Salad Days

Early in my college basketball fandom, I had a tendency to be rather vocal and, shall we say, perhaps unduly critical in my "cheering." My wife would bring me back to reality: "Did you make any mistakes when you were 19 and 20 years old?"

Who, me?

Returning to my seat after fetching my wife's requisite halftime Sierra Mist during the recent K-State-Missouri game, I heard the familiar and unmistakable pulsating rythms of Vickie Sue Robinson's "Turn the Beat Around."

The Classy Cats (with some guy friends) were performing a disco number. It transported me immediately back to 1976, when I was the same age as the kids on the court -- dancers and ballers.

At that age, I thought of myself as bullet-proof. I was brimming with self-confidence and if I'm brutally honest, a little platform heels-inspired swagger (think Travolta's opening scene in Saturday Night Fever). I wasn't Tony Manero, but I sure could relate. Those were my salad days.

Denis Clemente is the fastest player in college basketball. Period. I have no doubt that everytime he crashes the lane, in his mind and in his heart, he knows he'll score. Denis is 23.

I look at Jamar Samuels and remember him slamming head-on into the freshman wall last year and how sad the poor kid looked when he was struggling. It gives me hope for Wally Judge next year. Jamar is 20. Wally's 19.

When Jacob Pullen got to Manhattan three years ago you knew right away he could develop into a scorer. Today his teammates look to him and his coaches count on him -- for a lot more than just 3-point shots. Jake is 20 years old. Twenty. Two-oh.

I think Dominique Sutton has more natural athletic ability than anyone who's ever donned the purple and white. Mike Beasley included. Yeah, I said it. But he's also harder on himself than any coach, teammate or opponent. Dom is all of 23.

Every time I see Luis Colon dribble the basketball, I hold my breath. But his desire and determination trump everything. Luis is 23. And not to digress, but Luis Colon is the epitome of K-State grit.

This basketball season has been special in so many ways but I get the biggest kick out of watching these guys grow and develop as young men. As human beings. Maybe I'm getting older.

In hindsight, Bob Huggins' one-and-done was the best thing that could have happened to K-State basketball. Without Huggy, there'd be no Frank Martin.

The intensity, the passion, the x's and o's, his respect for tradition, all of that is just gravy for what really matters. He loves his guys and drives them to succeed.

Frank's 43. In a way, these are his salad days too. He has something most people only dream about: A longshot, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to maximize his talents in his chosen profession. But that's a whole 'nother blog.

I look at these guys, smack in the middle of their salad days. I can relate to their confidence. I admire their ability. I revel in their success. I have hope for their individual futures.

Senior night's coming up. Denis, Luis and Chris Merriewether will play their last game in the Octagon of Doom.

I suspect I'll get a little misty. I'm 52.