Great Expectations

If you hung around Bramlage Coliseum for Frank Martin's post-game radio appearances this season, chances are you heard it.

The head coach of the Kansas State University Wildcats makes his way out of the tunnel, subtly acknowledging the scattered huzzahs from the die hards (win or lose.) About the time he reaches the scorers' table, some full-throated genius on the east side cuts loose:

"WE LOVE YA, FRANKIE!"

Uh... that'd be me. (Can you blush in a blog?)

From Section 18, Row 4, Seat 13 in the Octagon of Doom, the 2011 K-State basketball season was a microcosm of the human condition.

Adversity. Setback. Adaptation. Opportunity.

Redemption.

Come and witness your life, as performed by a dozen young athletes and their coaches in a coliseum.

We began where we left off. An overtime victory over Xavier in a game described as the best in the 2010 tournament propelled the Cats to the Elite Eight before losing to cinderella Butler.

K-State. In the Elite Eight.

The expectations heading into 2011 were over the moon. Ranked third in the pre-season polls.

In the nation.

Rarefied air in the Little Apple.

I think it was Charlie Sheen or Moammar Gadhafi or Bob Stephan who said, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

It did and it was.

In January, the expectations slowly and painfully unraveled like a discounted sweater from Dillards. We couldn't hit a free throw to save our life. Bunny shots rimmed out. Snakebit. And in a two week span, we lost four of five. 

Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly's suspensions disappointed everyone. Fans, teammates. Themselves. The departures of Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge compounded the misery.

But then something happened. 

Brad Underwood had an idea. With fewer bigs to body up and take fouls, the coaches were forced into creativity. In the middle of a basketball season, a meticulously-planned offense was chucked and everyone started over.

From scratch.

It gave youngsters Will Spradling and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts more p.t., baby. More scoring chances for Pullen and Rodney McGruder at the expense of Jamar Samuels, who looked around, sized up his new role and said, "team."

Frank knows how to play the game. Not just the x's and o's -- but the game. The fire, intensity and the stare are natural story lines for the Powerade sideline reports from national TV sportscasters.

And he knows it.

Politics, marketing and spin are essential in transitioning from oblivion to national prominence.  

K-State. On national TV 16 times in the regular season alone.

Out loud, Frank says all the right things. On message. Praising the fans, the players, his assistant coaches. 

Makes me wonder if, right before his head hits the pillow, he thinks of Jeff Capel or Pat Knight and whispers a little prayer. "There, but for the grace of Dalonte Hill, go I."

K-State basketball is gritty intensity. Lock-down defenders. Scrappy. Physical. Sandstorm.

We're the team that, more than any other in the land, takes on the persona of our coach.

So I have a man crush on Frank Martin.

____

2012 predictions
  • J.O. will buff up and provide consistent flashes of brilliance.
  • To compliment his 3-point threat, Will. I. Am. Spradling will become a ball-distributing maniac.
(Frank's best line of the season: "Six months ago, Will's only worry was pinning the corsage on his high school prom date. Now, he's matched up against grown men."

And write this one down:

  • Wally Judge will return.