MANHATTAN — As a group of reporters gathered around him inside Bramlage Coliseum this week, Curtis Kelly leaned against a wall and prepared for a quick interview session.
But when he discovered the topic of the day centered on how he has quietly put together one of the best shot-blocking campaigns in Kansas State history, Kelly was the one asking all the questions.
"I don't know where I rank at shot blocking," the 6-foot-8 junior forward said. "I think I've been doing pretty good, but I don't know. Where am I at?"
Funny he should ask. Kelly is closing in on the single-season Wildcats record for blocked shots set by Gerald Eaker in 1996.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Really?" Kelly asked, his face lighting up. "For a season? How many blocks I need to break the record?"
That would be nine. Kelly has swatted 51 shots and is trailing only Michael Beasley's 54 blocks and Eaker's 59 on the single-season countdown.
"I've got three more games to go to get that then," Kelly exclaimed. "Wow. That's a big accomplishment. Why you never tell me that? In the history of K-State, I could be the leading shot blocker. I wonder how many other records I'm close to breaking."
At the moment, that would be none. But with another strong effort as a senior, he will have a chance to pass Manny Dies' record of 121 on the career blocks list.
And to think Kelly has gone about his business so quietly that not even he knew how good he was doing.
"That's just who he is," senior Luis Colon said. "I didn't know that either. He just gets to the ball, gets blocks and keeps on playing."
Indeed, Kelly does not make a big deal out of his blocks. He has no signature celebration, and often times seems more interested in other phases of the game.
And make no mistake, he takes great pride in playing defense.
"When I block a lot of shots, I'm impacting the game," Kelly said. "I'm making those little guys wary about going into the lane so much."
Kelly's long arms have certainly put opposing guards on notice, and greatly helped K-State's defense as a whole.
Martin said he has switched his traditional practice routine, which calls for 75 percent of practice time to be spent on defensive drills. As the season has gone on and he's seen consistent efforts on that side of the ball, he now spends the majority of practice running offensive drills.
"That's part of the added dimension we haven't had the last two years," Martin said.
A year ago, when the Wildcats lacked a shot-blocking presence inside, it was difficult for Martin to run his pressure defense. It is a system designed on tightly defending guards on the perimeter, which leaves K-State susceptible to the occasional easy basket when those guards are beaten off the dribble.
But this season, guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente have enjoyed more defensive freedom. If they make a mistake, all is not lost.
They have a record-chasing shot-blocker behind them.
"A lot of people put their heads down and say, 'All we've got to do is get past Jake or Denis,' " Pullen said, "but they don't realize they're running into a tree down there."