Kansas State coach Frank Martin has deep roots in Florida

Kansas State coach Frank Martin talks to the media at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. (March 17, 2010).
Kansas State coach Frank Martin talks to the media at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. (March 17, 2010). The Wichita Eagle

SUNRISE, Fla. —If Frank Martin could choose one place to eat while he is in south Florida this weekend, it would not be a famous bistro or an iconic seaside eatery.

He would rather keep his dining options simple.

"I'd want to eat my mom's cooking, to be honest with you," Martin said. "That's what I grew up eating when I lived down there. I didn't make the salary I make now. I wasn't at restaurants every other day."

Indeed, things were a lot different for Martin, Kansas State's basketball coach, when he called Miami home. Back then, he worked at a Dairy Queen and spent time as a bouncer at a disco club. He lived within walking distance of the Orange Bowl, and became a successful high school coach and math teacher before moving away in his early 30s.

Much of his family still lives there today, and he bumps into old friends every time he visits. He may have become a millionaire more than a thousand miles away, but Martin will always cherish south Florida.

Simply talking about palm trees and Cuban food is enough to bring a smile to his face. So it's hard to imagine what runs through the man's head when he thinks about coaching the Wildcats today against the Florida Gators at BankAtlantic Center in the first game of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic.

It will be his first time in south Florida with K-State, and there is sure to be a strong number of fans who show up solely to watch him stomp up and down the sideline.

It is a humbling thought to be sure. But when Martin is asked about all that, he downplays the situation and says he is preparing for this game the same way he does all the others. He is trying not to get caught up in the phone calls asking for tickets, and will do his best to keep his focus on basketball rather than his homecoming.

That may sound like a difficult task, but he's not worried. Even if he was headed to south Florida purely for recreation, he would try to keep his plans simple.

"I love the ocean," Martin said. "Just listening to the ocean, smelling the ocean, it gives me peace. I miss that. I would probably end up on the ocean somewhere and spend some time with my family and then have some kind of get-together."

Martin may enjoy the largest get-together of his life today. He can be as coy as he wants about the number of well-wishers he expects, but there is no denying that the final number will be large.

Art Alvarez, who coached former K-State players Denis Clemente and Luis Colon at the AAU level and is one of Martin's oldest Miami friends, estimates that his fan club will surpass 500.

"That's what I've been told to expect," Alvarez said. "People have been following his career since he was young and have continued following him all around the country. He has a lot of friends and fans here. He will get a warm welcome back."

Many in that group will have to drive 40 minutes north of Miami to take in the game, but that's no problem. Most of his friends would drive four hours to support him.

"He's famous," Colon said. "Down there, everybody knows about Frank."

His reputation in Florida greatly contributed to junior forward Freddy Asprilla, who lived in Miami during high school and started his college career at Florida International, deciding to transfer to K-State.

"He's really big," Asprilla said. "He's a Cuban guy, a Miami guy, and now he's coaching one of the best teams in the country. People down there are really excited for this game, and to see Frank."

Martin's name still resonates in the community not only because of where he came from, but for what he has accomplished.

He rose from humble beginnings and coached Miami Senior High to three state championships, one of which was wiped away because of a cheating scandal.

He moved on to the college level, and climbed up the ladder from assistant coach at Northeastern to head coach at Kansas State. He worked with Michael Beasley for a season and took the Wildcats to the Elite Eight last year.

Now he returns to his home at the helm of the nation's sixth-ranked team. There's nothing simple about that.

"He has lived a rags-to-riches story," Alvarez said. "He literally went from nothing to what he has now. It's a beautiful story."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle