MANHATTAN — When Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin says goodbye to Chris Merriewether, Luis Colon and Denis Clemente during senior day ceremonies today at Bramlage Coliseum, he isn't sure what his emotions will be.
He only knows they will be strong.
"It's definitely going to be a special night for me," Martin said. "It's going to be a night of reflection. Chris and Luis were among that first group of guys that came in and believed in us. They followed our lead from Day 1. Denis came a year after them and he's been phenomenal."
"They've meant so much to the growth of our program."
Merriewether and Colon are the first seniors Martin will have coached for a full four years at K-State — Martin was an assistant to Bob Huggins when they joined the team. Clemente has been with the program from the moment Martin was promoted.
Together, they have helped establish the work ethic that defines the team, and provided leadership as upperclassmen. All three are on pace to graduate in May.
For Martin, that will be every bit as strong an achievement as what they've done on the court.
"All three of those guys have overcome," Martin said.
Colon and Clemente both came to K-State from south Florida after growing up in Puerto Rico.
Colon was a main recruiting target of Huggins, and Martin was ecstatic to help sign him out of high school. Colon was excited, too.
"I wanted to become a better player and play for one of the toughest coaches in the nation," Colon said.
His stats have never been eye-popping, but Colon has always been steady. At 6-foot-10, 265 pounds, he is also K-State's biggest center.
Colon missed the first eight games of his senior season for an undisclosed, off-court issue, but has been a part of the starting lineup the past 15 games.
Clemente has started all season, and is the Wildcats' second-leading scorer, averaging 16 points.
Martin recruited him hard out of high school, too, but lost out on him to Miami. After two so-so seasons with the Hurricanes, he decided to transfer to K-State. His speed and aggressive style of play have made him a fan favorite in Manhattan.
"I'm proud of what I did," Clemente said. "You don't understand where I came from. It's tough. I came from another country and didn't know the language, didn't know the people out here. All I knew how to do was play basketball. Look at where we are now, ranked fifth in the nation at Kansas State. I'm proud. It's going to be emotional a little bit, because I know I'm not going to play here anymore."
Merriewether would like to play a few more games at Bramlage Coliseum beyond today's 5 p.m. clash with Iowa State as well.
Merriewether originally agreed to play as a walk-on, and relied on academic scholarships to pay for his college experience.
But after two years of hard work, and consistently outperforming his teammates in the weight room — he is the back-to-back winner of K-State's annual preseason strong-man competition — Martin gave him a scholarship.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native will always remember that conversation.
"I broke down and I just started praying in the parking lot," Merriewether said.
Today he goes out on the same level as Colon and Clemente. Together, they were a group of players not many people knew about. Today they are a senior class that Martin will always cherish.
"They," Martin said, "are the rock to the base of our foundation here."