By Jake Sutherlin
After a phenomenal career at Manhattan Christian College, Nate Awbrey has joined the Kansas State University basketball program as a walk-on.
Awbrey was a two-sport athlete for MCC, making several national tournament appearances in both soccer (he was an All-American midfielder) and basketball (recognized as an All-Region guard). In basketball he was the 26th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 points and led the team to a conference championship and Final Four appearance in his senior season.
And now, with one year of eligibility left because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the graduate transfer has earned a spot at a Division I program and the chance to play on the same court he’s watched the KSU Wildcats compete on since he moved to Manhattan, Kan., at about age 6.
“I remember watching K-State versus Iowa State for Jacob Pullen’s senior night in 2011, and the Elite Eight run in 2010,” Awbrey said.
And while he didn’t grow up a diehard KSU fan (his family has KU roots), players and moments like those inspired him to dream. And Awbrey is grateful for the opportunity to live that out even if it’s just a few minutes here or there as a walk-on.
“There’s a lot of great athletes and talent at K-State, so my role will be different than at MCC, but I will be doing whatever I can do to make the team better,” Awbrey said.
GREAT ATTITUDE & GREAT TEAMMATE
MCC’s fourth-year head coach Jordan Strom says that type of attitude is part of why Awbrey has been successful.
“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever coached,” Strom said.
Awbrey exemplified this in March 2021 when he tore his ACL at the national tournament.
“I’ve had guys get hurt before, but it was heartbreaking to lose the heart and soul of the team, a guy who connects with all his teammates,” Strom said. “You could feel it was a devastating loss for the whole team.”
And it all could’ve ended right there, but Awbrey was determined to return and compete. Four and a half months of intense physical therapy and a couple more months of specialized sports training and he was back on the court.
“A lot of guys fight back [through injury] with the ultimate goal of winning a championship, but Nate wanted to be there for his teammates,” Strom said.
Throughout his rehab, Awbrey was always there at early morning team workouts and practices, cheering on his teammates and encouraging them. “That’s just Nate,” his coach said.
“His story has been one of consistency,” Strom added. “He’s always the same guy wherever he is. He has a heart for Jesus and for people.”
Awbrey finished up at MCC in the spring, earning a bachelor’s degree in Bible and Christian ministry with an emphasis in youth ministry. He is an active participant at University Christian Church. And he ministers to high school boys through Young Life, serving as an active role model and challenging them in word and deed to live out their faith.
“This opportunity [to walk on at KSU] doesn’t come without the consistency in his walk with Jesus and putting others and his faith before himself,” Strom said.
“One of the big things I’ve tried to do is show Jesus in the way I live my life,” Awbrey said. “In basketball we do what we can to be successful, but there are more important things.”
This is something Strom highlights about playing or coaching basketball. At the end of the day, there must be something more than just a ball and a hoop. His hope is that players leave the program with a deep trust in Jesus and a strong faith.
This shared conviction is a reason for Awbrey and Strom’s strong relationship.
“I’m excited about K-State and the rest of it, but I’m grateful for what he did as a servant leader for our program,” Strom said, before adding—with a chuckle—“I’m more excited about this than anybody but his mom.”
Strom said Awbrey helped lay the foundation for the type of program the coach is trying to build.
Awbrey has continued to trust God through his ups and downs, and he encourages others to do so as well because, in the end, God will reward faithfulness.
“Trust in God and keep moving forward.”
Jake Sutherlin, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, works as a youth intern for a church in Mississippi.