By Mark Janssen
In a single phrase, Kansas State men's basketball coach Frank Martin says, "We're just not very good right now."
He adds, "We're a very young team. When you have a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores, there are going to be a lot of unique challenges. You're just not going to know what you're going to have from day to day.
Gone from last year's roster are four players who were 22- and 23-year-olds in Denis Clemente, Chris Merriwether, Luis Colon and Dominique Sutton.
"Those were four grown men, and we're trying to replace four grown men with sophomores and freshmen," said Martin. "They are players who have never been asked to lead before. Jacob (Pullen) is trying, but he's tired of trying to do it by himself."
Joining Pullen as a senior is Curtis Kelly, who averaged 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Has he been one who has been inconsistent, coach?
"Yes," was the one-word answer.
How's he been practicing?
"Like Curtis," Martin said, following a long practice session on Wednesday.
Another returnee is junior Jamar Samuels, who was the Big 12's "Sixth Man Award" winner last year, but has yet to play due to a scratched eye.
"He'll dress, but he better practice better than he has been," said Martin of Samuels, who has been in street clothes for both exhibition games.
Asked if he feels like the lone team leader, Pullen said, "Some of the guys are a little lackadaisical and don't focus as they should. I expect more from them because they've been through it. I expect them to have a better grasp of things, but sometimes they shy away. We need them to step up and be more vocal. You can't have only one leader."
But Pullen, a preseason first-team All-American, added that one doesn't have to be old to lead: "Guys like Wally (Judge), Martavious (Irving) and Nick (Russell) aren't new to this. They know what Frank expects, so I hope I won't have to lead by myself too long."
Martin added that it was the "least of my concerns" to replace the speed or the 19 points per game scored by Clemente last year. Instead, he said, "My concern has been how to replace his character and his leadership. That's the part that has been difficult."
THE SPORTING NEWS
The Sporting News publication has picked Kansas to win the Big 12, followed by K-State, Missouri, Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M in the top division.
The publication selects Pullen as the best shooter in the conference and the best leader, plus goes with sophomore Wally Judge as one of three players "... who will shape the conference race."
Pullen was joined on the all-Big 12 team by LaceDarius Dunn and Perry Jones of Baylor, Alec Burks of Colorado and Marcus Morris of Kansas. Morris was named as the preseason Player of the Year and Texas' Rick Barnes as the Coach of the Year.
JAMES MADISON THE FIRST FOE
A member of the Colonial Athletic Conference, James Madison posted a 13-20 record a year ago, but returns 6-10, senior Denzel Bowles, a 21-point, 9-rebound per game standout, plus twin figure scorers in 6-5 Julius Wells (16.3) and 6-4 Devon Moore (10.7).
K-State will next play on Tuesday in a rare 3 p.m. tipoff against Virginia Tech. The game will be a part of ESPN's 24 hours of college basketball.
CATS TO PLAY IN CANCUN IN 2011
Kansas State will be participating in an in-season tournament outside of the U.S. for the first time in the program's history in 2011, as the school was selected to participate in the second annual Cancun Governor's Cup to be held in late December 2011 at Poliforum Benito Juarez in Cancun, Mexico.
The eight-team field will include K-State, College of Charleston, Massachusetts, Rice, Southern Illinois and Utah, along with two additional teams to be announced at a later date.
The bracket-format tournament will feature 12 games over three days in late December 2011. Each team will compete in one game per day, advancing through a bracket-tournament format.
The inaugural event will take place Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 22-24, 2010, at the Poliforum Benito Juarez and will include Appalachian State, Colorado State, East Tennessee State, Ole Miss, Northeastern, Saint Louis, Southern Miss and Texas State.