K-State Plays Host to Alabama in Kansas City

Freshman Thomas Gipson has posted a double-double in 3 of the last 4 games.

Dec. 16, 2011

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KANSAS STATE (6-1) vs. 23/21 ALABAMA (8-2)
Saturday, December 17, 2011 * 9:05 p.m. CT * Hy-Vee Wildcat Classic * Kansas City, Mo. * Sprint Center (18,897)

Television: ESPNU
Mitch Holthus (play-by-play); Miles Simon (analyst)
Internet: ESPN3.com (http://espn.go.com/espn3/index?id=343793)
Radio: K-State Sports Network
Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play); Stan Weber (analyst)
Satellite Radio: Sirius 128
Live Stats:  www.k-statesports.com/multimedia
Live Audio: www.k-statesports.com/allaccess (free)
Twitter Updates: twitter.com/kstate_gameday
K-State vs. Alabama: 1-1 (W, 87-74; 12/19/09)
vs. SEC: 19-21 (7-5 at home)

Kansas State (6-1) returns from its week-long break for final semester exams on Saturday night, as the Wildcats face their stiffest test to date against No. 23/21 Alabama (8-2) in the second annual Hy-Vee Wildcat Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU at 9 p.m. CT with Mitch Holthus (play-by-play) and Miles Simon (analyst) on the call.  Saturday’s contest will mark the fifth consecutive season that the Wildcats have hosted a home game at the Sprint Center, which includes wins over Florida A&M, Southern Miss and IUPUI before a loss to UNLV last season.  Overall, the school is 6-5 all-time in the building, which includes three trips to the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship and the CBE Classic last season.

Saturday’s game will pit close friends in K-State’s Frank Martin and Alabama’s Anthony Grant.  The two coaches’ relationship dates all the way back to Miami (Fla.) Senior High School, where they first met as sophomores and played on the basketball team.  Grant is the godfather of Martin’s eldest child, Brandon.  This will be their second meeting as head coaches following 2009.

Alabama enters Saturday’s game with an 8-2 record after snapping a two-game skid with a 62-54 win over Detroit at home on Sunday.  The Crimson Tide opened the season with seven consecutive victories, including wins over Maryland (62-42), Wichita State (70-60) and Purdue (65-56) to capture the Puerto Rico Tip off in mid-November.  The squad suffered their first loss on Dec. 1 on a last-second 3-pointer by Georgetown (57-55) then followed it up with a 74-62 setback at Dayton on Dec. 7. Under third-year coach Anthony Grant, the Crimson Tide are averaging 66.8 points on 45.3 percent shooting, including 25.3 percent from 3-point range, to go with 37.2 rebounds, 13.1 assists, 6.3 steals and 5.1 blocks per game.  Alabama is very strong defensively, allowing just 55.3 points on 35.6 percent shooting, including 25.9 percent from 3-point range.  Three players average in double figures led by the 1-2 punch of senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell.  Both players are averaging 15.4 points per game on 50 percent shooting or better from field, while averaging better than 6.5 rebounds per game.  Sophomore guard Trevor Releford, a native of Kansas City, adds 10.5 points per game to go with a team-best 3.0 assists per outing. 

The last meeting between Kansas State and Alabama came just two seasons ago in the Coors Classic in Mobile, Ala., where the Wildcats earned an 87-74 win over the Crimson Tide on Dec. 19, 2009.  K-State junior Jacob Pullen paced all scorers with a game-high 30 points, including his 1,000-career point on the night, as he connected on 10-of-15 field goals, including six treys.  Mikhail Torrance led Alabama with 20 points, while JaMychal Green added 17 points.   Only seven players remain on the rosters that played in the game, including Wildcats Martavious Irving, Rodney McGruder, Victor Ojeleye and Jamar Samuels.    
Saturday’s game will mark the third meeting between the two schools on the hardwood with the all-time series tied at 1-1.  The Crimson Tide won the first meeting, 79-48, at home on Nov. 16, 1994 in the Preseason NIT, while the Wildcats evened things up with an 87-74 in 2009.  In all three meetings, at least one team has been ranked coming into the game with Alabama checking in at No. 18 in 1994 and No. 23 in 2011 and K-State at No. 17 in 2009.  The ranked team has won the previous meetings.  Overall, the Wildcats are 19-21 (.475) all-time against teams from the SEC, including a 7-5 mark in games at home venues.

