Tournament Press Conference

OMAHA, Neb. - Kansas State head coach Frank Martin and freshman forwards Michael Beasley and Bill Walker addressed the media on Wednesday to discuss their upcoming game with USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Qwest Center Omaha at 6:10 p.m. CST on Thursday.

THE MODERATOR:  Bill Walker and Michael Beasley of Kansas State are with us.  They'll be followed by head coach Frank Martin. 

Anyone want to make an opening statement?  Questions.

 

Q.  Bill, can you give us your account of the first time you met O.J. Mayo and how you guys became friends?


BILL WALKER:  From my memory just being in preschool together, went to the same preschool.  And we got in trouble for sneaking up under our cots at nap time.  We got in trouble together.  Just after that we just bonded, became friends.

 

Q.  If I could, could I get your take on the first inkling that you got since you've been here that you're on a different stage than you've been on before?


BILL WALKER:  Probably the police escort.  We got one at the Big 12 tournament.  But we had more cops this time.  So it's probably ‑‑


MICHAEL BEASLEY:  Looked like they were having fun, too.  Same thing.  I never been escorted before.  It was like six cops out there just stopping cars.  We were running red lights and everything.  (Laughter).

 

Q.  Bill, one more question about you and O.J.  He was saying when you guys would play one‑on‑one you hardly ever finished the game because (laughter) it was pretty intense.  Are you looking forward to going head‑to‑head against him tomorrow?


BILL WALKER:  I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to it.  You never want to go up against a friend in a situation like this where our basketball lives depend on it.  But I'm looking forward to competing against him.  I know what he's going to bring to the table.  We gotta be ready to match that.

 

Q.  Bill, I won't ask you who is a better player, but I'd like to know who you think is a better teammate between Michael and O.J. and who is a better teammate and why?


BILL WALKER:  That's a trick question there.  That's a tough one.  You can make a case for both of them.  They're both great people off the court.  Easy to play with on the court.  So it's probably why it's a hard decision.  But if Mike wasn't up here, I'd say O.J. (laughter).

 

Q.  When was the last time the two of you were on court together as opponents or teammates, and a follow‑up to that, he says you guys were dinner and dessert.  Who is dinner and who is dessert, and what would be your scouting report on O.J.?


BILL WALKER:  Dinner and dessert.  I would probably say he's dessert.  He gives you sweet crossovers, nice NBA moves and step back jumpers.  And I just give you a nice solid meal.  Just going to the boards, just playing physical game.  But the scouting O.J., you gotta be ready to just defend for 40 minutes, because he's the type of player that if he gets just a chance to pull up, he is.  And he has success with it.  He has NBA game.

 

Q.  When was the last time you guys have been on the court together as opponents or teammates?

 

BILL WALKER:  It's been a while.  It's been a while.  I seen him when we were at Madison Square Garden.  I talked to him before the game.  But besides that it's probably been since high school.

 

Q.  Michael, wonder if you could ‑‑ have you got any indication how big the matchup between you and O.J. is?  Is there anything that over the last few days since the pairings were announced about potentially the star power that's going to be here tomorrow?

 

MICHAEL BEASLEY:  Honestly, I don't know how big the game is supposed to be.  For us it's just another game, just another game to win, another game not to lose.  We're trying to keep our season going as long as possible.

 

Q.  For both of you, how ‑‑ not that you need any extra motivation to play in the NCAA tournament, but maybe how easier is it to really get fired up when you've got such a high‑profile opponent and you know the guy and there's a lot of side stories as well?  So each of you answer that.

 

MICHAEL BEASLEY:  Well, me personally, you know, I've been playing against O.J. for five years now, and every time me and him step on the floor against each other is pretty intense.  It's back and forth talking.  We're fired up to play each other all the time.  So I'm just going off on my past experience.  I'm trying to get my team as hyped as I am.

           

BILL WALKER:  For me, I mean, if you're not excited about being in this tournament, that doesn't motivate you enough, then you shouldn't be here anyway.

 

MICHAEL BEASLEY:  Or you can go with that (laughter).

