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Fascinating Frank

Frank Martin fascinates me, which is probably why I write about him as much as I do.Frank Martin being demonstrativeBecause I’m in Wichita and he’s in Manhattan – and because I’m a newspaper columnist and he’s a college basketball coach – I don’t get to know him as well as I could like. I can’t tell you much, if anything, about Martin’s personality. My dealings with him are short – after games in a news conference setting or when he’s a guest on our radio show, “Sports Daily.”

I’ve had a couple of opportunties to talk to Martin face to face and found him to be an engaging, witty guy. It’s safe to say that based on what I know about Martin, I like him.

But boy, this guy is a different cat. He has had a tough season as Kansas State’s basketball coach. High expectations turned into a high level of underachievement. K-State is jsut 3-5 in the Big 12 and it looks like the Wildcats will be lucky to finish at .500 in the league.

That’s not what anyone expected. No one expected, either, two players to leave the program in the middle of the season. It was especially tough for Wildcats fans to swallow the departure of 6-foot-9 forward Wally Judge, a sohomore who came to K-State as a McDonald’s high school All-American and one of the most-coveted players in the country.

Martin’s demeanor during a game has been well documented. I’ve written about it numerous times, expressing that I wish he would forgo the profanity.

But Martin isn’t going to change for me or anyone else. He does things his way and the rest of them either accept that or we don’t.

I think it’s naive to think that Martin’s personality doesn’t have at least something to do with the decisions made by Judge and center Freddy Asprilla to leave the team. And before them, the decisions made by Ron Anderson and Dominique Sutton to transfer from K-State.

I don’t think Martin is for everybody. I think it takes a special player to fit Martin’s style. The same can probably be said for a lot of coaches out there, but I think it’s especially true for Martin.

I couldn’t withstand all of the yelling and screaming, for instance. Then again, I’m kind of a wimp. The glares and the intensity would have grown very old very fast. It wouldn’t be long before I would tune out a coach with Martin’s demeanor.

Others, though, relish such an in-your-face coaching styles. Martin, as he has said numerous times, sees his role as going beyond that of just a coach. He’s also an educator and, in some cases, a parental figure to players. His calling is to do what he can to make his players’ lives after basketball as rewarding as he can. He strives to give them coping tools for what happens after their playing days are finished.

It would be fascinating to hear what players think – really think – of Martin’s style. When I’ve talked to Kansas State players about Martin in the past, they have to a many professed their love and admiration for him. Are they telling the truth? I have no reason to suspect they aren’t.

I mentioned on radio today that I would love to get the first interview with Wally Judge. But that interview would only work if Judge were honest and introspective about the reasons things didn’t work out for him at K-State.

Martin today admitted he wasn’t able to reach Judge. I could tell that frustrated him, but he’s not the kind of guy to lament things like that. He’ll move on with the palyers who are dedicated to staying at Kansas State and helping the Wildcats make the best of the rest of what has been a strange season.

I’ll continue to regard Martin as one of the most interesting people I’ve covered. I have to admit, I like the guy. I think he’s genuine. He has his talking points – loyalty, education, perseverence, toughness – that he doesn’t stray from.

Even so, I hang on every word. I have been critical of Martin in the past, and no doubt will be so again.

There are times when his sideline behavior makes me cringe. Like I wrote earlier, there’s no way a guy with my personality could play for Martin. I’d probably start laughing.

But when I was 20, I wouldn’t have laughed. I would have been scared to death.

It has to take time to adapt to Martin’s style. There aren’t many like him in the college coaching ranks. Some players prosper, others don’t. And still others leave. Martin is the common denominator, although there’s nothing common about him.

A sports writer’s memory

Interesting coaches. That’s a good topic for this part of the blog, I suppose.

All coaches are interesting in their own ways. And I’ve definitely covered some dandies, including these four:

Former Wichita State basketball coach Gene Smithson would have to be in the discussion. What a wild man that guy was. But what a lot of fun, too. He ran one of the loosest programs in the history of college basketball, I have to believe, but those guys sure did play hard for Smithson. And by those guys, I’m talking about: Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, Ozell Jones, Tony Martin, Mike Jones, Xavier McDaniel, Randy Smithson and many, many others. The Smithson Era was unlike any era in the history of Shocker basketball. I feel totally safe in making that statement.

Steve Eck. You don’t find a Steve Eck on every street corner. He’s a little bit quirky and does things differently than most. But I have always really liked Eck. He’s a good guy and I’ve never been around a coach whose ex-players revere him quite the way Eck’s former players do him. I covered him for six of the 10 seasons he was at South, when the Titans were winning state championships right and left. Eck was able to communicate with players in a way most coaches can’t. Those guys at South did exactly what he wanted them to do most of the time.

Bill Self. I can’t say enough good things about Self. He’s the best press-conference-holder (new term, just made it up) ever. Self never demeans a person asking a question, no matter how far out of left field it might be. And his answers are always enlightening. When I’m covering Kansas in the NCAA Tournament and I have a story idea, I know one or two questions for Self will practically write my story or column. That’s how good he is. The best ever.

Randy Smithson. If he’s Gene’s kid, you know he’s going to be interesting. And Randy was. We had our differences during the time he was coaching Wichita State and I was writing columns about him and the team. I never thought Smithson loosened the reigns on his players, which I always found interesting given how much leeway his father gave his players. Randy was too controlling and that, more than anything, ultimately led to his failure. But I really like him and always have. As a player, he was one of those go-to guys for a reporter because he always had an interesting take on a game or a situation. I always hope for the best for Randy Smithson.