K-State has a long and storied history of playing games in Kansas City,which dates back over 85 years to a 45-26 loss to the Kansas City Athletic Club on Feb. 23, 1926.  A holiday tournament was started in 1943 with several area teams and it eventually evolved into the annual Big Six/Seven/Eight Holiday Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.  The Big Eight played a holiday tournament as well as its postseason tournament in the city for three seasons, starting in 1976-77, before playing just a postseason classic in 1979-80.  The Wildcats played at least one game in Kansas City in the Big Eight/12 Tournament for 26 seasons (1976-2002) until it moved to Dallas in 2003.   The Big 12 moved the championship back to the city in 2005 and then again to the Sprint Center in 2007, where it has been contested three times in the last four years.  Some of K-State’s greatest moments on the basketball court have come in Kansas City with three of the school’s four Final Four appearances (1948, 1951, 1964) and seven holiday tournament titles (1947, 1950, 1952, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1963) being contested at Municipal Auditorium to go with two postseason Big Eight crowns (1977, 1980) at Kemper Arena.  Overall, the Wildcats have played 179 games in the city with a 104-75 (.581) record. 

It took an overtime period, but K-State’s non-conference winning streak at Bramlage Coliseum moved to 38 games on Sunday with a 79-68 victory over North Florida.  The Wildcats also extended their homecourt winning streak in Manhattan in the month of December to 23 games at the “Octogon of Doom,” including a 15-0 mark under Frank Martin.  The last loss non-conference at home came to Rutgers, 76-66, on Dec. 28, 2004.  Overall, K-State is 35-1 (.971) in December at Bramlage Coliseum the past nine years (2002-10).  Martin has posted a solid 23-6 (.793) record in the month since 2007-08.   

K-State played consecutive overtime games last week for the first time in nearly 50 years, as the Wildcats lost in two overtimes to West Virginia, 85-80, on Dec. 8 at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita before coming home to knock off a pesky North Florida squad, 79-68, in single overtime on Dec. 11.  It marked just the second time in school history that the team has played in back-to-back overtime games and the first time since they played in three consecutive from Feb. 3-15, 1964 (all on the road and all wins).  The two-overtime loss to the Mountaineers was just the 13th in school history to go at least two overtimes, while it was the first since the Wildcats knocked off Xavier, 101-96, in two overtimes to advance to the Elite Eight on March 25, 2010.  Overall, the squad is now 66-39 (.629) in overtime games, including 30-11 (.732) at home.  The North Florida game was the first home non-conference regular-season overtime contest since a 69-67 victory over Tennessee State on Nov. 28, 2000.

Aside from a 42-point win over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 22, K-State has already proved to play in a number close games this season, including a pair of overtime contests.  The Wildcats are winning their games by an average of 12.4 points per game, including three games by eight points or less and three more by no more than 13 points.  If you remove the UMES contest, the average winning margin is reduced to just 7.5 points (73.8 ppg. to 66.3 opponent ppg.) this season.

In the first two games, the Wildcats have had to rally back from a 15-point deficit against Charleston Southern on Nov. 11 then pull away from Loyola Chicago in the second half on Nov. 14 after leading 28-23 at halftime.  The UMES game was tied 23-all with 6:16 left in the first half before a big run opened up the game.  The George Washington contest on Dec. 1 was again tight with K-State holding a 39-37 edge with 16:11 left before a pivotal 10-0 run broke the game open in a 13-point win.  The Wildcats and Hokies were tied 43-all in the second half before a 10-0 run clinched another win on Dec. 4.  The squad was down as many as eight points in the first half.  In last week’s overtime games, K-State battled through 17 ties and nine lead changes with West Virginia in an 85-80 double-OT loss before using a 20-11 run in the last 8:36 to overcome a nine-point deficit to North Florida and force overtime.  The Wildcats then blew open the overtime period with 19 points, including 11 from the free throw line.

