December 22, 2010
Not long after Kansas State lost 63-59 to UNLV on Tuesday night without suspended stars Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, a fuming coach Frank Martin issued the following edict to a roomful of reporters:
"I don't want to hear anything else about leadership about anyone other than the guys on the basketball court," Martin said. "I do not want you to refer any questions again about anybody who was not dressed and in uniform here today."
Trouble is, questions about Kansas State's glaring lack of leadership are the only ones worth asking right now. What else is there to talk about with the reeling Wildcats mired in a two-game losing streak and Pullen suspended three games and Kelly indefinitely for accepting impermissible benefits during a department store shopping spree gone bad?
You can argue that most broke college kids would have taken advantage of a hook-up at a local department store, but the fact remains that upperclassmen like Pullen and Kelly should have known better and should be setting a better example. They have a responsibility to their teammates, their coaches and their university and they blew it.
Even more troubling is that the poor decisions they made are symptomatic of issues facing the Wildcats so far this season. Kelly sat out Kansas State's first three games as a result of disciplinary issues, forward Wally Judge missed a game for personal reasons and an angry Pullen lashed out at "fake" fans on Twitter earlier this month, telling them to "go cheer for somebody down the road then."
On the court, the Wildcats' immaturity is equally glaring. Their vaunted post players have been inconsistent, Pullen has yet to find his shooting touch and the entire team seems to be in dire need of a vocal leader demanding that the Wildcats don't let this promising season slip away.
Against UNLV on Tuesday night, Kansas State gave an admirable effort to keep it close. Four players scored in double figures, but it wasn't enough because the Wildcats missed 12 of 26 free throws and had six assists compared to 23 turnovers.
"Until this team doesn't find that character and that leadership, we're going to continue to flounder around," Martin said.
Kansas State began this season with aspirations of winning the Big 12 title and making it to the Final Four after the Wildcats ran out of gas against Butler in the Elite Eight a year ago.
It's still possible for them to achieve those goals, but Pullen and Kelly need to return and a leader needs to emerge.