Gotta have (crazy) faith! How Jerome Tang quickly united Kansas State’s diverse roster

Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle

Jerome Tang is a deeply religious man who lives by the slogan “Crazy Faith.”

It applies to everything he does. He was thinking about those words when he made the leap from Baylor assistant to Kansas State head coach last year. He was thinking about them when he rebuilt the Wildcats’ roster in his own image this season, with Markquis Nowell and Ismael Massoud serving as the team’s only returning players. And he was also thinking about them during Kansas State’s thrilling overtime victory against Michigan State on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

Crazy Faith is why he begins all of his postgame news conferences with a few thankful words that speak to a higher power.

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“I just want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ,” Tang said on Thursday night. “I’m just telling you, I would not be where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for his faithfulness in my life and guidance.”

How much or how little a basketball coach who works at a public university should broadcast his faith in that kind of forum is a debate for another day. But his players clearly have no problem with it.

If anything, they have been united by his Crazy Faith. Perhaps that slogan is why a group of 13 scholarship players with wildly different backgrounds who grew up in different parts of the world were able to come together and win big in such a short amount of time. Their lack of familiarity was a big reason why Big 12 coaches picked them to finish last in the conference. But they have bonded more quickly than just about anyone imagined on their way to a dream season that has featured 26 victories.

“All of us are very different in our ways,” sophomore guard Cam Carter said. “We have different personalities, different religions and different backgrounds, but we all come together pretty well. I guess you could say opposites attract. That’s what having Crazy Faith can do.”


Indeed, K-State is now in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament and on the doorstep of reaching its first Final Four since 1964.

Faith seems to be at the center of their memorable run.

Markquis Nowell drops to one knee and says a quiet prayer at midcourt before the start of every game. He wasn’t always that way. But after meeting Tang last spring he decided to get baptized and become a more religious person. Now he thanks God before and after all of his record-breaking performances.

Ismael Massoud and Abayomi Iyiola are both Muslim and pray in different ways. David N’Guessan was raised in The Netherlands and has his own beliefs. Walk-on Nate Awbrey attended four years of school at a Christian college before enrolling at K-State. Tang came to K-State from a Baptist university that opens all games with a prayer along with the national anthem.


Somehow they are all unified by the words “Crazy Faith.”

“They’re all winners,” Tang said, “and they all were willing to buy into that. They’re also just really good people. We made sure that everybody learned each other’s story. When you know somebody’s story and you know the things that they’ve gone through in life you can empathize with them and it allows your hearts to connect quicker.”

The team connected so fast that they had shirts made with that slogan “Crazy Faith” emblazoned across the chest before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

“Every one of these guys up here, their faith is important to them,” Tang said. “It doesn’t matter what their faith is, but it’s important to them and guides their life. I see it in their work ethic and how they treat people off the court.”


K-State players were lining up to express their faith on Thursday night.

The win had special meaning to Massoud, because it happened during Ramadan.

“I first want to say happy Ramadan to all the Muslims out there that are fasting,” Massoud said. “I wish for nothing but blessings the rest of the month. It’s really credit to God.”

Massoud later said that he chose not to fast with important basketball games on the horizon. He plans to make up for that after the NCAA Tournament comes to an end. But K-State coaches did allow him and Iyiola to step away from the team for a few hours on Wednesday so they could pray together at a New York mosque.


“I hope that I can inspire other Muslim athletes out there,” Massoud said, “and show them that this is possible.”

Nowell also thanked God for allowing him to show off his game in his hometown of New York with more than 200 childhood supporters cheering him on. Keyontae Johnson expressed gratitude for getting a second chance at life and basketball following his well-publicized health scare at Florida.

“I trusted in God and I trusted in my faith,” Johnson said, “because when everything started happening that kept me positive. It got me through a lot.”

Tang smiled ear to ear as he heard his players share their stories this week in New York.


“I want every individual in our team to experience their own faith and what that means,” Tang said, “whether it’s faith in their teammates, whether it’s faith in the coaching staff, whether it’s my faith in them. Obviously, for me personally, it’s my faith in my beliefs and my faith in what family means and my faith in how to love people. That’s what that means to me.

“But I want everyone to be able to put their own definition and add their own story to what that word ‘faith’ means.”

The term “Crazy Faith” doesn’t apply solely to religion. It is also about a group of coaches and teammates having faith in each other.

The shirts that K-State players have been wearing all month also contains the numbers one and two followed by 11 blank spaces to signify the two stars that Tang inherited and the 11 newcomers he recruited last offseason.


“Crazy faith means a lot of different things,” Awbrey said. “From the very beginning, Coach Tang had faith in us, and he’s been preaching the same message every day. He thinks we can do huge things, we can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and accomplish great things. We just need to have crazy faith in each other. He has been saying that all season. Now it’s happening. We’re not done yet, but we’re all super thankful and happy that we got the opportunity to play together.”

Nowell doesn’t think he would be the star of the NCAA Tournament right now if not for “Crazy Faith.”

“From day one, he’s made us all feel loved,” Nowell said. “He made us all believe in ourselves, and he believed in us. He really does have crazy faith. No matter what you see on Twitter he just tells us that he’s going to ride or die with us. It is big to hear that from your head coach.”

It helped him become one of the best point guards in the country with a group of unlikely teammates that had little in common a few months ago. Back then, anyone who thought K-State would reach the Elite was deemed crazy.

Their Crazy Faith has been rewarded.