Kansas State has taken advantage of its rebounding skills this season, averaging 36.6 points in the paint and 19.9 points off of second-chance opportunities.  The Wildcats are averaging 42.6 rebounds per game, including 15.9 on the offensive end, and have out-rebounded their opponent four times.  The squad has posted at least 30 points in the paint in each game, including a combined 90 last week against West Virginia (44) and North Florida (46).  The team has also collected 20 or more second-chance points four times, including three times in the last four outings.  These numbers were important in the North Florida win, as K-State posted season-bests in both categories (46 in the paint and 27 second chance), including a 27-8 edge in second-chance points.     

Just seven games into the season, it appears that Kansas State should start its games in the second half.  The Wildcats are averaging 40.6 points on 51.3 percent shooting from the field in the second half compared to just 30.9 points on 35.4 percent shooting in the opening half.  The squad has shot better than 50 percent from the field in the second half in five of seven games, including a season-best 65.6 percent shooting (21-of-32) with 56 points against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 22.  This trend continued against West Virginia on Dec. 8, as the Wildcats scored 33 points on 56.5 percent shooting (13-of-23) after opening the game with 31 points on just 33.3 percent shooting (10-of-30).  The team shot a season-low 33.3 percent vs. North Florida on Sunday. 

K-State’s top four scorers - Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling, Jamar Samuels and Thomas Gipson - also are better in the second half with Spradling (8.9 ppg.), Samuels (8.0 ppg.), McGruder (7.3 ppg.) and Gipson (6.0 ppg.) all averaging better than six points after halftime.  The quartet have combined to score 195 of their 334 combined points (58.3 percent) this season in the second half.  In particular, Spradling has tallied 66 of his 88 points after halftime, including all 15 points vs. Loyola Chicago on Nov. 14, 12 of 14 points against George Washington on Dec. 1 and all 12 points against North Florida on Sunday.

Despite a solid overall defensive effort this season, K-State has struggled in the last two games on the defensive end, allowing 76.5 points on 44.9 percent shooting.  This defensive lapse has been particularily evident in the second half, where the Wildcats are allowing 34.5 points on 60.9 percent shooting, including 45.5 percent from beyond the arc, in the last two games.  West Virginia shot 65 percent in the second half, while North Florida connected on 57.7 percent of its field goals after halftime.

Despite a poor effort last week against West Virginia and North Florida, K-State has been a solid defensive team this season.  The team is allowing 64 points on 36.6 percent shooting (155-of-423), including 28.2 percent (35-of-124) from 3-point range, to go with 42.6 rebounds, 6.9 blocks and 6.9 steals per game.  The Wildcats are forcing opponents into 17.7 turnovers per game and averaging 21.2 points off those miscues.  Heading to Saturday’s game, the team still ranks among the Top 50 nationally in three defensive categories, including 10th in blocks, 17th in field goal percentage defense and 43rd in 3-point field goal percentage defense.  The Wildcats also place in the Top 5 in the Big 12 in five defensive categories, including first in rebounding and offensive rebounds, second in 3-point field goal percentage defense and blocked shots and fourth in field goal percentage defense.  The squad has finished no lower than fourth in rebounding (twice leading the Big 12 in 2007-08 and 2008-09) in each of head coach Frank Martin’s four seasons and has led the league in offensive rebounds each season.  Four players are averaging better than 5.1 rebounds per game, while junior Jordan Henriquez ranks 12th nationally in blocked shots with 3.3 per game.

