MANHATTAN — For now, Frank Martin isn't that much different from the rest of us. Ask the Kansas State basketball coach what he expects out of his team next season, and he'll make an educated guess.
With six newcomers and seven scholarship players returning, there is no telling how successful the Wildcats will be in filling the large void left by departing seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.
Combined, they make up a roster that rivals Martin's first two seasons in terms of inexperience and uncertainty.
"We'll be young," Martin said. "We'll be learning as we go."
But that doesn't bother him. During his four years as K-State's coach, Martin has seen it all in terms of roster turnover.
When he guided the Wildcats to the Elite Eight two years ago, he leaned heavily on six upperclassmen and rarely played his freshmen. His first year, when K-State reached the 2008 NCAA Tournament, he likes to say, "We had nine first-year guys."
In his fifth year, the Wildcats will fall in the middle of those two extremes.
"That's where you reach down into your bag of tricks," Martin said."... When you do this as long as I've been doing it, you really don't have surprises. You don't get caught off guard with personnel or new players or old players."
Martin has known this upcoming season would be a retooling year for some time. Replacing Pullen, the program's career scoring leader, will be difficult. Add the departure of four others — Juevol Myles, Nick Russell, Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge — and the Wildcats are looking at a major challenge.
In his first season, Martin counteracted massive roster changes with a star-studded recruiting class that included Michael Beasley and Pullen. Bill Walker also highlighted the roster. While none of K-State's six incoming players have shown that type of potential, three are transfers that bring experience, and they will be joining a more established team.
Three starters — sophomore guard Shane Southwell, junior swingman Rodney McGruder and senior forward Jamar Samuels — and a solid group of role players who have played in the NCAA Tournament all return.
"The good thing is we have a core of guys in place who played the majority of minutes the second half of the season last year, with the exception of Jacob and Curtis," Martin said. "All those guys coming back played major minutes, and they should be prepared to help lead those first-year guys."
Of the returners who should play major roles, McGruder may be asked to do the most. He grew tremendously as a sophomore, leading the team in rebounding (5.9) while averaging 11.1 points, and he will need to continue to grow as an inside/outside presence as a junior.
He will also be asked to lead, as will sophomore guard Will Spradling.
"If I've got to assign a leader, we're going to have problems," Martin said. "That's on the players to determine who wants that responsibility. A lot of guys say they want it and then when they have to do it they don't care for it, because it's very demanding and it's stressful.
"But Rodney, I think he has the personality, the demeanor, the work ethic, he's a standup kid. One of the reasons we were able to turn our season around last year was because him and Will Spradling became so much better at handling those responsibilities."
This team will face questions that go far beyond leadership, though. Who will run the point? Who will provide a scoring presence inside? How quickly can the team jell?
Spradling and Southwell will be in the mix at both guard positions, but freshman Angel Rodriguez and third-team junior college All-American Jeremy Jones should both compete for the point guard spot.
In the paint, Martin expects Jordan Henriquez to become a reliable shot-blocker. Freshman Thomas Gipson could also use his imposing size to help on defense right away. But Martin is less sure about who will score. Samuels, Henriquez, Gipson and transfer James Watson may all have to contribute.
Whatever the case, the Wildcats' front court should be more versatile and athletic than in years past. How quickly that athleticism evolves into teamwork is the question.
"Those new guys," Martin said, "the quicker they adapt and the quicker they accept the challenges that high-major basketball throws at you, hopefully they do it pretty quick and they're willing and able to help us early in the year."