March 23, 2007

One year later

March 23, 2006. Bob Huggins arrived in Manhattan, Kan., for the first time on a brisk morning to be introduced as Kansas State's 21st men's basketball coach. As he casually leaned against the podium at his press conference inside Bramlage Coliseum, K-State fans quickly realized just how serious Huggins was about changing the fortunes of the once-great Wildcat basketball program.

Huggins promised K-State basketball would be different. He did so publicly, quoting President John F. Kennedy. The "Why settle for second when first is available?" remark is forever tied to Huggins in the hearts and minds of K-State fans. Later that day, inside the Wildcat locker room, he told his new players that their basketball lives were about the change.

And after one year, K-Staters have learned that Bob Huggins simply does not settle. He coaches to excellence and expects nothing less. That was abundantly clear to all who heard Huggins speak one year ago on his very first day as part of the Kansas State basketball program.

"We're going to win, man. I told you we're going to win when I came in," Huggins said after his program's first season came to a conclusion on Monday, March 19, with a loss to DePaul in the second round of the NIT. K-State ended with a 23-12 record, a level of success that surprised some, but one that did not come by chance.

Huggins demanded much and maximized the assets of a limited team.

"I appreciate the fact of how they've bought in and I appreciate the fact that they wanted to learn and wanted to get better and want to be coached, and that's not always the case in today's world. I never felt like they fought us," Huggins said of the roster he inherited from Jim Wooldridge, a coach who failed to take his team to postseason play in six seasons. "They didn't always do what we wanted them to do and they didn't play as hard particularly early on as I wanted them to play, but as I told you all before, playing hard is a learned skill. (As with) shooting and passing and dribbling, you've got to learn to play hard and I think they did."

After finishing 10-6 in the competitive Big 12 Conference, there was little doubt that the Wildcats played hard. The effort was led by senior Cartier Martin, who finished the season averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game and ended his career at sixth on K-State's all-time scoring list.

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