Kansas State has taken advantage of its size in the paint to post more than twice as many blocked shots (48-23) as their opponents this season, averaging nearly 6.9 blocks per game.  The Wildcats have posted at least six blocked shots in six of seven contests, including a season-best 11 blocks against North Florida on Sunday.  Most of these blocks have come by way of 7-footer Jordan Henriquez, who ranks 12th nationally with 3.3 per game.  Henriquez has tallied 23 blocked shots on the year, which equals the entire opponent total, and represents nearly 48 percent of the team’s total.  His 23 blocks are nearly identical to his freshman total (26) and more than half to his total his sophomore (43) season. However, the squad has at least nine other players with at least one block and four others with at least three on the season.  In the North Florida game, it was Jamar Samuels and Will Spradling who led the way in blocked shots with a career-best three each.

A trademark of Frank Martin-coached teams are their ability to score points off of opponent’s mistakes.  Since he became head coach in 2007, the Wildcats have scored 2,663 points off of 2,385 turnovers in 145 games - an average of 18.4 points per game.    Nearly 25 percent of the points scored in the past five years have come off of offense generated from turnovers, including the current season, in which the team has outscored its foes, 127-97.  This was no more evident in the win over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 22, as the Wildcats converted 18 miscues into a 26-3 edge in points off turnovers.  The squad is pressuring its foes into an average of 17.7 turnovers per game, including a season-high 22 by Charleston Southern in the season opener.  Three times this season the squad has scored 20 or more points off miscues, including 21 vs. West Virginia and 23 against North Florida. 
K-State had quite the effective game on the boards against George Washington on Dec. 1, totaling a season-high 50 on the night, including 33 on the defensive end.  Three Wildcats registered double-digit rebounds, including a season-best 13 by freshman Thomas Gipson, a career-best 11 by junior Jordan Henriquez and 10 by senior Jamar Samuels.  Gipson had his first double-double (and first by a Wildcat freshman since Michael Beasley had one against Wisconsin in the 2008 NCAA Tournament) against the Colonials with a team-high 17 points, while Samuels recorded his sixth career double-double with 10 points.  It marked the first time in more than 11 years that three players tallied double-figure rebounds with two having double-doubles. The last time came in an overtime win over Tennessee State on Nov. 28, 2000 when three players - Kelvin Howell (11 points, 14 rebounds), Larry Reid (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Travis Reynolds (14 points and 14 rebounds) - registered double-doubles.

The Wildcats equaled their season-high of 50 rebounds, including a season-best 25 offensive rebounds, against North Florida with Gipson again leading the way with a game-high 12 boards.  Five other players totaled at least four rebounds.  Gipson managed his third double-double in four outings against the Ospreys, posting his first career 20-point game with 23 on the day.  It marked the first time since the 2009-10 season that the squad has collected at least 50 rebounds in a game twice in a season.  

After playing two close games to start the season, K-State finally was able to coast to a 42-point victory against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 22.  However, it was a close contest between the teams in the first half with the score knotted at 23-all with 6:16 remaining and just a 36-29 lead for the Wildcats at the break.  From this last tie at 6:16 mark of the first half, the squad used quite the run - 69-27 - between the halves to gain the big victory.  During this run, K-State connected on 61 percent (25-of-41) from the field, including 42.9 percent (6-of-14) from 3-point range, and 81.3 percent (13-of-16) from the free throw line, while holding UMES to 23.5 percent (8-of-34) from the field, including 15.4 percent (2-of-13) from long range, and 47.4 percent (9-of-19) from the free throw line.  In the second half alone, the Wildcats shot 65.6 percent (21-of-32) from the field.

K-State opened the season on Nov. 11 with a come-from-behind victory over Charleston Southern, 72-67, before a sold-out crowd at Bramlage Coliseum.  Down as many as 15 points in the second half, the Wildcats used a 19-4 run over an 11-minute span early in the half to tie it at 60-all at the 4:35 mark before taking over the lead for good with 2:24 left.  The 15-point deficit overcome for victory (52-37) was one of the biggest in recent history for K-State, as it ties for fifth currently behind a pair of 17-point deficits in wins against Bradley (47-30) on Nov. 25, 1995 and California (38-21) on Dec. 29, 1995 and two 16-point deficits in wins against LaSalle (57-41) on Jan. 5, 1994 and New Mexico (30-14) on Nov. 23, 2005.  The 14-point deficit at halftime (49-35) ties for the largest overcome for victory since a 98-90 overtime win against Arizona State on Nov. 24, 1998 at the Maui Invitational.  It was also the largest deficit overcome at home since the 1995-96 season behind the Bradley game on Nov. 25, 1995.

