Wildcats minus Pullen will need to get defensive
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)
After having to pull back a bit on defense last season, Kansas State coach Frank Martin thinks this year's team will return to the brand of basketball he likes to play.
''I'm really excited about the amount of growth and potential for growth that we have as a team on the defensive end, and I think we can get back to defending the way we had,'' Martin said. ''Last year, we had to back off - lack of numbers, we were not as athletic as I would like us to be. We didn't change a lot, but we had to back off.''
Martin said the Wildcats, who open their season with an exhibition game Sunday against Fort Hays State, used more zone defense and a conservative style of man-to-man last season.
This year, with an abundance of length and athleticism on the roster, players should be able to pressure the ball and upset the rhythm of opposing offenses the way their coach likes.
Kansas State's defense is not simple. Martin often acknowledges that it would be easier for players to pick up the system if it were a zone defense, but the inherent passivity of that scheme goes against his personality.
Some of the newcomers are struggling with the concepts of the defense, and several veteran players said they went through the same type of problems at first.
''Protecting the rim is very important because you always have to pay attention to your man and the ball, wherever the ball is. It's something I didn't pick up on right away when I was a freshman,'' said junior forward Jordan Henriquez. ''It's a learning experience. It'll come along for them.''
Sophomore guard Will Spradling said the Kansas State defense is different than any other system he has seen. Certainly, it's not anything like what most players fresh out of high school have seen.
''When you come here, it's a lot different, a lot more aggressive,'' he said. ''It's probably one of the most aggressive defenses anybody will see in college basketball.''
Last season, the numbers proved the worth of the Wildcats' defense. The team finished second in the country in blocked shots (154) and fifth nationally in defensive rebounds (790).
This year's team could improve upon those numbers, particularly behind Henriquez and athletic freshman Adrian Diaz. Senior forward Jamar Samuels is 30 pounds heavier than last season, and freshman forward Thomas Gipson has a big body, too, making the Wildcats' front line a rugged bunch.
In the backcourt, leadership will likely come from veterans Rodney McGruder and Spradling, who both earned starts last season.
Martin said this will be a team that has some promising moments defensively, but also may give up baskets that make people question their abilities. But with the loss of prolific scorer Jacob Pullen to graduation, the Wildcats understand their best chance of success is stellar play on the defensive end.
''As we get some of that youth we have caught up to date, we're going to make some mistakes,'' Martin said. ''But at the same time, our length, our athleticism, our culture, is stronger. I think we've got a chance to be real good defensively.''