Cats are on a roll

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - SPORTS DAILY - By KEL­LIS ROBI­NETT

K-State’s Martin can now of­fer po­ten­tial re­cruits some­thing be­yond his­tory and tra­di­tion.

When Frank Martin first started re­cruit­ing as Kansas State’s bas­ket­ball coach, he told prospec­tive play­ers of the pro­gram’s rich his­tory and tra­di­tion.

When they ar­rived on cam­pus, he used the same tac­tics to mo­ti­vate them. Time and again, he told them they had the op­por­tu­nity to put K-State bas­ket­ball back on the map.

Fresh off a sea­son in which the Wild­cats won a school-record 29 games and ad­vanced fur­ther in the NCAA Tour­na­ment than any K-State team in 22 years, they have re­stored KS­tate’s bas­ket­ball rep­u­ta­tion.

That means Martin will need to change his ap­proach.

“When you go out and re­cruit you’ve got to sell the here and now,” Martin said dur­ing his end-of-the-sea­son news con­fer­ence Tues­day. “Our suc­cess over the last three years gives us cred­i­bil­ity.”

In­stead of try­ing to con­vince re­cruits they could be part of some­thing spe­cial, he will ask if they want to be part of a pro­gram on the rise.

Shawnee Mis­sion South guard Will Spradling has al­ready signed on for next sea­son, and so have New York for­ward Shane South­well and ju­nior­col­lege cen­ter Freddy Asprilla. One schol­ar­ship re­mains, and Martin plans to be picky with it.

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He said he is looking at “three or four” play­ers, and he is not looking to fill a spe­cific po­si­tion. He wants to find the best fit for the team, which means at­ti­tude is as im­por­tant as tal­ent. If the per­fect player isn’t out there, he will save the schol­ar­ship for an­other year.

“I don’t be­lieve in bring­ing some­body in just to bring some­body in,” Martin said. “Just to say that you filled a schol­ar­ship. We’ve got a good locker room. We’ve worked too hard to get a locker room that we trust. I’m not go­ing to bring some­body in who doesn’t fit.”

Though Martin be­lieves parts of his job will be eas­ier now that K-State has found suc­cess, he is pos­i­tive other parts will be more dif­fi­cult than ever.

To that end, Martin used some of his fa­vorite analo­gies to de­scribe the fu­ture.

He com­pared what the Wild­cats have done since his ar­rival in Man­hat­tan to how easy it is for him to lose 10 pounds, and de­scribed where the pro­gram is try­ing to go as more dif­fi­cult than it is for him to shed 20 pounds.

“To take that next step we weren’t able to take this year, that’s real hard,” Martin said. “That’s the chal­lenge that lies in front of us. You don’t make that im­prove­ment by think­ing that it’s eas­ier now. It’s harder. You’ve got to work harder than you did be­fore. That’s the mes­sage that we’ll con­tinue to de­liver to our guys.” Pullen’s fu­ture

With K-State’s suc­cess in the NCAA Tour­na­ment, some have sug­gested that ju­nior guard Ja­cob Pullen is now a can­di­date to test the NBA wa­ters.

Martin said he has not yet dis­cussed that topic with Pullen, whose 19.3 points per game led the Wild­cats this sea­son. But Martin also said he would not stand in Pullen’s way if he de­cided to work out for an NBA team or two be­fore they be­gin on April 30.

“If they’re in a sit­u­a­tion where they have the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing that is right for them, why not ex­plore it?” Martin said. “It’s not against the rules. You go to col­lege to make a bet­ter life. You do not go to col­lege be­cause it sounds good. They chose to come to col­lege and be­cause of that they can make a bet­ter life. Then that is a de­ci­sion they have to make with the help of their fam­i­lies.”

Pullen’s name sel­dom ap­pears on on­line NBA mock drafts.

Any un­der­class­man who de­clares for the NBA draft has un­til May 8 to with­draw his name and come back to school.

When asked in Salt Lake City about NBA pos­si­bil­i­ties, Pullen

@Go to the Cam­pus Cor­ner col­lege sports blog. said he would need to speak with his fam­ily be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion. Mem­o­ries

Martin said the one thing he can’t get out of his head right now is the step-back three Xavier’s Jor­dan Craw­ford made that forced dou­ble over­time in the Sweet 16.

“For him to make that bomb, it was a lit­tle de­flat­ing to me,” Martin said. “Now ob­vi­ously I couldn’t ex­press that to the team, but that mo­ment was the first time and only time all game where I said, ‘God, I don’t know if we can over­come this.’ Yet, the kids did what they did all year. They bat­tled and they found a way.