The starting line-up of juniors Martavious Irving, Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez, sophomore Will Spradling and freshman Thomas Gipson against Charleston Southern on Nov. 11 was unique in that it marked the first time since 1983-84 that K-State opened a season without a senior starter.  It was the first career starts for Irving and Gipson.  Gipson joined a special group by becoming the first true freshman to start an opener since three rookies - Ron Anderson, Michael Beasley and Jacob Pullen - earned the starting nod against Sacramento State on Nov. 9, 2007.  The group got even younger the next game out against Loyola Chicago with sophomore Shane Southwell appearing in the line-up for an injuried Irving.

Kansas State is closing in on a milestone as a program, as the Wildcats are just eight victories shy of 1,500.  The school currently stands at 1,493-1,059 (.585) in 108 seasons, which ranks 41st all-time in NCAA Division I history.  K-State would become the sixth current Big 12 program (West Virginia already has more than 1,600) to eclipse the milestone, following Kansas (2,041), Texas (1,643), Oklahoma (1,531), Oklahoma State (1,522) and Missouri (1,506).  The Cowboys and Tigers earned their 1,500th victories last season.  The Wildcats could become the seventh team to top 1,500 wins this season, joining St. Joseph’s (1,502), Ohio State (1,501), Michigan State (1,498), Washington State (1,497), Tennessee (1,491) and Iowa (1,490).

Head coach Frank Martin became the fourth K-State head coach to earn his 100th career victory, including the second-fastest, in the 69-61 win at Virginia Tech on Dec. 4.  He joined Naismith Hall of Fame coaches Jack Gardner (147-81, 1939-42, 1946-53) and Fred “Tex” Winter (261-118, 1954-68) and all-time wins leader Jack Hartman (295-169; 1970-86).  He is the first to do so since Hartman did it midway through the 1975-76 season.  Martin accomplished the feat in just 143 games, which is one shy of the 142 it took Winter to produce his 100th victory midway through the 1958-59 season.  Hartman’s 100th win came in 149 games, while Gardner did it in his 170th game in his second stint as head coach in 1950-51.  The 2009-10 Big 12 Coach of the Year, Martin is the first Wildcat coach to post a 20-win season in each of his first four years and joined Lon Kruger as the only head coaches in school history to guide teams to the postseason in his first four seasons. 

Former head coach Bob Huggins knocked off former assistant Frank Martin in their first meeting, as West Virginia outlasted K-State, 85-80, in double-overtime on Thursday at the Wichita Wildcat Classic at INTRUST Bank Arena.  The two coaches have a long relationship dating back to Martin’s days at Miami (Fla.) Senior High School, where Huggins would recruit while coaching at Cincinnati.  Huggins helped Martin break into the college ranks at Northeastern in 2000 before hiring him as an assistant coach at Cincinnati in 2004.  Martin was Huggins’ first hire when he came to K-State in 2006, serving as lead assistant during the Wildcats’ 23-win season.  Martin is now 1-2 in match-ups with longtime friends, losing to Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss, 86-74, on Nov. 20, 2009 at the Puerto Rico Tipoff before knocking off Anthony Grant and Alabama, 87-74, on Dec. 19, 2009 in Mobile, Ala.

