MANHATTAN — In what has been a trying season for the Kansas State Wildcats, they will be celebrating at least one feel-good story as the season winds down.
Pierson McAtee, a hometown boy and former walk-on, will be one of three seniors honored Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum ahead of the Wildcats' 3 p.m. regular-season finale against Iowa State.
Unlike fellow seniors Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien, both three-year starters, McAtee's contributions have taken place largely behind the scenes. But they have hardly gone unnoticed, especially by his teammates and head coach Bruce Weber.
"I've told our guys and Pierson, he's gone way above the call of duty to be a great team guy, to be a leader," Weber said of McAtee, a former Manhattan High School standout, who went on scholarship for the first time this season after four years as a walk-on. "The maturity and understanding what it's about, and really accepting your role.
"Understanding what you're supposed to do, and then he does it every day. And even with the tough season he's kept an unbelievable attitude and tried to be positive."
Remaining positive has been a challenge for all the Wildcats in a season where they went from Big 12 co-champions to last place. They'll take a 9-21 overall record and 2-15 conference mark into the Iowa State game.
But for McAtee, a former K-State ball boy — his father, Jamie, has been the athletic department's orthopedic surgeon for 19 years — Wildcat basketball has been an integral part of his life for years.
"Growing up here, the Jim Wooldridge era and being in Allen Fieldhouse in 2006 when they won that game," he said of the Wildcats' last victory at Kansas in Wooldridge's final season as coach. "Just growing up around K-State basketball has just been so special.
"Part of my life, outside of being part of the program, and then to be here and firsthand experience a lot of cool memories. I'm just so thankful for that opportunity."
McAtee has set career highs in just about every category this season on the court, appearing in 18 games and scoring 13 points with 14 rebounds. But even when he hasn't directly impacted games, he's a major presence.
"He's been a consistent leader for many years now," Mawien said. "I don't think he gets enough credit for that.
"He's always been vocal, always giving us input and been very helpful with practice. Doing his best, playing hard, working hard, doing whatever he can to help us continue to grow as a team."
Despite the reality that the Iowa State game and next week's Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City likely will be the end of the season for K-State, McAtee continues to look for ways to help the team.
"He even came to me this week and just said, 'Coach, is there anything else I can do to help?' Just out of the blue," Weber said. "Just wanting to have a good finish to our season.
"He's a great leader on the bench. Every day comes to practice and some days he's a four man, some days he's a three. Whatever we need, he's been very willing to do that, so I can't say enough about him."
McAtee, who now stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 200 pounds, turned down a scholarship offer to Washburn to walk on at K-State after averaging 14.3 points and 7.0 points as a Manhattan High senior in 2014-15.
"I'll be honest, going through the recruitment process early at the start of high school, I don't think it was ever a possibility in my mind, to be honest," McAtee said of playing for the Wildcats. "I hadn’t developed, I hadn't done the things that I needed to do.
"And then come junior summer, going into senior year, things started to happen. I played a lot better basketball, and then when I was able to sit down with Coach Weber and he offered me an opportunity to walk on, there was no doubt in my mind this is where I wanted to be."
Weber appreciates the fact that McAtee was all-in from the start.
"When he came to me, his family and him, he could have gone to Washburn or some other places and played and probably had a good career, but K-State is very important to him," Weber said. "Obviously his dad was here and played, and then just growing up being around it.
"From where he'd started, 165 pounds with a wet T-shirt at the beginning, he'd say, 'Coach, I can't go with the big guys — they just beat me up — and then the guards, they go by me.' But he'd be the last guy at the meals, eating every last bite, gained weight in the weight room, all that."
McAtee also has gained an education, graduating with a business administration degree last May and working toward his master's in accounting this year.
"I've kind of joked (that) there will be a lot of guys coming to him for a job some day in the future, because I think whatever he does, he'll be very, very successful," Weber said.
McAtee said Friday that he was still processing his thoughts on the eve of his final home game.
"But it will be a very special experience out with (my parents), because basketball has been really special for my family and really brought us closer together," he said. "And obviously to do it here at K-State where I grew up.
"Seeing Coach Weber out there and being able to hug him, it will be a really special opportunity."