Kansas State University

Veterans allow Martin to relax, for now

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Kansas State basketball guard Jacob Pullen uses words like "relaxed," "quiet" and "pressure-free." About Frank Martin.

That will come as a surprise to anyone who has watched Martin roam the K-State sideline the past two seasons. But Pullen insists it's true.

"If you walk into one of our practices," he said, "you can see Frank just sitting there on the sidelines for 45 minutes not saying anything."

There's nothing wrong with Martin. For the first time, he's blessed with a roster full of experience. There's no need to teach the basics in early practices anymore. He has three seniors and three juniors who can do that.

"Frank has put a lot of trust in us," said Pullen, the junior point guard. "If you look on the court, you see me screaming at a freshman. You see Chris (Merriewether) screaming at a freshman like 'You gotta do this, you gotta know that.' He really appreciates the fact that he has upperclassmen as leaders this year."

As much fun as it was for Martin to coach freshman sensations Michael Beasley and Bill Walker his first year on the job, it was equally difficult for him to let up on them.

Just because they were talented didn't mean they knew what it took to play at a high level in the Big 12. Especially when they were surrounded by seven other new players and a coaching staff replacing former coach Bob Huggins.

"Well, here we are a couple years later," Martin said Thursday at Big 12 media days. "Now we've got a core of guys that have been together. Our staff's been together.... We've got some things in place now."

Because of that, the Wildcats (22-12 last season) are picked to finish fourth in the league's preseason poll. Kansas State has never been picked higher in the Big 12, and Pullen says nothing less than the NCAA Tournament will satisfy him. Along with senior guard Denis Clemente, he is looking forward to playing with expectations.

Both are coming off impressive seasons and with the help of Luis Colon, Merriewether and Dominique Sutton — all upperclassmen — they think competition has never been better in practice.

If heralded freshmen Wally Judge, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, Martavious Irving, Rodney McGruder and Nick Russell want to earn playing time, they will have to work for it.

"It's more competitive than ever," Merriewether said. "You've got seniors and upperclassmen who are going against each other and some really good freshmen trying to earn their spot. It's very tough right now."

Martin said that all goes back to experience. Last year, he had many of the same players, but they were without leadership. That left with Beasley and Walker to the NBA.

"Last year," Martin said, "was like starting again from scratch."

This season, Martin has a solid base. He also has improved balance and depth on his roster.

That combination can make any coach calmer. Will Martin stay that way all season? Probably not. But Pullen knows what to do the first time he gets yelled at.

"If you see Frank screaming at me this year," Pullen said, "he's most likely screaming at me to scream at a freshman."