Freshman Thomas Gipson was named the Phillips 66 Big 12 Rookie of the Week on Monday after posting consecutive double-doubles in overtime games with West Virginia and North Florida last week.  He is the first K-State true freshman to earn the weekly honor since Michael Beasley collected the award for the eighth and final time on March 3, 2008.  Gipson averaged 19.0 points on 53.8 percent shooting (14-of-26) in helping K-State split two overtime games with 11.0 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game.  He recorded double-doubles in each contest, becoming the first freshman since Beasley to do so in consecutive games, and has now posted double-doubles in three of the last four games.  He began the week with 15 points and 10 rebounds in the double-overtime loss to the Mountaineers.  He then followed his career 20-point game against the Ospreys on Sunday with 23 points on 10-of-18 field goals to go with a career-high 12 rebounds and two steals in a career-best 37 minutes. 

True freshman Thomas Gipson has made quite the impact just a few games into the 2011-12 campaign.  A 6-foot-7, 275-pound forward, he is the first freshman since Michael Beasley to pace the team in both scoring (14.0 ppg.) and rebounding (8.1 rpg.), while connecting on 52 percent from the field in seven starts.  He has been even better in the last six games, leading the team in scoring against Loyola Chicago (19), Maryland-Eastern Shore (13), George Washington (17) and North Florida (23), while averaging 16.0 points on 52.9 percent (36-of-68) shooting with 9.5 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game.  Against George Washington, Gipson became the first freshman since Beasley in 2007-08 to collect a double-double with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting and season-best 13 rebounds.  He followed that up with his second double-double with 15 points (including a 7-of-8 effort from the free throw line) in the double-overtime loss to West Virginia.  He made three double-doubles in four games against North Florida with a season-high 23 points and game-high 12 boards.  After struggling in the opener with Charleston Southern (two points, zero rebounds), he broke out against Loyola, recording 19 points to go with seven rebounds (including a 12-point, 6-rebound effort in second half).  Although he struggled statistically, he still became the first true freshman to start an opener since the three rookies - Ron Anderson, Beasley and Jacob Pullen - earned the starting nod against Sacramento State on Nov. 9, 2007.

Senior Jamar Samuels was named the Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week on Dec. 5 after averaging a double-double in wins over George Washington and Virginia Tech.  Samuels, who earned the weekly honor for the first time in his career, helped the Wildcats move to 5-0 for the first time since 2008-09 with wins over the Colonials and the Hokies.  He averaged 13.5 points on 64.7 percent shooting (11-of-17), including 50 percent (1-of-2) from 3-point range, in the two wins with 12.0 rebounds in 27.0 minutes per game.  He recorded double-doubles in each contest, marking the first time in his career he has done that in back-to-back games, and raised his career total to seven.  He began the week with a 10-point, 10-rebound effort in the win over George Washington.  Playing in front of numerous friends and family from nearly Washington, D.C., in the Wildcats’ first road game, he was sensational in the clutch against Virginia Tech.  He snagged a game-high 17 points on 7-of-8 field goals to go with a career-tying 14 rebounds in 28 minutes.  After struggling in the first half due to foul problems, he registered a double-double in the second half alone with 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting and 13 rebounds.  Although Samuels had just eight points in a loss to West Virginia, he became the 23rd player in school and the third under Frank Martin to eclipse the 1,000-point barrier.

Samuels had to sit out the exhibition and the first two games of the season due to violations of team rules, making his debut against Maryland-Eastern Shore with 12 points on Nov. 22.  Through five games, he is averaging a 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game, including double-figure scoring games in four of five games.  The 2009-10 Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, Samuels’ experience will be big asset to a youthful squad having played in 108 games with 29 starts.

Sophomore Will Spradling has solidified the starting point guard spot so far this season, averaging 12.6 points on 39.7 percent shooting with 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists in seven starts.  He has registered double figures in five of the seven games, including a season-best 16 against West Virginia on 6-of-11 field goals, including 4-of-8 from long range.  His 16-point outing was just one short of his career-high of 17 against Baylor on Jan. 24, 2011 and two ahead of his 15-point efforts against Charleston Southern and Loyola Chicago this season.  He nearly tallied his first double-double against North Florida, posting 12 points to go with a career-best nine assists (against just one turnover).  He has proven to be key in clutch situations, scoring 66 of his 88 points this season after halftime.  He is averaging 8.9 points on 42.5 percent shooting after halftime compared to just 3.1 points on 38.1 percent shooting in the first half.  He has also converted 10 of his 14 3-point field goals in the second half and overtime, along with 13 of his team-best 21 assists.  He has also continued to demonstrate his toughness by taking 13 charges, including three each in three games.  He now has 34 in 41 career games, which is one more than second-place Jamar Samuels (33).


