Big 12 Spotlight 02-27-08 ( .PDF )
When Kansas State and Nebraska met last week in Lincoln, Neb., a rare situation presented itself: Bill Walker rode the pine for the final 9:33.
The KSU standout freshman didn't foul out. Coach Frank Martin just left Walker on the bench as a spectator. K-State ended up losing at Nebraska, which was second-to-last in the Big 12 Conference standings at the time.
Martin deserves credit for making the proper decision to bench Walker. That's precisely where the freshman belonged on Feb. 20.
Had Walker played the final 9:33 the way he played before making his way to the sideline, Nebraska still would have won.
Walker simply looked uninterested on the floor.
Martin called the Wildcats' defensive performance the worst he had seen at any level in his 23 years as a coach. Kansas State played poor team defense, and Walker did nothing to help.
During a possession in the second half, Walker was in position near the basket to play help defense. The Nebraska guard beat his defender and had a path to the basket. Walker had plenty of time to slide over and play help defense, but instead watched the Huskers guard lay the ball in for an easy bucket.
Walker was in foul trouble, but there's no reason to be watching Nebraska players coast in the lane like it's a layup line in pre-game warmups.
Walker brought Martin's decision upon himself. With 9:38 remaining, Walker picked up a technical foul for profoundly spiking the ball after he converted a layup. Five seconds later, Martin put Walker on the bench, where he remained until NU fans stormed the court.
It was the right call, regardless of the outcome.
Before the season, question marks about Martin leading the Wildcats were well-documented. He had been an assistant coach everywhere else: Northeastern, Cincinnati and Kansas State. Martin was never a head coach at the Division I level.
Martin can't make the skeptics go away overnight, but he made a statement by benching Walker.
The message? No moping around on defense. Play with pride and a purpose, or don't play at all.
It's unclear how Walker has responded since the benching. He scored 31 points the following game against Baylor, then had a miserable Monday night against Texas with one point on 0-of-14 shooting.
K-State hasn't made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years. The Wildcats haven't won the conference tournament since 1980. KSU hasn't won the regular season title since the 1976-1977 season.
These facts won't change unless Martin bestows some discipline on the KSU sideline.
He's off to a respectable start.