Martin’s goal: Have K-State great late

03/07/2012 5:00 AM

08/05/2014 6:21 PM

It’s happening again.

The Big 12 Tournament is under way, pressure to make the NCAA Tournament is at its peak and Kansas State is thriving. The Wildcats have won four of their past five games, including road wins over top-10 teams Baylor and Missouri, and are playing at their highest level — all after months of ups and downs, player suspensions and erratic play.

A month ago, K-State’s starting five changed on any given night. Less than three weeks ago it was impossible to predict K-State’s chances of reaching the NCAAs. Today, K-State is as hot as anyone in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Should anyone be surprised?

The same thing happened a year ago. Similar paths were taken during Frank Martin’s first two seasons at K-State. Go back to when Martin coached high school basketball in Miami and you’ll find the same pattern. Every team is different, but all of Martin’s teams share one trait: They play their best basketball late.

“Everything I do, every decision I make, the way I prepare for practice, the way we prepare for every game — the objective is to be the best team we can be at this time of year,” Martin said. “That’s what we’re about. Everything we try to do is for that.”

It’s a mission that starts at the beginning of each season, when Martin instills his personality on his players. He’s hard on them, wanting them to become better players and people.

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for players to grasp his message. When he coached a team loaded with upperclassmen two years ago, the Wildcats contended for a Big 12 championship and advanced to the Elite Eight. When he has coached younger teams, like this year’s squad with one scholarship senior, it has taken much longer.

Good thing teaching ranks high above speed as a priority for Martin.

“I’m about winning in the long run,” Martin said. “I’m not going to circumvent winning in the long run, and in life, for anything. Whether it’s March, next year, two years from now or five years from now, I’m not going to sacrifice winning in the long run to win a game. I’m never going to put winning a game above my responsibility as an educator. I’m just never going to do that.

“It’s a daily responsibility I accepted when I chose this profession to help these young kids become young men during their college careers. That never stops. It’s the same message I send my own kids as I try to educate them every day. I hold people accountable for their responsibilities. I refuse to put winning games ahead of that.”

Even if it means taking drastic measures such as benching and suspending players. Even if it means losing a few games.

Starters Jamar Samuels, Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez have missed time for motivational or disciplinary purposes. Without them, K-State lost games it was favored to win and struggled to find its identity.

Everything turned out OK, but some have questioned whether those moves were necessary. They wondered if the Wildcats could have gotten where they are today without first flirting with the NIT.

Not Martin. His main goal in coaching is to teach life lessons. This is his method.

Though it might not be conducive to winning a conference title every year, it has worked well enough for his teams to reach the postseason and win more than 20 games in his first five seasons at K-State. And he has become one of the most recognizable coaches in the Big 12.

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