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.