SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — It's not often that Denis Clemente gets to speak with the media in his native language, so when a Spanish-speaking newspaper reporter from Puerto Rico requested an interview last week, he smiled and grabbed his phone.
The reporter wanted to ask Clemente, Kansas State's senior guard, what it's going to be like returning to his home and playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Clemente has requested 54 tickets for the tournament, so he mostly spoke — in Spanish, of course — about how much fun it's going to be to play in front of old friends and family. Some of whom, including his grandmother, a few cousins, his uncle and his aunt, have never seen him play in a competitive game.
"I'm really excited to go home," Clemente said.
If K-State coach Frank Martin allows it, Clemente says he'll even try to sneak home to his hometown of Bayamon — less than 20 minutes from San Juan — and visit family.
Not that a visit is his main goal.
"It's basketball first," Clemente said. "I'm going to my country of Puerto Rico to play basketball."
Teammate and fellow Puerto Rican Luis Colon said he feels the same way.
"It's all I can really think about," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to go home, but even more fun to play good basketball against good teams."
Martin is leading his squad into difficult games against seven well-respected teams including Boston University, Mississippi, Indiana, Georgia Tech and Villanova.
He added this tournament to the K-State schedule not only so Clemente and Colon could get a trip home, but so his team could face better competition.
But it's bad news for teammate Jamar Samuels, who said he's been pestering Clemente and Colon to be his island tour guides for several weeks.
"I keep telling them," Samuels said, "wherever they go, I'm going, too."
Aside from a stroll on the beach or a team outing to a restaurant, that tour may not include many exotic places.
But Clemente's and Colon's ties to Puerto Rico will benefit the Wildcats in other ways.
It wouldn't surprise Clemente at all if K-State becomes something of a home team.
He isn't sure how big a deal this tournament is with the local community, but he expects those who come out will cheer for their own. With two Puerto Ricans on the roster, he figures that's got to help K-State's chances.
"A lot of people (are coming) to see us," he said. "So I hope they do."