 

Q.  I understand O.J. called you Sunday afternoon and said this is the game it was going to be showing up on the bracket.  The NCAA guys are going to say we didn't really intend it this way.  Do you think they really wanted this game?  Are you surprised that it got matched up this way?

 

BILL WALKER:  I mean, I'm surprised.  You never think that ‑‑ what happened, what's the odds of that?  But that's how they set the table and we just gotta go out there and try our hand.

 

Q.  I was wondering if you could relate to me kind of the central message that you picked up from Frank about dealing with everything with the NCAA tournament, and then to follow up, has he done anything differently than he's done throughout the rest of the season?

 

BILL WALKER:  For me, just the last couple of practices we've had, just the intensity has been unbelievable.  And his desire's gone to another level.  I've never seen Frank like that.  So he's excited about this.  He realizes we have a chance to play again.  He's thankful for it.  And we are too.  We're just going to go out and compete and play it all.


MICHAEL BEASLEY:  I would say the same thing.  Frank's intensity level is raised to a higher level.  I never seen Frank like this either.  Just the fire in his eyes every time he speaks, every time he talks about a win or what we gotta do to win.  It's just been amazing to see how hyped he is for this game.

 

Q.  Either one of you can answer this.  You guys are riding real high after you beat Kansas, been on a great roll since then.  Hasn't gone so well, six out of nine losses.  Do you feel like a win or two in this tournament is necessary ‑‑ start with Michael ‑‑ almost necessary to make this season seem like a success?


MICHAEL BEASLEY:  I wouldn't say win or two, I would say six.  Why settle for one or two wins.  I got my eyes set on the big prize.  I want to go all the way.  I want to play until April the 7th.


BILL WALKER:  After that Kansas loss ‑‑ I mean the Kansas win, we took a couple of losses because the Big 12 is such a competitive league.  It's not a run‑and‑gun style league.  It's a physical, hard banging league.  We took some toll, some bodies injured.  We try to piece it together and hold on for as long as we could.  We finished third.  It's not first, but it's not as bad as finishing in the bottom.


But I don't think one or two losses ‑‑ or I mean one or two wins in this tournament is good enough.  Me and Mike before we signed up we wanted to win the national championship.  And now it's the time to make those plans real.

 

Q.  Bill, my story is you and O.J.  I want to end with a question for me anyway of what inspired you two after growing up with basketball since you were four years old and being together, what's inspired you to get this far?  And you think maybe O.J., too?


BILL WALKER:  Just coming from where we come from.  We were from Huntington, West Virginia, not a lot of opportunities to do anything.  We got a chance to go to college through basketball.  And we took advantage of it and that's what drives us.  That's why we play so hard and that's why we're so competitive.

 

Q.  You mentioned the fire in Coach's eyes, do you guys have a term or name for his stare when he's not happy?


MICHAEL BEASLEY:  Scary (smiling).  When you do something wrong, you know, Frank doesn't say anything.  He is just going to look at you and that says it all.


BILL WALKER:  I try not to look at him when he stares.  (Laughter).

 

Q.  No. 6 playing No. 11, you guys are in Omaha, do you feel like you guys are underdogs in this game?


BILL WALKER:  Yeah, I feel like we're underdogs.  We lost, what, six out of our last nine.  Who has picked us to win this game?  Who has picked us to get this far, period.  So we'll just use that and go out there and change some people's minds.


MICHAEL BEASLEY:  I feel the same way.  Like he said, six out of nine losses, that's never good.  And you watch TV, ESPN, you watch all these different channels, no one has us to win this game.  And I think it's up to us to prove everyone wrong.

 

Q.  How disappointed were you when O.J. decided not to come to Kansas State?


BILL WALKER:  I wasn't disappointed, because we talked before we made our decisions.  And he just told me that going to SC was better for his career.  And I can understand that.  We both did what we thought was best for ourselves first.  But I'm happy for him.  He's having a great season.  And he's picked the right place.

 

Q.  How many Kansas State fans do you all expect to be here tomorrow?


MICHAEL BEASLEY:  A lot.  This is, what, a 2 1/2, 3‑hour drive from Manhattan, so I would expect a lot of people to be here, taking off from what they have to do to help support us.


