Wildcats gaining confidence with each win
Bob Huggins quoted John F. Kennedy at his introductory news conference at Kansas State, telling anyone who'd listen there was no reason to shoot for second when first was available. You know, the kind of statement fans and supporters expect to hear from a new coach.
Frank Martin bought into it. Still does.
A former assistant to Huggins, Martin has the Wildcats reaching for No. 1 four years later, raising excitement and expectations to unprecedented levels in the Little Apple.
``That thought process never changed because he left,'' Martin said. ``That's who we are. I'm not telling you we're better than the next guy, but that's how we prepare. We come in here every day and compete real hard, practice real hard and study real hard.''
That approach led to one of the biggest wins in the program's history.
Fighting past a slew of personal issues and the type of pressure they've come to embrace, the Wildcats manhandled Texas on Monday night, riding their smothering defense and the energy of a raucous crowd to knock the Longhorns from the unbeaten ranks.
How they did it is a sign of how far Kansas State has come.
A year ago, an off night by guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente would have been disastrous for the Wildcats. Those two went a combined 4 for 24 against the Longhorns, but the front line, led by Jamar Samuels' double-double, made up for it by scoring 46 of the team's 71 points against one of the best front lines in college basketball.
And Kansas State did it on a night three of its players could have had their minds elsewhere: freshman Martavious Irving had a death in the family a few days before, Jamar Samuels' mother had undergone surgery and Luis Colon's cousin was shot and killed in his native Puerto Rico the day of the game.
Even the Longhorns were impressed.
``Let's feel good for K-State,'' Texas coach Rick Barnes said. ``I've been in the league for 12 years, been here when it wasn't so good. You've got to feel good if you know Frank Martin. He's worked hard. I think a guy that has had to do it the hard way. He's done a great job here.''
He's not finished.
Martin has instilled his chip-on-the-shoulder mentality since the day he took over for Huggins in 2007, relentlessly riding the Wildcats, screaming at them, pushing them to never accept failure or lack of effort.
Two years ago, the Wildcats pulled off a monumental victory against eventual national champion Kansas, ending a 24-game losing against their biggest rival. The fans rushed the court, the players danced on the scorer's tables and the party lasted well into the night.
Next game, Kansas State fell flat and lost to Missouri on the road.
This time, the Wildcats took what may have been an even bigger victory more in stride. The fans, some of whom had waited overnight to get tickets, roared from their seats instead of stampeding to the court. The players ran over to high-five the fans in the front row, but didn't linger too long.
Once inside the locker room, Martin didn't have to remind his players victory was only one step in the journey. Pullen beat his coach to it, telling his teammates to not lose focus, to be just as ready for Oklahoma State on Saturday as they were for the Longhorns.
``So many teams beat a No. 1 team and lose their focus and lose the next game,'' said Pullen, a freshman on the team that beat KU in 2008. ``We can't let anything sidetrack us; new rankings, new interviews, whatever the case may be. We have to stay the course and keep the focus like we did for this game.''
In case the Wildcats didn't get the message, Martin will be there to remind them.
``It's not about celebrating this win. It's about being proud of what you did, but continue to grow,'' he said. Obviously, you gain confidence beating a great team like Texas, but come (practice), if they don't come in and compete, I'm going to destroy them. That's the way it's going to be every day. We don't change what we do.''