K-State elevated the talent of its front court on Nov. 21, as coach Frank Martin announced the additions of high school standouts Laimonas Chatkevicius (pronounced Lie-MOAN-us Shh-CAVE-VEE-us; Klaipeda, Lithuania/South Kent [Conn.] Prep) and Robert Upshaw (Fresno, Calif./San Joaquin Memorial) for the 2012-13 season.

“Once again our assistants, as they have done every year since we have been here, did an unbelievable job of identifying the right people for our program and organizing the recruitment and being diligent in their efforts to land two guys that we had targeted since the summer,” said Martin.  “We are extremely excited about two guys that were right at the top of our list.”

A 7-foot, 275-pound center, Upshaw is rated among the Top 50 high school players for the Class of 2012, including a ranking of No. 43 on the Rivals150 by Rivals.com and No. 49 on the ESPNU100.  He is also ranked among the Top 50 by CBSSports.com (40) and MaxPreps.com (44).  In addition, he is regarded as one of the top centers in the nation, ranking eighth at the position nationally by Rivals.com and 10th by ESPN.  Upshaw is also rated the fourth-best high school prospect in the state of California by ESPN.   Upshaw is a rising senior for head coach Pat Geil at San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno, Calif., which also produced 7-foot twins Brook (New Jersey Nets) and Robin Lopez (Phoenix Suns) as well as guard Quincy Pondexter (New Orleans Hornets).  He did not play as a junior in 2010-11 due to California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) transfer rules after leaving Edison High School for Memorial.  Upshaw helped Edison win 41 games as a freshman and sophomore, including 25 victories in 2008-09.

A 6-foot-10, 230-pound center, Chatkevicius is currently playing his senior season at South Kent Prep Academy in South Kent, Conn., for head coach Kelvin Jefferson.  South Kent played their first games this past weekend against La Jolla and St. John’s Military at the National Prep School Invitational in New Haven, Conn.  A native of Klaipeda, Lithuania, Chatkevicius came to the U.S. in the summer of 2009 to experience high school basketball before playing his junior season in his native country.  He also played as a member of Kansas City’s Spiece MoKan AAU organization this past summer for head coach Matt Suther.  Chatkevicius played in three games for Lithuania during the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championships in Hamberg, Germany.  The Lithuanian team posted a 4-1 record and finished in the tournament behind champion Team USA and Poland.  The squad also finished second in Group A to Team USA.  He also played his club team Klaipedos SM as both a sophomore and junior in Lithuania.  He averaged 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in four games in 2009-10 and 3.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in four games in 2010-11.    

Kansas State was selected to finish sixth in the preseason 2011-12 Big 12 Conference coaches’ poll released by the league office in early October.  The Wildcats received 39 points to earn sixth place in the new 10-team conference configuration, just 12 points behind fifth-place Texas (51) and six points ahead of seventh-place Oklahoma State (33).  The coaches were deadlocked on the preseason favorite with Kansas and Texas A&M each garnering 73 points, however, the Jayhawks did receive five of 10 first-place votes.  Baylor (63) and Missouri (61) followed the preseason duo in third and fourth-places, respectively, while Texas and K-State rounded out the top 6.  The rest of the poll included OSU, Iowa State (27), Oklahoma (15) and Texas Tech (15). 

The sixth-place prediction is the lowest since K-State was picked eighth prior to the 2008-09 season.  The Wildcats, who tied Texas A&M for third place in the Big 12 in 2010-11, are one of only two teams to finish in the league’s top-4 and receive a bye at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship each of the past five seasons.  With only 10 teams, the top-6 will earn a bye in the 2012 event with the lower four seeds playing on the first day.  Of note, coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams.