THE MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  Best of luck.


Following the student athletes of Kansas State is head coach Frank Martin.  We'll ask the head coach to give a brief statement about his team being here in Omaha at the Qwest Center, then we'll go to questions and answers.


COACH MARTIN:  Just extremely excited to be here and represent the Big 12 and for the people of Kansas State that have remained so loyal to our program for so long, that we've sold out every seat in our arena for two consecutive years and the incredible excitement that's surrounded our program over the last two years and for us to have the opportunity to have the success that we've had this year and to be afforded the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament.  I know we're extremely thankful for that and just excited about coming out here and being able to play in the biggest stage in college basketball.

 

Q.  Coach, Tim Floyd said this matchup was so good it had the potential to be a Sweet 16 type of matchup.  When you look at the two teams, do you think it's one of the better Day 1 matchups in the tournament?


COACH MARTIN:  I haven't paid much attention on who else is playing whom in the tournament.  I've focused my energies in preparing for Southern Cal.  Outside of a couple of friends that are in the tournament, I really don't know who else is playing who.  It's not of importance to me right now.  But I can say this:  They were the 3rd seed in the Pac‑10, I believe, and we're the 3rd seed in the Big 12, which I could be mistaken, but they were the top two RPI conferences when the nonconference schedules were completed, which is the only thing that makes sense to me, because that's when conferences are playing each other.  And, you know, it's kind of funny that two teams that were so highly regarded ended up playing each other in the first round.  But I know they're good.  I know that.  I don't know what other matchups are out there.  But I know they're good, and Tim's a heck of a basketball coach that for years and years, including in the Big 12, has done an unbelievable job of preparing his teams to win, and I know it's going to be a heck of a challenge for us.

 

Q.  Frank, both Bill and Michael talked about how excited you seemed to be the last three or four days preparing for this game.  I wonder if you could give us an idea about your feelings and approach in this game and what it means to you?


COACH MARTIN:  I'm happy for two reasons:  First reason I'm happy is like I stated before, is for the people of Kansas State.  When you take the administration that we have, the fans that we have that are so committed to that university, that are so willing to help us coaches develop our programs, and for them to be a part of Kansas State basketball, which Street & Smith voted the 22nd most successful basketball program in the history of college basketball, to be able to once again become something of importance, something that people care about, you know, I'm happy for that.


The other thing I'm happy for is I've got a locker room with seven freshmen, nine first‑year guys, and I know how hard and how committed those kids have been to represent our school the right way, to help us win games, to help us win games at the Big 12.

 

I know how difficult that is.  I know how difficult that is when you've got five, six, seven seniors.  And for us to have so many guys that a year ago had no idea that they were going to be playing Big 12 basketball and for them to be able to go out and find the success we've found, I'm happy for those two groups of people, K State people and happy for all the young kids that they've been able to come in here and work that hard to afford guys like Clent Stewart and Blake Young, who are seniors, the opportunity to play on this stage.

 

Q.  You've been a part of some heartbreaks, Cincinnati you thought should have been in, wasn't able to go last season at K State.  It's been a little while.  But in the last day or two, can you tell me maybe your first inkling that, hey, we're back we're on the big stage again?  And, secondly, your intensity, Mike and Bill were talking about that, can you feel yourself being more intense, or do you think you're just being the same guy you've been all season?


COACH MARTIN:  I mean, I told the players I can't sit up in front of them and tell them that anything we go through where we don't have success, it's not their fault.  It never is.  Never will be.  You know, that's why I get hired to be a basketball coach.  It's my job to lead.  It's my job to prepare.  It's my job to show them the way.

 

And, you know, over the last four or five weeks, because of some of the issues that we had right in the middle ‑‑ not before the season ‑‑ we dealt with our issues before the season with Clent Stewart and David Hoskins before we ever threw up the first jump ball.

 

Obviously covering our team the way you have all year, you knew what those issues were and you remember how we played at the beginning of the year.  Then right in the middle of conference season, right when we were hitting our stride as a basketball team, we had three starters.  Not three guys that never got in games, three starters that missed at least a week each due to matters, family issues, injuries.  You know, that really kind of threw a little wrinkle into our basketball team.


