keep him healthy and let him develop as a player.
"(Sophomore guard) Mike McGuirl has been solid. You've got a good foundation (and) we have to have a special offseason with the guys returning and the new guys coming in."
McGuirl (3.6 ppg) was the surprise star of last year's first-round NCAA victory over Creighton and saw his role fluctuate this year with the injury status of Wade, Stokes and Diarra. Freshman Shaun Neal-Williams is another guard who will look to take a step forward, along with forwards Levi Stockard and Austin Trice.
Then there's a promising 2019 recruiting class consisting of guards DaJuan Gordon and Goodnews Kpegeol and forwards Antonio Gordon and Montavious Murphy.
DaJuan Gordon recently was named the Chicago Sun-Times player of the year.
There was some speculation before the season even started that Sneed, who finished last season on a high note, would look into turning professional this year. His strength and athleticism might appeal to the pro scouts, though his numbers could not match those of Brown in his junior year, when he ultimately decided to come back.
"I'm sure he'll try it like Barry did last year and see if he can get some workouts," Weber said. "I'm going to encourage it, just to have the experience, but we'll see what happens. We have to deal with it.
"I've been through this before and you've got to help them. They come here to get a degree and have a chance to play professional basketball, and if they can play, you did your job as a coach."
Sneed gave no indication on Friday that he intended to test the waters. Instead, he talked about picking up where this year's team left off.
"We've got a lot of different guys in the locker room that will have good experience, and we'll just keep our heads up and keep them high," Sneed said. "I'm definitely going to step up in a leader role next year, taking the first steps with these guys and leading, and try to build upon what we have."