Sports

Kansas State-Kansas is a game of emotions

MANHATTAN — Frank Martin can tell you exactly where he was and what he was doing when he learned the significance of the Sunflower Showdown.

The moment occurred shortly after he joined Kansas State as an assistant basketball coach. Martin came down with pancreatitis and spent two weeks in the hospital.

"I found out when I was on that hospital bed," Martin said. "My doctor wanted to know how recruiting was going and if we were going to beat KU. That kind of told me right away that's important for people right there."

Since that day, K-State and gone head to head with Kansas 10 times. With him around, the Wildcats are 1-9 against the Jayhawks — 1-6 with Martin in charge — but the celebration that followed their 2008 win at Bramlage Coliseum only reinforced what he learned from his doctor.

Fans poured onto the court and cheered long into the night. Pictures of the scene can be found today in every athletic office and dorm on campus.

Jamar Samuels remembers the party lasting an entire week.

"Don't tell anybody, but I didn't go to class the next day," Samuels said. "It was a good day. A lot of people called to say they saw me on TV, and I didn't even play. Oh man."

For the second straight season ESPN will televise the game nationally and use the Sunflower Showdown as the backdrop for "College Gameday."

Martin often allows former players such as Ernie Barrett to watch practices and speak with his team. Recently, just in case any players forgot, they have been reminded of the intense emotions that will always be associated with playing Kansas.

During his playing days from 1947-51, Barrett found great success against Kansas. Before leading the Wildcats to the national title game as a senior, Barrett went 9-2 against his in-state rival.

Decades later, it pained him to watch K-State suffer through a streak of down years and lose to Kansas 24 consecutive times at home.

"When I was playing, the rivalry with KU was everything," Barrett said. "We beat them more than they ever beat us, and it was great. We dominated games at old Ahearn Fieldhouse and sold out without any trouble. Then we went years and years without getting into the NCAA Tournament, and it was devastating to me. Up until that time we had been very, very successful.

"We built a new coliseum and everything, but we just didn't have the right administration that we needed to win with. But now we do. Unfortunately we still haven't been able to beat KU that many times."

The 2008 win may have been fun, but it made fans hungry for more.

Samuels has a story not all that different from Martin's about the moment he realized people in Kansas go crazy over the state's biggest rivalry.

While attending a basketball camp in Wichita two summers ago, he remembers a little girl — "a baby no older than 3," he says — tugging on his shorts and repeating "Beat KU" over and over.

"I didn't even know she could barely talk," Samuels said. "She didn't have any teeth her in mouth. I was like, 'Wow, they really raise their kids with that stuff around here.' "

After taking on the Jayhawks seven times, senior guard Jacob Pullen has some stories of his own. But he views the Sunflower Showdown as a rivalry based on respect.

He understands the passion of the game and the meaning of rivalry, but he was close with former KU guard Sherron Collins and enjoys playing the Jayhawks because they are consistently one of the nation's top-ranked teams.

"We really respect them," Pullen said. "It's a brother relationship to the point where we feel like we're the only team that deserves to beat up on them. If they played any other team, we'd probably cheer for them."

Barrett, like most diehard Wildcat fans, won't go that far.

"I never did like them," Barrett said. "That was the one game I wanted to win more than any other game I ever played. We should have a lot more wins against Kansas than we do. They are a darn good team, but we should beat them every single year."

Martin has been part of intense rivalries in Florida, and lived the cross-city feud of Xavier-Cincinnati. All it took for him to realize the same intensity was true in the Sunflower State was a stay in a hospital bed.

"This is pretty important," Martin said. "Here, it's the two schools in the state, and the alums don't care for one another, the fans don't care for one another, the administrations don't care for one another. We work together to protect each other, but we're two complete opposite schools, and that permeates down to everyone that is involved."

Kellis Robinett's prediction: Kansas 75, K-State 68. Both teams have struggled to maintain leads, so this game should be close the whole way. Free throws and Allen Fieldhouse will give the final edge to the Jayhawks.

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