Well, last week's the first time we've been fully healthy, back 100 percent ready to go.  So I'm excited about having all our guys on the court again.  When you don't have enough ample bodies, three starters, in particular, and you gotta start cutting back practice time because you don't want to run an 18‑year‑old kid into the ground because he needs to line up and play major minutes to help you succeed, you know you have to back off in practice some.


And I think backing off in practice some, which is what we did, I think kind of hurt us a little bit as a basketball team.


Well, last week was preparing for the Big 12 tournament was the first time we've been fully healthy and ready to go full‑blown in a while.

 

I know we practiced hard.  Well, you know what?  We played and it wasn't quite good enough.  So what I've made sure our team understands is that next time we don't find success, our year's over.  And we don't want that to happen.


So I've taken the approach and I've taken my whole life and I know that's the approach that players wanted, which is regardless of what lays in front of us, we're going to work as hard and prepare as hard as we have all year for that next opportunity.

 

Q.  Because of what you said you went through, and the highs you had in the middle of the season and then towards the finish, you had to go through those struggles, do you feel that you need a good performance or two, a win or two in this tournament to kind of validate the season or will it have kind of trailed into a little bit of disappointment?


COACH MARTIN:  I can tell you I'll never be disappointed in the kids in our locker room.  You know, two years ago you know we were brought in here to have the opportunity to play in this tournament, when we were brought in as coaches.


Last year we just missed.  We won 23 games.  Sold out every home game.  This year we go out we finish third in the Big 12.  We went out and had two wins at home against top 10 teams in the country.  We obviously defeated Kansas for the first time in 24 years.  We're back in the NCAA tournament.  I've got a locker room with seven freshmen.  I don't see how any way I could ever go home and be disappointed in those kids.  I'm extremely proud of what they've done for us.


And I've never been a big fan that one win changes what you've done over the course of a year or one loss changes what you've done over the course of the year.  Will we be disappointed if we don't win?  Absolutely.  We've been disappointed after every one of our losses.


And we just ‑‑ we just need to go out and take advantage of the opportunity.  And there's only one person that knows what the future holds for us and it's nobody in this room, including myself.

And we just have to go out and take advantage of the opportunity that we've been given to play the game and do it to the best of our abilities.  And then whatever happens, happens.  But I can tell you that me, I'd never be disappointed in those kids in that locker room.

 

Q.  Some people look at your team on paper and say, see they lost six out of the last nine games, but I was wondering if you could give us insight beyond the paper some of the reasoning, differences as to why some of those games your team couldn't pull them out, it was tough competition, but was there any discernible change or a lot of close games, what tilted it not in your favor?

 

COACH MARTIN:  One of them, which I'm not going to sit here and make excuses ‑‑ I didn't do it when it took place; I'm not going to start today ‑‑ but when you lose three starters right in the middle of conference play and you're playing in the Big 12 and all of a sudden you have four games in eight days and you're at Nebraska, who beat two Pac‑10 teams at home, hard place to play at, outside of beating Big 12 teams at home.

 

Then you get on a plane and come home.  The next day you practice.  Then you get on a plane, go to Baylor, who is also in this tournament, who obviously has a pretty good basketball team, when you look at their resume and who they've beaten.  Then you come home and one day later you got Texas at home.  Could very easily be a national championship team.  And then you leave that game and now you're wounded, you lost three in a row with seven freshmen in a locker room and you've got to go play at Kansas.  I can't remember the last time they lost a home game.


So it's a hard stretch of games to play.  Then we came back from that and won our last two and went against Texas A&M, I thought we competed well.  Texas A&M's strength is rebounding.  We matched their rebounding that game.  The second half we really hunkered down and guarded them.  They scored 25 points.  We just didn't make jump shots.  First time we played A&M we made eleven 3s.  The second time we made 5.  That's the difference in the game.

 

Q.  Tim Floyd said earlier he was asked whether he may have had an edge or advantage over you because he's had the experience in the NCAA tournament and this is your first as a rookie coach.


But he also said unless Coach Huggins put ear muffs on him, probably doesn't have any advantage at all.  What's your take on that?  Does that motivate you a little bit when it might be looked at Frank Martin against Tim Floyd and how the game will determine that?


