By Mark Janssen
Kansas State's 2010-11 basketball year had weeks of turbulence, and extended days of being as good as any team in the country.
Players were suspended, and two simply quit the team; players improved dramatically, and in Jacob Pullen's case, had a single season, not to mention career, like few Wildcats before him.
"On how things were handled throughout the year, I would give us an 'A'," said Martin. "We saw how Jake grew into much more of a leader, Curtis' (Kelly) growth continued, and the young kids continued to grow while dealing with the adversity. Growth is what it's all about and I would give us an 'A'."
But the fourth-year Wildcat coach then said, "From a won-loss standpoint, we weren't very happy, and we certainly weren't happy not to make it out of the first week of the NCAA Tournament. I'm not sure what grade a person would put on it, but we were very disappointed that we couldn't beat Wisconsin, and we were very disappointed that we didn't win the Big 12."
"But," Martin quickly added, "I was extremely proud of our kids in their willingness to compete, accept responsibility, and they fought like heck to continue to make our program grow."
The Wildcat basketball franchise has grown to the degree that only K-State and Kansas have received first-round Big 12 Championship byes in each of the last five seasons. And, the Wildcats' 50 league wins in the last five years has been bettered only by KU, Texas and Texas A&M, and is seven more than any other North Division school other than the Jayhawks.
While K-State was ranked No. 3 in the national preseason polls, and No. 1 in the Big 12, Martin says he doesn't think those lofty expectations affected the team's play.
The Wildcat coach points to the 9-1 start to the season "when we were playing very well," but then adds, "Where it might have affected us is with some of the younger players who were around last year and practiced every day. They might have thought, 'Hey, this is pretty cool. We played in the conference championship game, and made the Elite Eight ... hey this is easy. We can do this every year.' But overall, I would rather be ranked than not, and would rather have people think we were pretty good, than not. We just have to understand we have to go out and play a season."
Even with the complexities of the season, Martin declined to call this his best coaching year of his young career. In his words, "Every season has different challenges."
He then pointed to the extremes of his first season when he quipped, "There were days I wondered if we should bring out crayons and magic markers rather than basketballs because we were so young."
Other seasons had a season-ending injury to David Hoskins, and the death of Clent Stewart's mother, and a 0-4 start to the Big 12 year.
"This season had its challenges, but every season does," said Martin. "I was very proud of how we stayed focused and continued to believe and not always allow wins and losses to affect our spirit. We were a very good basketball team down the stretch."
K-State moves forward having to replace only two seniors, but those players just happen to be named Pullen and Kelly, who combined for nearly 31 points per game. Pullen led the team in scoring (20.2), assists (115) and 3-pointers (74), while Kelly was second in blocked shots (33), second in rebounds (5.5) and third in scoring (10.5).
"You don't replace Jake with 'a' player, like we didn't replace Michael (Beasley) with 'a' player, and we didn't replace Denis (Clemente) with 'a' player," said Martin. "You replace those guys with your program. Jacob had to learn from somebody to become the player he became, and hopefully others have learned from him.
"Collectively, everyone has to get better. Some will embrace that responsibility, and some will not. Some will emerge as our leaders, and others as followers and complementary players," said Martin.
Shane Southwell, Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels return as starters, while Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Will Spradling were the first to come off the bench.
Of Southwell and McGruder, Martin said, "They have to get better. The thing about a high level of basketball is that other coaches pay attention and take your strength away. Shane and Rodney's weaknesses have to become stronger."
With Samuels, Martin said, "Jamar has to work on his shooting and become a better ball handler. And, Jamar can't continue to play at 205 pounds. We have to get him to 215 to 220. He grew emotionally this year and to take steps from a physical standpoint you have to step up mentally."
With Henriquez-Roberts, Martin said, "It's just continuing the process. Two years ago he couldn't catch the ball. Now he can catch it and even make some baskets, but we have to have him be more consistent. He's shown when he can stay on the floor he can get some rebounds."
And with Spradling, who played the fifth-most minutes of any Wildcat (21.9), Martin scouted, "Will's play was not a surprise. Last year he drove two hours from Kansas City on his own to watch our practices. He spent countless hours this year working on his own. Being good is real important to him. He's a fighter and has a great deal of pride.
"When Jacob wasn't playing at one time during the season, it was Will who tried to be more vocal, which is not easy for freshmen to do," said Martin.
ON THE BOOKS FOR 2011-12: K-State has scheduled non-conference games against Alabama in the Sprint Center in Kansas City and will play in a tournament in Hawaii that will also include the host school, Southern Illinois, Auburn, Xavier, Long Beach State, Clemson and UTEP.
The Wildcats will also travel to Virginia Tech.
TWO SIGNED, TWO TO GIVE: K-State signed 6-foot-11 Adrian Diaz and 6-7 Thomas Gipson during the early signing period, and now has two additional scholarships to give with the departure of Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge.
Martin said he was "confident" that both scholarships would be offered.