LAWRENCE — Kansas coach Bill Self didn't really know Kansas State coach Frank Martin before Martin took over the K-State program. Less than three years later, days before the Jayhawks and Wildcats will play Saturday in as big a game as this rivalry has seen in decades, Self was glad to talk about his budding relationship with Martin.
"He's a coach's coach," Self said. "He's a guy's guy. He would be a guy that I would enjoy having dinner with — as long as he bought."
Yes, Self made a couple of things very clear on Thursday. He is glad that Kansas State is emerging onto the national scene under Martin. He also does not want the Wildcats' rise to be at Kansas' expense, whether at dinner or in the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks would take over the No. 1 ranking and jump into the driver's seat in the league race with a win in Manhattan, and Self likes that it will take one of KU's best performances of the season to do it.
"Hey, competition brings out the best and worst in everybody," Self said. "I'm not saying it hasn't been competitive. I'm not saying that at all. But I think having K-State ranked in the top 10 at one point, Mizzou going to the Elite Eight last year, it generates interest. It gets people talking about our league. It gets people talking about our area. I want Wichita State to be good. Certainly, if it's good for the masses in our area, then selfishly it's good for us."
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Among the selfish reasons: More spotlight for the Jayhawks, who weren't exactly in need of it but also would never refuse it.
"If K-State wasn't good," Self said, "we wouldn't have the national exposure from (ESPN College) Gameday. We're selfishly benefiting from them being good. I don't see any negatives in that at all."
The KU players, who have had some battles with the Wildcats in recent years, also appeared to welcome K-State's emergence. KU guard Brady Morningstar said the Jayhawks hold no grudges against K-State guard Denis Clemente, who sparked a controversy when he elbowed Morningstar in the back and slapped the back of KU guard Tyrel Reed's head late in KU's win in Manhattan last season. Clemente said after the game that his elbow of Morningstar was retaliatory, that Morningstar had elbowed him first.
Simply put, this is a rivalry, but it isn't Duke and North Carolina, which are separated by 10 miles. Lawrence and Manhattan are far enough away that KU and K-State players don't cross paths frequently, but they do know each other and are at least hospitable to one another.
"We work camps together every once in a while," KU center Cole Aldrich said. "You'll see (Jacob) Pullen or Clemente or some of the other guys around. We always have a good time with those guys. We all have the same love for the sport, but we just love to compete, too."
A K-State win over Kansas would only intensify what the Wildcats can only hope is a revitalized rivalry. Already, Kansas State has made enough noise that nearly half of Self's weekly press gathering on Thursday was packed with questions about Martin.
"Maybe we should just get Frank to come to the press conference," Self joked.
Apparently, Self could make it happen.
"I've gone over to K-State and watched my son play and driven by to say hi to (Martin)," Self said. "He's come over here to Wildcat functions, and he'll call and ask me what I'm doing, do I want to come out and meet him. We're not buddy buddies, but he's a good guy."
When Martin was hired, he had many critics who doubted his ability to coach at this level. Self, despite having only met Martin in passing, said he was not one of them.
"I don't sit around thinking about what Frank's ceiling is," Self said. "It's so easy to sit back in the cheap seats and criticize a hire. You don't know whether a hire will be worth a flip, good or bad, until two or three years down the road. I think he probably has put that program in a position where they're here to stay."