MANHATTAN — Martavious Irving took a seat in front of Frank Martin and prepared for the worst.
Kansas State was huddled up during a timeout early in the first half of Saturday's game against Loyola-Chicago, and the sophomore guard had just been caught out of position on defense. He allowed an easy score.
Gulp. This is not where any K-State player likes to be. In a matter of seconds, Irving would have to deal with harsh words and criticism from his coach, but that's nothing compared to what came first.
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Of all the unconventional techniques Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin uses to reprimand and motivate his players, it is by far the most renowned and feared.
Developed early in his life as a bouncer and mastered during his coaching career, it has become a staple of Martin's sideline demeanor. As recognizable as his signature, it always gets a strong reaction.
When his eyes grow large and bulge out of his head, it can feel like he's a camera zooming in on you. When his eyebrows reach toward his hairline, and his mouth opens wide, he is impossible to ignore. When he clenches his mouth shut, the look can be plain frightening.
"You have to treat it a lot like the sun," junior forward Jamar Samuels said. "Looking at it for more than a few seconds is dangerous to your health."
The stare comes in many forms, and can carry many messages. But on this day, he leaned back with his arms crossed and shot a glance of disgust at Irving. Seconds went by and not a word was said. Martin looked down to scribble on a dry-erase board and stared at Irving again. Finally he opened his mouth and addressed everyone in the huddle.
The timeout came to an end and K-State retook the floor. On its first possession, Irving caught the ball beyond the three-point line and swished an outside shot to extend the Wildcats' lead. He went on to score a season-high 12 points, play tough defense and greatly help his team.
"He didn't say much to me, really," Irving said. "I could tell he wanted me to step up and play my role, so basically that's what I wanted to do — play my role and make some shots."
The stare can come at any moment and for any reason. In the middle of a play, after a turnover or up close and personal on the bench, Martin will not hesitate to break it out.
Players list avoiding it as a priority.
"It really gets to some people," senior guard Jacob Pullen said. "That look of his, with those eyes coming out right at you, it can be scary. I know I'm always trying to find new ways to stay away from it."
While it may not be the harshest of gestures, it carries the most meaning. Players say they prefer almost all his other antics, because they simply mean he is angry. The stare means much more.
It conveys he's awfully disappointed.
"I'll take anything over the stare," Samuels said. "I'd much rather have him yell or curse at me. When he's out there just looking at you like that, man, he's got you. You know you messed up."
Mistakes are inevitable in basketball, so dealing with the stare is a must for all K-State players. They haven't learned how to keep Martin's pupils in check yet, but they have handed down a few secrets from one recruiting class to the next over the years.
Some players say they ask their high school coaches to imitate Martin in practice so they won't get rattled by the real thing. Sophomore guard Nick Russell convinced himself that Martin's stare "is only a look," and is scarier on TV than it is in person. Pullen tells prospective players to remember that the stare is simply a coaching method.
"It's a simple way of telling a player that you can't do that," Pullen said. "You've got to go get better. He's mad about what you did, but he gets over it quick. As long as you can move on to the next play, you will be fine."
Martin, who has strong, friendly relationships with his players off the court, tries to make sure his team understands he acts no differently than a good teacher would.
"Every kid wants discipline," Martin said. "Every kid wants structure. They might tell you they don't, but they realize they don't understand right and wrong. They are looking for someone to help guide them. Anyone who says differently doesn't know a thing about education."
For the most part, players appreciate the tough love.
Pullen considers it a reminder to always think about making the smart play. Senior forward Curtis Kelly describes it as, "good parenting from a father figure."
"The thing about the stare is that it will always tell you something," Kelly said. "You never know what that's going to be, but it's good to find out. If I don't know my mistakes, I won't know how to fix them."
Still, it can be uncomfortable. The worst, players say, is when Martin lingers. Common courtesy dictates that two people make eye contact when they communicate, but most of the Wildcats refuse to look into the stare.
Samuels jokes that he uses those occasions to find attractive ladies in the crowd. Pullen often glances up and to the left at nothing in particular, and if that doesn't do the trick he will strike up a conversation with an assistant coach or teammate.
Last weekend, Irving focused in on the Powercat on his shorts. But it didn't matter where he looked.
Martin's stare said it all.