Wildcats just fine under Martin
AP Sports Writer
MANHATTAN, Kansas – Frank Martin is stubborn. Not in the find that missing puzzle piece kind of way, but in the tell me I can’t do something and I’ll prove you wrong vein.
He was like that even before taking a job at Dairy Queen in Little Havana at age 12.
So when Martin heard the rumblings he wasn’t qualified to replace Bob Huggins at Kansas State, that he was nothing more than a high school coach kept on to baby sit Michael Beasley, he shook off the sting and turned it into a challenge.
Look at him now.
Molding the program in his own us-against-the-world image, Martin has No. 12 Kansas State off to its best start in years with a foundation to keep it going for many more to come.
This underdog is quite a bulldog.
“That’s who I am. I’m used to it,” Martin said. “I don’t expect it any other way. I expect to have to earn my right. I expect to have to earn my stripes. I expect to have to work extremely hard. It’s the way I’ve been raised. It’s the only thing I’ve known since I was a kid. It’s not like it’s something new for me.”
Fiery and demanding, Martin got his start at Miami-area high schools, spending 15 years there before entering the college ranks as an assistant at Northeastern. He joined Huggins’ staff at Cincinnati and followed him to Kansas State in 2006.
When Huggins bolted for his alma mater, West Virginia, after just one season, Martin was tapped as the 23rd head coach in Kansas State history.
That’s when the criticism started.
Martin was called overmatched, even hearing one person call his hiring an embarrassment to college basketball. The Martin bashing continued into the season as the Wildcats kept winning, critics attacking his in-your-face style of coaching, the way his players called him Frank instead of Coach, even for his big suits and slick hair.
“I’m a human being,” Martin said. “I’d rather people root for the underdog than shoot the underdog.”
The underdog kept fighting.
Kansas State had a successful first season under Martin, with Beasley and the gang finishing 21-12 and winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1988.
The next season, the one that would supposedly would expose Martin as a fraud, was nearly as successful even with Beasley and Bill Walker in the NBA; the Wildcats just missed the NCAA tournament and finished with 22 wins.
This season has revealed Martin’s ability to build a program.
Athletic and relentless on defense, Kansas State (11-1) has won eight straight and is off to one of the best starts in school history. The Wildcats have their highest ranking since 1973 – highest pre-conference since 1965 – and have beaten two ranked non-conference teams in the same season (UNLV and Dayton) for the first time in 61 years.
Unlike the Beasley-led group, Kansas State has done it as a team.
Jacob Pullen, part of Beasley’s recruiting class, has teamed with Miami transfer Denis Clemente to make up one of the nation’s best guard combinations. The front line is long and athletic, led by springy-legged holdovers Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels.
Forward Curtis Kelly has made a solid contribution after transferring from Connecticut, and a stellar recruiting class, led by highly rated forward Wally Judge, is making strides.
Together, they’ve bought into Martin’s you’ve-got-to-earn-it mentality.
“I really believed in Frank and I think all of us who came (here) wouldn’t have if we thought that it was just going be a one-year Mike Beasley and Bill Walker flash, and we’d never be good again,” Pullen said. “I don’t think any of us would have come here and we would have taken our other options. But we really believed in Frank and believed in the foundation he was laying, and I think everybody that’s on board right now bought in.”
It’s not always easy. Martin makes sure of that.
He still drives them relentlessly in practice, still spends games stomping, screaming and giving his players stare-a-hole-through-you looks whenever they make a mental mistake.
When the young players struggled through a rough stretch, including a lackluster win over Fort Hays State, Martin vowed to test their manhood in practice.
The Wildcats responded with five straight wins, including over then-No. 18 UNLV.
With just a day off after beating Alabama, Martin decided to take it easy on his team before Monday’s game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Wildcats pulled out an uneven win and Martin blamed himself, saying he would try to purge their Christmas dinners in practice Saturday night.
“We’re closer,” Martin said, “but we still haven’t won anything that’s worthy of celebrations. We’ve yet to play a Big 12 game this year.”
Spoken like a true underdog.
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