By Mark Janssen
Kiddingly, Frank Martin says about this year's Kansas State basketball team, "Nothing has changed. I still stomp around, the assistants are loud and yell at the players, and the players play hard."
To that, the K-State Nation gives a standing ovation.
K-State is not picked to finish third, or even second in the Big 12 Conference, and the Wildcats are not just a preseason top 25 team.
This year Kansas State is picked to win the Big 12 Championship; this year the 'Cats are a Top 5 team in a number of national listings.
"That is a compliment to our players that the coaches in our league that prepare teams to play against us think so much of our program and how we play the game," said the fourth-year coach, who is in Kansas City today for the Big 12 Conference Media Day. "Their willingness to vote our guys No. 1 in what I believe to be the best conference in the nation is quite a compliment."
While others might have a concern that the Wildcats will become too high on themselves, Martin is not one of those.
"That's my job," he says. "When people were saying that we weren't any good not that long ago, we didn't pay any attention. Now that some of those same people are saying how good we are, we're not paying any attention."
Martin, who has a 62-32 coaching record, said the coaching staff has had an open dialogue with this 2010-11 team in terms of expectations and goals.
"We have been communicating with our guys from day-one when we got here four years ago," said Martin. "This year is no different. We have articulated what we think. We've worked hard to where the high expectations we have are realistic. We know that it's hard to predict victories, but our focus and drive comes from the pride we have in this program and who we aspire to be."
That aspiration, in a word, is to be champions.
"We don't intend to lose any of our games," said Martin, who has Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, Duke or Marquette, Washington State, Florida and UNLV on the Wildcats' schedule. "We plan on winning every game on our schedule. We don't sit around saying 27-6 is good enough. We want to win the first game, and then put forth our best effort to win the next one and be the best that we can be."
With a non-conference lineup of no less than seven high-profile players in college basketball, not to mention the 16-game grind of Big 12 basketball, Martin simply says, "It is a hard schedule, but if you want to compete to be Big 12 champions, you line up and get knocked around a little, then get up, and go again."
"You're not going to be champions unless you beat champions," he continued. "We have the opportunity to play teams that are very good and have been very good for a long time. We felt it was time to challenge ourselves to be better than we have been, and we've done that with this schedule."
BETTER? Asked if this K-State team on-paper is more talented than last year's that reached the NCAA's Elite Eight and finished with a 29-8 record, Martin simply said, "By far."
Asked to explain, he said, "We're more physical and just a more talented top to bottom basketball team. We've become bigger, longer and more skilled athletically every year we've been here, and this is no exception."
LOSING A FIFTH GRADER? When Freddy Asprilla arrived from Cloud County Community College, he tipped the scales in the 330-pound range.
Martin says that Asprilla has dropped 52 pounds and is listed now at 6-foot-10, 280 pounds.
"He's eliminated a fifth grader from his body," Martin quipped. "He's going to give us a strong, physical presence at the rim that can score and pass. He has a high skill level. Now we need to get him to understand our defensive concepts like Luis (Colon) understood them. If we can get him to play with the effort Luis gave us, he has the abilities to be a player."
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Last year's senior class included Denis Clemente, who is now playing professionally in Israel; Luis Colon who is playing professionally in Puerto Rico; and, Chris Merriewether, who is working for Conoco in Bartlesville, Okla. Martin said that Darren Kent and Cartier Martin are trying to hook on with NBA Developmental teams, and he believed that Lance Harris was playing in Europe.
OPENERS: K-State will play a pair of exhibition games on Nov. 2 against Newman and Nov. 7 against Washburn before opening its regular season on Nov. 12 against James Madison.