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March 20, 2010

K-State program takes on Martin's image

OKLAHOMA CITY -- They call it "Kansas State Basketball." It's a brand. It's a style. It's a family. To ask those within the Kansas State basketball program for a definition of what that phrase means to them, you get many answers, but every answer has an origin. It's Coach Frank Martin. He didn't invent Kansas State basketball. Far from it, but as the Wildcats prepare for Saturday night's second-round game of the NCAA Tournament's West Regional against BYU, it's clear the third-year coach has revived the spirit and pride of Kansas State basketball.

"High energy. Always pushing the ball. Hard-nosed. Never giving up on a play," senior forward Chris Merriewether said. "Our game starts with our defense and running in transition. Rebounding the ball. Being strong inside and trying to run the other team out of the gym."

That is indeed the on-court definition of Kansas State Basketball. The Wildcats enter Saturday's 7:10 p.m. game at the Ford Center with a 27-7 record. The Wildcats have arrived at this point by out-rebounding their opponents by five a game (including grabbing an impressive 15 offensive rebounds per game) and forcing foes into 17 turnovers a contest.

Simply put, K-State basketball is about pressure-cooking the opposition with defense and rebounding, but there's more to this definition than just what takes place on the court.

"K-State basketball is leaving it all out on the floor. Defense and family," K-State sophomore forward Jamar Samuels said. "These guys, at the beginning of year, we didn't know each other that well, but now we're just a big family. You know what I am saying? Everything that we do is for each other."

This is indeed a close team. Spending time in the locker room prior to the Wildcats taking the floor for their closed practice session on Friday makes that clear. They joke, they kid, they sing, they trade barbs. It's like a band of brothers who know when to have fun and when to get down to business.

"We understand once we walk into the locker room or onto the court, it's business. We also have fun, which I think is why we're so loose," junior guard Jacob Pullen said. "We also know this an experience and we need to have fun with it, but once it's time to get to our business, we punch in and go to work."

Intense. Caring. Focused.

Those words may best describe Kansas State Basketball, and they may also paint the perfect picture of Martin, the program's leader.

"I think what you see is what you get, and that starts with the boss. You always want to try to take on the head coach's identity, and I think K-State basketball has taken that on," K-State assistant coach Brad Underwood said. "We're hard-playing, intense when we have to be. We can be a fun-loving group when we want to be, too, and it's all part of being a part of K-State basketball. We're all very loyal, and it's something we take tremendous pride in. We're all a reflection of Frank."

And that reflection takes on some images that the college basketball world doesn't fully grasp about the K-State head coach.

"A lot of people see the image of him yelling at us, but he's a great guy off the court," K-State junior forward Curtis Kelly said. "He's teaches us just as much off the court as he does on the court. And he's a great family guy, too. We see that."

Martin's family extends beyond wife, Anya, and three children, and into the K-State locker room. Martin projects his personality onto his team, and when the Wildcats play to that personality, they are virtually unbeatable. There were, though, seven losses and a few games when K-State survived lackluster performances.

"If we don't do the things that Frank asks us to do, then I don't think we're as good of a team as we can be," Merriewether said. "You've seen some of those games when we didn't rebound the ball well and we didn't get into passing lanes and defend. We've gotten back to doing some of those things, and we just want to get better each and every day, especially here in the postseason."

K-State has rediscovered itself since heading to Kansas City to play in the Big 12 Tournament, and now the Wildcats appear to understand that when they do the things the coaching staff demands, they will almost assuredly leave the court as the victor.

"We've got to guard and we've got to rebound, and I guess you can tie-in that we have to play with energy," Underwood said. "When we do that, it makes our offense so much easier and gives us extra possessions and opportunities to score. When we get to the offensive glass, those extra opportunities are key for us. When we share the ball, we're a real hard team to guard."

Simply put, when the Wildcats play Kansas State Basketball, they're a nearly impossible team to beat.


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