K-State coach Martin has climbed out of basement

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Frank Martin was out

of work, sleeping in a cramped basement on Columbus Avenue, owned

by summer-league coach Leo Papile, cluttered with trophies,

videotapes and AAU gear.

Martin’s boss, Rudy Keeling, had been fired at

Northeastern University in March of 2001 and was replaced by Ron

Everhart — a guy who Martin says he didn’t know

“from a hole in the wall.”

“Leo allowed me to stay at his place while I figured out what

I was going to do with my life,” Martin recalled. “I couldn’t

even get a high school job back in Miami.”

Then, after Bob Huggins and Papile both went to bat for

Martin, Everhart kept him on board.

Less than a decade later and now the coach of a soon-to-be

top-10 team at Kansas State after Monday night’s victory over

No. 1 Texas, Martin’s road — filled with twists

and turns — doesn’t allow himself to get caught up

in the hype that now surrounds his Wildcats.

“I’m just worried about today and tomorrow,”

Martin said.

But what Martin has done in his 2½ years is quiet the

naysayers and validate himself as a guy who was more than just a

hired gun to keep Michael Beasley in Manhattan, Kan.

His mark as a college head coach now stands at 59-26 and the

Wildcats are 16-2 this season.

Martin, the son of Cuban immigrants, paid his dues as an AAU

and high school coach down in Miami before moving to Boston and

working at Northeastern.

His college coaching career was ordained by commuting more

than an hour from just outside Providence, R.I., where he would

catch a 5:30 a.m. bus, then jump on an 8 a.m. commuter rail into

Boston.

“I had to sleep in the office half of the time because I

couldn’t leave the office early enough to catch the last one

back to Providence,” Martin said.

Everhart spurned Huggins’ attempts to bring him on

board as his associate head coach at Cincinnati before suggesting

the hiring of Martin instead.

“When he asked me, I asked him how quickly he wanted me

there,” Martin said.

Martin spent one season under Huggins and another working

alongside interim coach Andy Kennedy after Huggins was forced out.

“We had no idea if either of us would have a job after that

year,” Martin said. “When you’re an assistant coach,

it’s a hard life because there’s no security.”

Huggins landed back on his feet at Kansas State after a year

off, brought Martin on board and signed highly touted high school

star Bill Walker and was set to welcome in another elite player,

Michael Beasley.

Martin appeared to finally have some security.

Then he wasn’t sure if he’d live to see any of

it.

A month after Huggins brought him to K-State, Martin spent

two weeks in the hospital with what doctors feared was pancreatic

cancer.

“I had to live 10 days of my life thinking there was a chance

I had it,” Martin recalled. “And only 4 percent of people

recover from it.”

As it turned out, it was a combination of ulcers and a severe

case of pancreatitis.

“I quit drinking and changed my lifestyle,” said

Martin, who has gone from a high of 330 pounds to his current

weight of 270.

Martin was as healthy as ever and Kansas State won 23 games

in Huggins’ first — and what would be his only

season — in Manhattan.

Then John Beilein left for Michigan and Huggins’ alma

mater, West Virginia, came calling.

“People thought it was an open and shut case and he was

definitely going,” Martin said. “But we met for coffee at

6:30 on that Thursday morning. He looked like Randall

“Tex” Cobb when he fought Larry Holmes. He was so beat

up because he didn’t want to leave here.”

Huggins left.

No one expected what happened next.

Former athletic director Tim Weiser called Martin, who was

set to board a plane with Huggins the next afternoon bound for

Morgantown, W.Va. Less than 24 hours later, Martin and his new

associate head coach, Dalonte Hill, were celebrating in a back room

after each agreeing to four-year contracts.

“We were like two little kids,” Martin said. “We were

emotional being given a break in our careers.”

Then the skeptics came out. There were those who thought the

only reason Martin was given the opportunity was because he and

Hill could keep the current players in town — and make

certain of Beasley’s arrival.

“What bothered me was how personal it was towards

Frank,” said Weiser, now an associate commissioner at the Big

12.

They took hold of Martin’s past, when he was fired at

Miami High shortly after the Florida High School Activities

Association vacated the school’s 1998 state championship

after deeming five players were ineligible.

“I heard it all,” Martin said. “But I don’t care

about the perception. If I was worried about that, I wouldn’t

have gone with Huggins when he called me.”

Weiser admits that if he didn’t hire Martin, it would

have been as though the program was starting over for the third

time in three years. But the decision wasn’t made to keep

Beasley and Walker in the fold.

“I knew those two players weren’t going to be at Kansas

State long,” Weiser said. “For us to make a decision to keep

two kids for a year or so would have been incredibly short-sighted.

“I knew what Bob (Huggins) thought of Frank and I felt like

Frank was the perfect fit in Manhattan,” he added. “They love

people who do it in a blue-collar way and pride themselves with

outworking you and outhustling you — and that’s

Frank.”

Martin and Hill both took their shots, but took a team led by

Beasley and Walker to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

But the skeptics remained.

“Who wouldn’t win with two of the top players in the

country?” was the most common rhetorical question coming out

of Manhattan.

“Let’s see if he can do it when Beasley and Walker are

gone,” they asked.

Martin has used his wide array of connections to bring in

guys like Denis Clemente (Miami) and Curtis Kelly (UConn), two

high-profile transfers who have thrived at Kansas State. Hill

continues to reel in talent from the D.C. Assault program he used

to run. In fact, four current players are D.C. Assault alums:

Dominique Sutton, Jamar Samuels and freshmen Wally Judge and Rodney

McGruder.

“Frank’s an old-school guy whose teams will overachieve

because he doesn’t accept anything less than 100 percent

effort,” Papile said. “He’s done it the old-fashioned

way.”

After an NIT appearance a year ago, this Kansas State club

has a chance to advance past the second round — where

Beasley and Walker led the Wildcats.

“I’ve always thought we had a good team,” Martin

said. “We have depth, guys that can score and defend at the rim.

We’ve got a plethora of big bodies and experienced

guards.”

“When you have all of that, I think you’ve got a

chance,” he added.

Martin has certainly taken advantage of his.