Looking to maintain the program’s momentum and consistency, head coach Frank Martin announced coaching staff promotions in early June, including the elevation of Lamont Evans as a full-time assistant.  In addition, he also promoted Brad Underwood to associate head coach and assistant coach Matt Figger to recruiting coordinator.  Evans has played a pivotal role in the development of the program the past three years, beginning as an undergraduate manager in 2008-09 the continuing as a graduate manager from 2009-11.  During this span, he helped K-State post a 74-31 (.705) record, which including three trips to the postseason highlighted by consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2010 and 2011.  A native of Eleuthera, Bahamas, Evans came to the U.S. at the age of 5, eventually settling in Deerfield Beach, Fla.  He played his first two years of college basketball at Seminole (Fla.) Junior College in Sanford, Fla., and St. Catharine College in St. Catharine, Ky., before enrolling as Drake in 1999.  He played two seasons for the Bulldogs, appearing in 42 games from 1999 to 2001.  For his career, he averaged 8.0 points on 41.5 percent shooting with 5.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.  He spent seven years playing professionally, including stops internationally in Slovenia, Germany, Finland, Belgium and Venezuela.  A former Wildcat lettermen, Underwood is in his 24th season as a college coach, including his sixth at K-State.  He received much acclaim last season, as Martin took his suggestion of adjusting the offensive scheme to the “pinch-post” in early January.  Figger is in his 19th season as a coach, including his fifth at K-State and assumes the recruiting coordinator position.

Junior Rodney McGruder and sophomore Will Spradling both competed for all-stars teams in Europe this past summer.  Spradling played for Athletes in Action’s tour of Macedonia and Kosovo in Eastern Europe from May 25-30, while McGruder played with the East Coast All-Stars during their trip to the Four Nations Cup in Estonia in early August.  Spradling, playing alongside Big 12 brethren Cory Jefferson and A.J. Walton of Baylor and Jordan Juenemann and Jeff Withey of Kansas helped the AIA squad to a 6-1 record, including the tournament championship against Poland.  He was named the most valuable player and to the All-Tournament team.  He scored 20 or more points twice in the tournament, including a team-high 23 in the team’s only loss to Poland (May 24) and a team-best 25 vs.  the Bulgarian U20 National Team (May 27).  He posted 14 vs. Bulgaria Select (May 26), while he had eight points and four assists vs. the Kosovoan National Team (May 31).  McGruder was named to the Four Nations Cup All-Tournament, as the East Coast All-Stars finished third in the event behind Estonia (2-1) and Georgia (2-1) and ahead of fourth-place Sweden (1-2).  He was the only All-Star named to the all-tournament team after averaging 13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals in the three-game tournament.  He hit the game-winning shot in the win over Sweden (August 5) before pouring in 22 points and 14 rebounds in the 98-81 loss to Georgia (August 6). 

Senior Victor Ojeleye was recently elected by his peers to serve as Vice-Chair of the Big 12’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) during the 2011-12 athletics season.  A two-time first team Academic All-Big 12 selection, Ojeleye saw action in 24 games as a junior in 2010-11, averaging 1.8 points on 46.2 percent shooting with 1.6 rebounds in 8.0 minutes per game.  He scored in 10 games, including a season-high 12 points against North Florida on Dec. 31, 2010.  A double major in accounting and finance, Ojeleye earned the inaugural Dr. Gerald Lage Award from the Big 12 in 2010-11, which is given to student-athletes who have earned 100 or more hours of credit with a cumulative 3.8 GPA.  He also has been named to the Fall and Spring Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Rolls each of the past two years, including a perfect 4.0 GPA during the Spring 2011 semester. 

K-State will make its fourth in-season trip to Hawai’i this coming week, as the Wildcats participate in the third annual Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.  The squad will open the tournament with Southern Illinois (1-5) on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. CST on ESPNU.  The team will face either Clemson (4-4) or UTEP (2-5) Friday on ESPNU.