Martin says K-State welcomes expectations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some coaches hoist a shield with news of a first-place prediction.

Kansas State’s Frank Martin offers gratitude to fellow coaches for predicting a Wildcats’ conference championship.

“For them to vote us No. 1 is a heck of a compliment to our players,” Martin said. “It means they respect us. They study our team, try to scheme how to beat our team. The know us.”

Martin was in Kansas City on Tuesday attending the Coaches vs. Cancer Tip Off Reception at the College Basketball Experience along with Kansas’ Bill Self, Missouri’s Mike Anderson, UMKC’s Matt Brown and former Tigers Coach Norm Stewart, instrumental in starting the awareness raising organization.

Self and Anderson were part of the group that made Kansas State the top choice. Coaches can’t vote for their own squads and Martin believes this one has a chance to be as good as last year’s breakthrough team that finished 29-8 and reached the regional final for the first time since 1988.

“Our goal has been to win the Big 12 since the day we arrived on campus,” said Martin. “You’re not going to do that hiding behind doors. We’re not going to run away and hide because of the expectations.”

Three of the top four scorers, a group led by guard Jacob Pullen, return. Pullen averaged 19.3 points and is turning up on preseason All-America teams.

Also back are front liners Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels, who combined to average 22.5 points and 11.1 rebounds.

Returning in the playing rotation are guards Rodney McGruder, Nick Russell and Martavious Irving along with forward Wally Judge and center Jordan Henriquez-Roberts. The newcomer class includes freshman small forward Nino Williams of Leavenworth.

But the losses are significant, starting with fleet-footed guard Denis Clemente.

“Denis was our backbone,” Martin said. “Along with (fellow seniors) Luis Colon and Chris Merriweather, they kept our locker room together. They helped Jacob Pullen grow as a player and a person.

“Now it’s their turn, Jacob’s turn and others, to take the reins and accept those responsibilities. Replacing points and assists can be done. Replacing character and courage, that’s the hard part.”

But fellow coaches believe the Wildcats can make those adjustments better than anybody in the Big 12. This is the first time K-State has been picked to win the league, and the program will be bidding for

its first conference title since taking the Big Eight in 1977.

“How much our guys embrace the responsibilities, that will determine how good we will be,” Martin said.