By Mark Janssen
It was a year ago that the preseason perception was that the men of Frank Martin would be good ... very good, but in all likelihood, not "Elite Eight" good.
But the Wildcats smiled and used the "Fear The Beard" of Jacob Pullen, to a school-record 29 victories, which included 11 in the Big 12, which placed them second.
First, fourth-year coach Frank Martin will tell you, "Pressure is when nobody thinks you're any good. It's then that nobody holds anybody accountable in your own organization."
Of this year's lofty rankings, he adds, "These expectations are a positive. Now everybody takes pride in all of the work that has taken place over the last four years. Every sacrifice that every young man has made to make himself better, that gives them all an added incentive in a positive way to continue to do their jobs."
"Will we be perfect? No, but that does not mean that we will not prepare everyday to win every game."
The season begins tonight at 7 in Bramlage Coliseum when the Wildcats play the first of two exhibition games. Tonight it's Newman from Wichita, while Sunday afternoon at 2:30 it will be Washburn University.
Martin's not a bit bashful in saying that this team "by far from a physical standpoint" is the most talented team top to bottom that K-State has had during his K-State years.
"We're bigger, longer and more skilled athletically," he said. "But now some of the younger guys need to embrace roles of more leadership and take on more responsibility. The faster they grow into handling those situations, the better we will become. If they don't have the desire and fight as last year, then we won't be as good."
From last year's team K-State lost seniors Denis Clemente and Luis Colon to graduation, plus Dominique Sutton, who opted to transfer to North Carolina-Central.
For now, Jacob Pullen will play the point guard, while Martin says there is a "plethora" of candidates for the second guard spot, which he adds, "... is a good problem to have."
Of Pullen playing the point, Martin said, "Just from a maturity standpoint and an understanding standpoint, Jacob is the one most prepared to do the job, but Will (Spradling) is going to be a good one, Nick (Russell) can play the point, Martavious (Irving) can play, and Juevol Myles will be a good one, so we have plenty of heads and faces to man the position."
Martin added of Pullen, "He's far superior to last year. He has a total understanding of the game, is a better shooter and a stronger athlete. The more you understand the game, the slower the game is. You see things happen before they take place. Jacob is getting to that point."
The second guard could also be a continuous rotation with Pullen, Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell.
Candidates for the small-forward spot will be Jamar Samuels, who Martin calls a "hybrid-forward," plus Victor Ojeleye and Nino Williams.
Inside, Martin says, "We have a slew of them, which you have to have to compete for a Big 12 championship."
Included in the list are 6-10, 275-pound Freddy Asprilla, 7-0, 240 Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, 6-9, 250 Wally Judge, 6-8, 245 Curtis Kelly, plus the 6-7, 220-pound Samuels.
"Curtis is really shooting the ball well and continues to get in better physical condition, and Jordan has taken a tremendous step forward," Martin said. "Freddy can be a force offensively, but he needs to learn our defense like Luis did."
Overall, Martin said of the 2010-11 cast, "We're more versatile, we have more depth, and we have more size at the guard, which will give us the ability to do a few more things defensively."
MORE HONORS FOR PULLEN: The accolades for Jacob Pullen continue to mount, as the senior was named a preseason first team All-American by The Associated Press on Monday.
Pullen, who has been selected to a number of All-American teams, was joined on the first team by North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, BYU's Jimmer Fredette, Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and Duke's Kyle Singler. Pullen was an honorable mention AP All-American as a junior after leading K-State to its first Elite Eight since 1988.
Pullen has already been named a preseason All-American by a number of media outlets, including to the first team by Blue Ribbon Yearbook and The Sporting News, to the second team by Dick Vitale and to the third team by Athlon Sports. He was also recently selected a preseason Top 50 candidate for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the nation's top player by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
In addition, Pullen recently became the first K-State player in the Big 12 era to be named the league's Preseason Player of the Year. He was also a unanimous preseason All-Big 12 selection.
TICKET INFORMATION: All reserved tickets for the 2010-11 men's basketball season have been sold, but there are still several opportunities for fans to see the Wildcats in action during the University's holiday semester break.
Single-game tickets are on sale for games against UMKC (Thursday, Dec. 23), North Florida (Friday, Dec. 31) and Savannah State (Monday, Jan. 3). For $20 per game, or $45 for all three matchups, fans can choose between reserved seats in Section 18 or 25, or general admission tickets in Sections 19-24. Tickets can be purchased online at www.kstatesports.com, by calling toll free at (800) 221.CATS (2287) or in-person at the Athletics Ticket Office located in Bramlage Coliseum.
There are still tickets available for the Hy-Vee Wildcat Classic with UNLV at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday, Dec. 21. Tickets for this highly-anticipated match-up are priced at $40 (lower-level sideline), $30 (lower-level end zone) and $20 (upper level), and can be purchased through the Athletic Ticket Office or Ticketmaster, by calling (800) 745.3000 or online at www.Ticketmaster.com. Group tickets starting at $10 each are also available in the upper level.
Freddy Asprilla, 6-10, Jr, Villavicencio, Columbia
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, 7-0, Soph, Port Chester, N.Y.
Martavious Irving, 6-1, Soph, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Wally Judge, 6-9, Soph, Washington, D.C.
Curtis Kelly, 6-8, Sr, Bronx, N.Y.
Rodney McGruder, 6-4, Soph, Washington, D.C.
Juevol Myles, 6-1, Ajax, Ontario
Victor Ojeleye, 6-6, Jr, Ottawa, Kan.
Devon Peterson, 6-3, Jr, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Alex Potuzak, 6-9, Fr, Clyde, Kan.
Jacob Pullen, 6-0, Sr, Maywood, Ill.
Nick Russell, 6-4, Soph, Duncanville, Texas
Jamar Samuels, 6-7, Jr, Washington, D.C.
Shane Southwell, 6-6, Fr, Harlem, N.Y.
Will Spradling, 6-3, Fr, Overland Park, Kan.
Nino Williams, 6-5, Fr, St. Louis, Mo.