“That mo­ment was the one that just re­played over and over in my head. I can’t dis­en­gage from that mo­ment. It made us winning that game that much more spe­cial.”

Deal­ing with ex­pec­ta­tions — K-State could be the pre­sea­son fa­vorite to win the Big 12 reg­u­lar-sea­son cham­pi­onship next year. That sounds good to Martin.

“We’ve been fight­ing our tails off to sit in that seat,” he said. The point is clear

With the de­par­ture of De­nis Cle­mente, a main ques­tion com­ing into next year is who will take over his ball-han­dling re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. But Martin said that won’t be too dif­fi­cult. He al­ready has a proven point guard on the ros­ter.

“We played with two point guards all year,” Martin said. “I’m not a 1947 coach where the one guard plays here and the two guard plays here. I like play­ing with two point guards. The way I like play­ing the game, I think that’s very im­por­tant.

“My chal­lenge isn’t find­ing a point guard. We’ve got one, his name is Ja­cob Pullen. Our chal­lenge is get­ting Will Spradling ready to play from day one. Our chal­lenge is to get ei­ther Mar­tavi­ous Irv­ing or Nick Rus­sell to also play like a point guard. That’s our chal­lenge, not find­ing one. We’ve got one.” Beef­ing up

Fresh­man cen­ter Jor­dan Hen­riquez-Roberts didn’t play much near the end of this sea­son, and Martin said there was a rea­son for that: The 7-footer was too slim. If he adds weight in the off­sea­son, Martin be­lieves he will “have a tremendous im­pact on our team next year.”

Ideally, Martin would like to see Hen­riquez-Roberts go from his cur­rent weight of 220 pounds to 250.

No Fi­nal Four means bot­tom-line dis­ap­point­ment for the Big12 You may have picked up on this, what with all the new­fan­gled com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices, but Kansas did not reach the Fi­nal Four. I didn’t be­lieve it at first ei­ther, but looking at the brack­ets, it’s con­firmed. The Jay­hawks are not headed to Indianapolis. Nei­ther is Kansas State, Bay­lor or any other team from the con­fer­ence that proudly took over the top spot in the Rat­ings Per­cent­age In­dex (RPI) in Jan­uary and held it through the con­fer­ence tour­na­ments. Yup, the Big 12 that has suc­ceeded on so many other fronts over the last few years with high draft picks and Al­lAmer­ica selections now has as many Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ances since 2005 as the Hori­zon League and Colo­nial Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion. This sea­son was sup­posed to be dif­fer­ent. We be­lieved it from the mo­ment last year ended. So many star un­der­class­men passed on the NBA draft and re­turned to give it the old col­lege try. Even some of the coaches turned down big­ger money to stay put. The reg­u­lar sea­son de­liv­ered. Texas lived up to the hype early and reached No. 1 for the first time. Kansas spent so much time atop the polls it should have paid rent. The Big 12 sent the great­est per­cent­age of teams of any con­fer­ence to the NCAA Tour­na­ment, and only one of the seven could see the bub­ble from its seed. Then, in­con­ve­niently for the Big 12, the tour­na­ment started, and five of the seven — most notably Kansas — didn’t sur­vive the first week­end. K-State and Bay­lor ably car­ried the flag into the Sweet 16 and took the fight into the fi­nal min­utes of re­gional ti­tle games. No shame in their per­for­mances and bright fu­tures for both pro­grams. But the Big12 on the whole dis­ap­pointed. Its 9-7 tour­na­ment record is the worst in four years. Looking at the bracket, Big 12 teams scored one victory against a bet­ter seeded team — Mis­souri over Clem­son — and lost four times as the bet­ter seed. Only one con­fer­ence had a worse record in those games. The Big East went 1-6, but the one put West Vir­ginia in the Fi­nal Four with a con­quest of Ken­tucky, and reach­ing the Fi­nal Four is what it’s all about. The Big12 has done that one time in the last six years, and that drought matches the con­fer­ence’s first six sea­sons. There were no Fi­nal Four teams for the first five. When the con­fer­ence broke through it did in a big way, two teams in 2002 and 2003 and one in 2004. Since then, the Big 12 is 1-7 in re­gional fi­nals. It’s never easy to sort out col­lec­tive fail­ure. Some years the matchups seem fa­vor­able, in oth­ers they don’t, and that’s the sim­ple an­swer for 2010. North­ern Iowa was a bad matchup for Kansas, But­ler for Kansas State, Duke for Bay­lor, and so on. But the strong­est teams over­come dan­ger games. The Jay-

Frank Martin

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