Frank Martin looks at this year’s Kansas State basketball team a bit like the one of 2008-09.
“When Michael (Beasley) and Bill (Walker) decided to leave the program early, everyone said we were left with a bunch of people who were no-names,” said the fifth-year K-State coach. “But we had guys who went out and established themselves, became team leaders, and the program has continued to get better.”
In that 2008-09 season, K-State won 22 games with Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen earning second team and honorable mention honors, respectively, in the Big 12.
Then in 2009-10, Pullen was a first-teamer and Clemente a second-teamer on a unit that won 29 games. And last year, Pullen was the league’s top scorer and an All-American leading a Wildcat team that won 23 times.
While Pullen has taken his talents to the European circuit, Martin is full of vim ‘n’ vigor when looking at the potential on his Wildcat roster of 2011-12.
Now 5-1 through the first half-dozen games this season, Martin points to returning starters from last year in Shane Southwell, Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels, and of the minutes gained by Will Spradling in his freshman season, and how Jordan Henriquez-Roberts was second in the league in blocked shots, and how additional experienced depth is provided by returnees Martavious Irving and Victor Ojeleye.
“We have guys in place who understand the urgency of basketball at this level and how difficult it is to win ‘a’ game, let alone many games,” said Martin. “Some call it reloading, but what I like is that we have guys in place who know better than to take a shortcut in our system.”
And then there’s the cast of newcomers that has so far featured 6-7 Thomas Gipson inside, 5-11 Angel Rodriguez outside.
“We’re excited about all of them,” said Martin of the newcomers, which also includes 6-10 Adrian Diaz, 6-2 Jeremy Jones, 6-2 Omari Lawrence, 6-8 James Watson and 6-5 Nino Williams.
“But like with all new kids, you get excited about one of them, and then the next day they come out and their workouts are all upside down. When you do it as long as we’ve been doing it, you realize that you can’t get too excited about first-year guys.”
Of each newcomer, Martin said entering the season, “Omari had a reputation of being a driver who couldn’t shoot and he’s been shooting the lights out; Angel has the mentality and tenacity to be a point guard, but he’s a young kid and not there; Jeremy has unbelievable speed and shows the ability to be able to score, but he’s completely lost on defense; and Thomas has had good moments and then others where he gets back to the high school frame of mind. It’s the same with Adrian and James. They’ve all shown the ability to help our team, and now it’s up to us to develop a consistency to get them playing to their maximum potential.”
SAMUELS BECOMES A MAN:
Jamar Samuels was listed around 215 as a freshman, upped his frame to 220 pounds at the start of last year, but ended the season at 201. Today he tips the scales at 233 pounds entering his senior season.
To that, Martin quips, “He doesn’t look like a lizard anymore. He actually looks like a Division I athlete. He came in as a skinny guy, and stayed that way. He’s the one guy we had whose body wouldn’t change. It wasn’t a weight-room thing, but it was the nutrition part of it. We’ve been preaching it and preaching it, and I think it has finally sunk in. He’s not going to get knocked around as much, which is exciting.
“Jamar made a commitment to making himself better. Now he’s got to be consistent with that and translate that into an everyday preparation and desire on the basketball court. That’s going to be his challenge,” said Martin. “This is his last chance. It’s not like he has next year to improve. He’s got to go out there and do it.”
RANKED NO. 6:
Martin admits that he was a bit irked that someone like Rodney McGruder did not get a mention on the preseason all-Big 12 team, and the fact that the Wildcat team only received enough votes for a sixth place standing.
Of McGruder, Martin said, “He’s a prideful kid, so I’m sure that bothers him, but we do not pay attention to that kind of stuff. I’m not going to spend time talking about it, and I don’t think he will spend much time talking about it.”
And of the K-State team ranking, Martin added, “I like high expectations. You guys’ (media) opinions change with the wind, but my opinion never changes. The expectations that we place on each other as coaches, the coaches on players, and the players on us … that doesn’t change. Those are the only expectations that ever matter to me. Our expectations are to go into the season to win the Big 12, just like they were last year and the year before that.”