COACH MARTIN:  I followed Tim's career pretty closely.  Tim's teams never play like it's about Tim Floyd.  And I hope 20 years from now people don't say that my teams play because of who I am.  As coaches it's our job to lead our teams.  And I had the opportunity to sit next to Bob Huggins for two years and be around him for about 15, 16 years.


And I find it comical when I hear people say I did most of the coaching last year.  I find that comical.  The man's got 600 wins.  I was his assistant for two years.  I think he's won a bunch of games without me being next to him.


He's a Hall of Fame guy.  I can tell you that one of the main reasons that I'm sitting here today talking to you and answering your questions is because of the input that he's had into my life and I'm very appreciative of that.

 

Q.  Frank, a lot of people around the country are looking at the star power of the matchup between O.J. and Michael as being maybe even as important as the game is for you guys.  I wonder if you think this is good for college basketball a matchup between two celebrated freshmen like this?


COACH MARTIN:  Absolutely.  Look at what they've both done for their respective schools.  Look at the attention that Michael Beasley and Bill Walker and the rest of our freshmen have brought to our program over the past year.  I mean, we've set school records for being on national television this year.  We're sitting here in the NCAA tournament.  I mean, there's a reason why that's all taking place it's because of the level of players that we have.


And I'm sure O.J. has done the same thing for them.  The amount of excitement in our building.  The reason that every seat in our building sold out, you know, there's one reason and one reason only.  That's because people want to see good players.


And when they come see good players and they're satisfied with the effort that your team plays with, well, those people want to remain fans.  And they've rekindled the enthusiasm for basketball at Kansas State.  And I'm sure O.J. has done that at Southern Cal.  That's what the NCAA tournament is all about, is having elite teams that have elite players play against each other.  That's what it should be about.  I know it works.  We're excited about the opportunity.

 

Q.  Coach, is there anything about the NCAA tournament and everything that goes with it that makes it more challenging for players to focus, especially maybe your younger players?


COACH MARTIN:  Having to sit up here and answer so many questions, you know, it's a little different than the games they play on an everyday basis.


Having police escorts everywhere you go around town.  I mean, all those things are different than what you do during the course of the season.  As a college freshman, you know it's your first experience.  Even as a senior if you've never been to an NCAA tournament.  It's the first time you're actually exposed to those things.  But that's the greatness of this.  That's why this tournament ‑‑ see, every kid that's been exposed to this, guess what they'll do for the next year preparing for next season?  They want to be here again, because that's what you compete for.  You want to be on the elite stage of college basketball.


So every kid that's been exposed to this in our program will work even harder to make sure that we continue to get back to this tournament.

 

Q.  What, if any way, has your team exceed your expectations this year?


COACH MARTIN:  When you take the fact that the leading returning scorer in the Big 12 in David Hoskins, who is a second team All‑Conference player, didn't practice or play for a single day this season, and you take Clent Stewart and you put him through the situations he went through before the season and the middle of the season, and you take a team that's got seven freshmen, seven now, not two, seven, seven freshmen that have gone out and competed every single day to give this team an opportunity to succeed every time we've lined up, to finish in third place in the Big 12 conference, to win ten conference games, to win at Oklahoma, to win at Iowa State, to win at places that are difficult to win at against teams that are good basketball teams.  You see I find it funny.


I heard somebody say that Iowa State, you know, Iowa State beat Purdue.  Purdue is in this tournament.  Iowa State is a pretty good darn basketball team.  Texas went into overtime to beat Iowa State at Iowa State.  They're a difficult team to play against.  For us to be able to go find success against those kind of teams, to be able to beat Texas A&M, who was top 10 in the country, to be able to beat Kansas who I think was the best basketball team in the country, and to do that with seven freshmen, nine first‑year guys, I mean, that's a special group of guys in the locker room to be able to get them at such a young age, both ages in their years of living and years of collegiate sports, to be able to focus in and compete at such a high level, it's a credit to those guys and I know it's something that will be with me forever and ever the commitment they've had to represent Kansas State the right way.


THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.