We had Frank Martin on the radio show today. I don’t recall ever going from one extreme to the other with someone I covered and wrote about the way I have with Martin.
My first impression, when he was an assistant coach at Kansas State under Bob Huggins for one season, was that Martin was out of his mind. He was a man man on the bench.
Well, he still is. Only now he’s the head coach, starting his fourth season. He’s 72-32 overall, 30-18 in Big 12 games and led the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight last season where they lost to eventual national runner-up Butler.
Martin has won me over. One reason is that I’ve gotten to know him better. He’s a much deeper, more complicated man than the raging lunatic he sometimes appears to be on the court. Away from the competition, Martin is a bright, thoughtful man who deeply cares about the players he coaches. And, for the most part, those players respond to him – even when they’re being chastised.
Martin chooses to come on our radio show – “Sports Daily” – every couple of weeks during the basketball season. He’s engaging and honest and it’s one of the most popular segments we have on the show. Kansas State fans love Martin the way they have never loved a coach, in my opinion. Sure, they’re crazy about football coach Bill Snyder. But Snyder does not have Martin’s charisma. Few do.
I’m excited that Kansas State is having success in basketball again. The Wildcats went far too long playing second fiddle to Kansas and that rivalry is back and as good as ever. Most of the experts expect Kansas State to be better than the Jayhawks this season; the Wildcats are ranked No. 3 in both major preseason polls.
Martin told us Thursday that the Wildcats are a long way from being any good. Of course, every coach in the country is going to say that about his team at this point in the season. Kansas State, trust me, will be good. However, it won’t be easy to replace guard Denis Clemente, the team’s quarterback and emotional leader last season. Clemente was one of the most exciting players in the country. Neither will it be easy to replace forward Dominique Sutton, who decided to leave the program after the 2009-10 season and transfer to North Carolina Central to be closer to his family.
Sutton was one of those garbage players, willing to do the little things – which are really big things.
Still, Martin has loads of talent. Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Wally Judge will forge what could be an outstanding front line. Jacob Pullen will be one of the country’s best guards, again, and probably be joined in the starting backcourt by sophomore Rodney McGruder, destined to be a star before his Wildcats career ends.
You’ll see I’ve posted some pictures of Martin here. I went looking for some emotional shots, knowing I would find a lot in his game action. Thing is, that’s all I could find in his game action. Martin has to be one of the most-photographed coaches in college basketball, but I couldn’t find anything of him sitting calmly on the bench or talking in hushed tones to his players. That’s not the Martin shot anybody is looking for, apparently.
* Tonight’s Bishop Carroll-Hutchinson game, to be played in Hutch, should have an unbelievably big-time feel.Both teams have lost only once; Hutch to Kansas City Rockhurst and Carroll to Wichita Heights in season-opening games. They’re two of the top teams in Class 5A playing for a district championship. Big, big stuff.
Except there’s a good chance the two teams will meet again in the 5A playoffs since both have already qualified. And that’s the game everybody would love to see.
It’s another of the fallacies with the playoff system in Kansas. The Kansas State High School Activities Association has tinkered with the system several times since implementing playoffs in 1969. I still don’t think the KSHSAA has gotten it right.
There are positives and negatives with two teams out of each district, most of them comprised of four teams, getting into the playoffs. But sometimes it just doesn’t lend itself to a lot of drama.
I suppose another reason that Carroll-Hutch doesn’t rise to the level of a must-see game for me is that I expect the Salt Hawks to win fairly easily. Hutchinson is just that much better than anybody else in the state. Carroll, as good as it is, will probably be lucky to stay within 20 points Friday night.
* Did you catch Blake Griffin’s act on ESPN on Wednesday night?GriffinI know, the Los Angeles Clippers lost to Portland and the game wasn’t that close. But Griffin, making his LA debut after sitting out all of last season with an injury, was something to watch.
That guy has a lethal combination of quickness and strength. I had almost forgotten how good he is. But the former Oklahoma All-American, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds in his first NBA regular-season game, looks like a player who will make an impact on the NBA. Can he legitimize the Clippers? Can anybody legitimize the Clippers?
* Right fielders everywhere, past and present, pleaded with Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington not to play Vladimir Guerrero in tonight’s Game 2 of the World Series.
They were relieved when Washington announced earlier today that David Murphy, not Guerrero, would get the start in right after the horrible eighth-inning performance of Guerrero in right during Wednesday night’s Game 1.
That was a butcher in action, folks. Guerrero still has a dangerous bat and his arm has great life, but the man can barely run and apparently cannot bend over. His two attempts at fielding plays in the eighth inning both resulted in errors. And not just errors, embarrassing errors.
It hurts Texas not to have Vlad’s bat in the lineup. But with the DH in use in National League parks, Washington really had no choice but to go with Murphy tonight.
A sports writer’s memories
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my early days at The Eagle, back in late 1974 and 1975, because of the recent death of Reid Hanley, who was at the paper when I started. Reid became one of my very good friends, even though he left Wichita in 1977 to work for the Chicago Tribune. Notice, by the way, that I’ve never left Wichita to work for the Chicago Tribune. What does that say about me? It probably says I was never offered a job by the Chicago Tribune.
Anyway, those early years were incredible. The newspaper was churning and busy and there were lots of people in the newsroom. Lots of characters.
One was Bill Hodge. I grew up reading Bill’s “In This Corner” column and to actually be working with him – well, alongside him would be a more accurate description – was pretty daunting.
Bill was probably in his mid- to late-50s by the time I came along and let’s just say he wasn’t much impressed by some new kid on the block. I worked the phone crew for those first few months, answering calls and taking down box scores, so I’m sure Bill didn’t even notice me.
But after a while, he couldn’t help but see me around. I was hired full-time in the summer of 1975 and had my own desk, which happened to be next to his. I’ll always remember Bill being there, at his desk, every morning when I got to work. He arrived early and he was no-nonsense. I certainly wasn’t going to bother him.
Over time, though, he became less intimidating. We actually started talking to one another. He was gruff and sassy, much like I am now, but also interesting and full of Wichita’s sports history. He had been there, done that and it was fascinating to hear him talk about covering all the things he had covered.
We eventually became golf partners, along with John Murphy, another close Eagle friend back in the day. Bill turned out to be a really good guy. He died a few years ago, but those of us who worked with Bill – and those of you who read him – will never forget.