MANHATTAN, Kan. – No one can say the risk wasn't worth it.
Hiring – and then being used – by Bob Huggins … giving jobs to AAU coaches to attract NBA players to Manhattan … casting aside standard protocol to keep them there.
On Wednesday, as fans celebrated their first home victory over Kansas in 24 years, every suspect decision the Kansas State basketball program has made the last few years seemed justified. Every move seemed worth it.
"Raise your hand if you thought we could win tonight," Wildcats forward Bill Walker said during the postgame news conference.
More than a few folks obliged.
K-State's victory over the previously unbeaten Jayhawks might have been a mild upset, but no one was exactly stunned by the final outcome, either.
No win is out of reach for a team that features two first-round draft picks, including the likely No. 1 overall selection. The bigger buzz around these parts has involved why Walker and Michael Beasley would ever enroll at K-State in the first place.
Seriously, before Wednesday's game, a video montage highlighting K-State's "tradition" played on the coliseum's JumboTron. Every player on the screen sported high socks, short shorts and a 'fro.
With no NCAA tournament appearance since 1996, Kansas State doesn't have a rich history – or at least not a recent one – to sell to high school prospects. But, for one year, it did have Huggins, who magically convinced Walker and Beasley to sign with a school located more than two hours from any major airport.
Walker played just one, injury-shortened season under Huggins before the coach bolted for West Virginia last spring. That was more than Beasley, who was still a high school senior when Huggins packed his bags and headed for Morgantown.
Huggins' departure was a massive ego jolt to the K-State fan base. For months the Wildcats had dreamed about the success Beasley and Walker could bring to Manhattan – even if it was just for one or two seasons.
Now, not only had they lost Huggins, but the future of Beasley and Walker was also in jeopardy. In the end, athletic director Tim Weiser and school president Jon Wefald did the only thing they could to keep the twosome in Manhattan.
They swallowed their pride.
Within days of the Huggins divorce, Kansas State announced that his assistant, Frank Martin, had been named head coach and that another Huggins aide, Dalonte Hill, would remain on the staff. Hill was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence early Thursday, shortly after the Wildcats' upset win over the Jayhawks.
Martin's only head coaching experience had been at the high school level in Miami, where he'd been accused of recruiting violations. Hill had coached Beasley on the AAU circuit and was one of the main reasons the star forward chose K-State in the first place.
Across the college basketball landscape, the actions of Wefald and Weiser were scoffed at and ridiculed. Hiring a high school coach for the sole purpose of keeping a pair of one-and-done superstars seemed to go against every moral standard of college athletics.
The players had the power in this situation. Not the school. Kansas State, though, seemed fine with that as long as Beasley and Walker came through with one magical season.
After Wednesday, it seems as if they'll do just that.
The Wildcats' victory over No. 2 Kansas was no fluke. This wasn't a game you can chalk up to an off night for the Jayhawks or some bad calls by the officials.
Kansas State really is that good.
Beasley and Walker don't play like a pair of selfish superstars with tunnel vision toward the NBA. Instead they're staying within the team concept, sharing the ball, running sets, playing sound defense and, for the most part, taking excellent shots.
And make no mistake: Martin deserves loads of credit for their performance.
Any coach would foam at the mouth if you told him he'd have the opportunity to lead Beasley and Walker. Still, working with players of that caliber isn't always an easy task. There are egos to manage and respect has to be earned. Sometimes kids like that just don't want to listen.
That obviously hasn't been the case under Martin, who couldn't have done a better job of coaching in Wednesday's victory. He wasn't overmatched or overwhelmed by the situation. Whether it involved subbing players at key times or calling certain plays, Martin handled the game the same way he has a team that features nine, first-year players.
After the game, in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms, Kansas coach Bill Self grabbed Martin by the wrist, looked him in the eye and said: "Good job out there tonight."
It's too early to tell if Martin will have any staying power as a college head coach. Beasley and Walker – who combined for 47 points Wednesday – will be gone after this season, and most people have doubts about whether Martin will be able to consistently compete with the likes of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma in recruiting.
Still, no matter what happens in the future, Martin is getting at least one shot at greatness, one opportunity to be remembered during a season when so many are rooting or him to fail.
So far he's making the most of it.
Wednesday he became the first Wildcats coach since 1983 to beat rival Kansas in Manhattan, and the achievements could keep coming.
No. 24 Kansas State is now the only undefeated team in Big 12 play, and things could stay that way until its March 1 rematch with the Jayhawks in Lawrence. At 20-1, Kansas is still a better, deeper team. But don't for a minute think they couldn't lose to the Wildcats on their home court.
A Big 12 title, an NCAA tournament berth and even a Final Four run. When Beasley and Walker are at their best – and with the Wildcats playing with an "us against the world" mentality – there isn't a team in the country that Kansas State can't beat.
It's a zany story, and the school took some risks to get here.
But, after what happened here Wednesday, no one can say it wasn't worth it.
- Bob Huggins
- Michael Beasley
- Bill Walker
- Frank Martin