Kansas State basketball's Nijel Pack off to a fast start despite injury

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State Wildcats guard Nijel Pack (24) and Florida A&M's MJ Randolph (3) go after a loose ball during last Wednesday's game at Bramlage Coliseum.

MANHATTAN — Nijel Pack's return to form last week in Kansas State's basketball season opener was encouraging news for the Wildcats.

Not least of all for Pack, the sophomore point guard who had slowly battled his way back from a preseason injury that has limited him in practice for several weeks.

Pack had understandably struggled offensively in K-State's exhibition game against Pittsburg State. But when it counted last Wednesday he came out on fire, scoring 13 first-half points and finishing with a team-high 18 in a 67-57 victory over Florida A&M.

"It was just a great start for me," said Pack, who led the Wildcats in both scoring and assists last year as a freshman. "It felt good to get some confidence back under me (because of) how long I've been out for. It just felt great to get that confidence back."

Pack and the Wildcats (1-0) are back in action at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, when they play host to Omaha (1-1) at Bramlage Coliseum.

Pack has been plagued by pain in both hips, but thanks to a lighter practice workload he made his way back to the court in time for the season opener. Still, it was not until recently that K-State coach Bruce Weber started to see the real Pack emerge.

"We probably pushed his minutes a little far," Weber said after Pack logged 31 minutes against FAMU. "When you don't practice five, six weeks and then you work your way up over these last two weeks …

"But he started making shots (last) week in practice and you felt good about him."

Pack, who averaged 12.7 points and 3.8 assists in an impressive freshman campaign, admitted that remaining patient through his rehabilitation has been a challenge.

"The coaches even talked to me. It's going to take some time to get back into rhythm," he said. "I knew it was going to take some time, but any player thinks when they come back in they want to go back to the level of play, how they were.

"How competitive practice was, you want to be competitive right with them, and it took some time for me to get back in that rhythm, get back into that playing mood. It felt good to come out here first game, and I'm just trying to get focused for Omaha next."

It's an ongoing process.

"I'm still trying to get better day by day," Pack said. "I do a lot of stuff with the trainer. Me and the trainer are basically best friends.

"Day in, day out, we're trying to get better, trying to find something to help it, but as of right now I feel pretty good to be out there on the court at least, so I'm blessed to say that at least."

Fortunately for the Wildcats, they have plenty of perimeter depth this season, thanks to the addition of transfers Mark Smith from Missouri and Markquis Nowell from Little Rock. In fact, Smith has replaced sophomore Selton Miguel in the starting lineup alongside Pack and super-senior Mike McGuirl.

And yet Miguel led the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points in the Pittsburg State exhibition and scored all 10 of his points during a crucial second-half stretch that allowed K-State to pull away from FAMU.

"I know each and every game there's going to be a different leading scorer just by how much talent we've got," Pack said. "The way the coaches recruited this offseason, we picked up so much talent that we can pick up the slack for each other."