March 21, 2008

Cats want to make K-State matter again

OMAHA, Neb. -- The day after, the smiles are still broad. This Kansas State basketball team knows it made a major splash in this year's NCAA Tournament not just by pulling the upset, but by beating a Southern California team that was a media darling, the pick of some to be in the Final Four.

How can they not smile? Kansas State basketball is back on the map. They may be just freshmen, but Bill Walker and Michael Beasley know what this means. And here's the really good news for everyone with a rooting interest in K-State hoops. This team is hungry for more, this season and beyond.

Coming off an 80-67 victory over Southern California on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament's first round of the Midwest Regional, the Wildcats awoke Friday to begin preparations for their second-round game with Big 10 champion Wisconsin. The game tips off at 3:20 p.m. Saturday at the Qwest Center.

"I woke up thinking we're going to have another intense practice," Walker said. "We got the win yesterday, but that's history. That's old news. We're just trying to prepare to face a good Wisconsin team."

"I like every challenge. This is the biggest game so far," Beasley said. "They've got a couple of bigs inside. I'm ready to go for it. I'm ready to get this win. I'm ready for this team to go to the Sweet 16."

The magnitude of the moment is not lost on this team. Walker has heard plenty about K-State basketball greatness in his short time in Manhattan, with those memories stretching back 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. The fans still remember fondly.

Saturday will soon be history, as will the rest of 2008's dose of March Madness. Bill Walker the basketball historian gets why K-State fans so cherish the great teams and great players.

"People will talk about those guys for the rest of their lives, so, of course, I'd like to be in that conversation," Walker said. "You'd love for someone to talk about you like that. I hope we can make some lasting impressions so people will talk about us."

You see, Coach Frank Martin coaches his team on many levels. He prepares to them to play in the short-term and long-term, but he also makes it clear that the Kansas State Wildcats are playing for something more. This is about a school that once wore its basketball glory like a royal crown. In the conversation of the great programs, K-State was always included.

For all of the amazing feats of football success enjoyed at K-State under Bill Snyder during his tenure, the school basked in basketball glory for 40 years. Then it all began to slip away.

K-State didn't lose its basketball greatness overnight. It bled out. Slowly, but surely, like the unstoppable sands of an hourglass. From the departure of Lon Kruger to the high standards not met by Dana Altman to the disappointments of Tom Asbury to the fading expectations of Jim Wooldridge.

The coaches came and went and nothing seemed to make the program right again. Then came Bob Huggins, hired by former athletics director Tim Weiser two years ago in a masterstroke to turn around the school's basketball fortunes.

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