MANHATTAN, Kan. — When he’s right, Marcus Foster is a basketball Hulk, minus the green-and-gigantic-and-throwing-tanks part. A beast fueled by rage and repeated blows to his pride.
Last October, Foster got out all the preseason honors lists, couldn’t find his name anywhere and decided to take it out on the rest of college hoops as we know it. But here’s the thing: This October, now, this October is different. Kansas State’s star sophomore guard is everywhere but the on-deck circle at Kauffman Stadium, a magazine cover boy, one of the strongest pieces on one of the Big 12’s sneaky-good rosters, a preseason all-league honoree.
Which begged this question Wednesday during the Wildcats’ annual men’s basketball media day:
OK, then, Hulk, what have you got to be all enraged about NOW?
And with that, the Hulk started smashing, just like old times.
"I was talking about this the other day: I got a letter from Kansas my sophomore year (of high school)," the Texas native continued as reporters grinned, internal typewriters whirring at breakneck speeds. "And that was my dream school, honestly. And I really wanted to go there, so I’m thinking, ‘Aw, go there.’
"And then I just never heard from them again. I just felt disrespected, like my talent level wasn’t high enough for them.
"I mean, honestly, that’s what fuels me."
So now it can be told, and pick your headline:
Kansas State’s Best Player Always Wanted To Be a Jayhawk
Kansas State’s Best Player Says He’s ‘Fueled’ by Kansas Players
Kansas’s State’s Best Player Just Gave the Most K-State Answer Ever
It was straight-up out of the Marcus Smart playbook, only without the backflip or grab-the-microphone malice. But it was lost in the margins because it was said the same day the Kansas City Royals were playing in their first World Series since A-hawas cool, and word hit the fan that Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles may have suffered his second (known) concussion in nine months.
"Yeah, it’s definitely going to be different this year, (considering) how people respect me more," said Foster, who averaged 15.5 points, 3.2 boards and 2.5 assists last season as one of the Big 12’s biggest, and most pleasant, surprises. "So I just feel you’ve got to stick to your same principles. You can’t change yourself just because you got a little bit of success last year."
Although, come on. Kansas? Really? You’re serious?
"I always wanted to play for Bill Self," Foster said. "But it didn’t work out. It worked out best for me. I’m glad I’m here."
EMAW circles are, too. Foster is 6-foot-2, but it’s more of a chiseled, linebacker-esque 6-2 than this past spring. The kid who last March hung 29 points on Baylor, 21 on Iowa State and 15 on eventual national runner-up Kentucky has dropped his body fat by 3 percent. He spent the summer pumping iron and being invited to camps run by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, ever mindful of the notion that guards who are under-the-radar stories as freshmen tend to become marked men as sophomores.
"(The coaches told me) just to embrace it, don’t really try to focus on myself (over) the team just because I’m supposed to be the ‘key guy’ and supposed to be this or that," Foster said. "Just last year, it was just me relaxing and playing, not trying to do too much. … They just tell me to relax, and ‘let your game come to you,’ ‘it’s going to happen for you.’"
Same guy. Different body. Foster says he’s changed his diet to keep that weight off; he’s also exploring different breathing techniques on game days to temper the early jitters that tend to exhaust him too quickly during games.
"I don’t know what it is; I’ve been researching a lot about it," Foster said. "I’m just going to try (something different) this year and see if it (works) out for me."
Same guy. Different mindset. Foster has been working on adding point guard duties to his personal bag of tricks, having been advised that a future on the wing with an NBA roster is something of an improbable destination for a cat under 6-4.
So: Last fall, Mitch Richmond. This one, B.J. Armstrong.
"He’s more mature now," noted Jevon Thomas, one of K-State’s incumbents at the point. "We lean on him this year more than ever. He’s basically like our senior."
Only he isn’t. And he knows it.
"During drills and stuff, Marcus will actually ask, ‘What did you do on this?’ And (he’ll ask) how to read a pick-and-roll," Thomas says. "I give him advice, but most of all, we just push him. Not a lot of people would pick him up full-court — he’s a wing. But like I said, at that next level, he’ll have to play the point guard, so we just pressure him and just get him really (uncomfortable), which he’s overcoming now."
"Offensively, it’ll click," swingman Nino Williams offered. "So I think he’ll be solid when he plays point. He’s just got to be patient and slow down and he’ll be fine.
"We just tell him, ‘Stick to what makes you Marcus Foster. Just shoot open shots coming off screens, and attacking, getting to the line, finishing in transition.’ So he’ll be fine."
Yes, but will he be rich, too, one day? For Foster, the end game is making the jump to The Association a "when," rather than an "if." Our Man No. 2, as you might imagine, isn’t exactly big into "ifs."
"I’m cool with it," Foster said of the NBA conversations. "I listen to it. I’m excited that people are talking about me and the NBA right now. And I feel I can get there if I keep working hard and stay hungry and humble. But, you know, I’m not going to let it go to my head. I’m just going to keep working hard and stay the same guy I was last season — that’s why I was so successful."
That and the rage. Always the rage.
"Me and Coach (Bruce Weber) talked about guys who are on (the preseason lists) usually aren’t there at the end of the year," Foster said. "So what we’re trying to work on is me just staying hungry and humble so I can get better so I can stay on that list at the end of the year."
In the lane or on the calendar, at this level, it isn’t how you start. It’s how you finish.
"Knowing that he can get a sophomore slump, (with) what he’s doing right now, he’s going to really overcome it," Thomas said. "He’s putting in more work than ever. Marcus is in rare form."