Manhattan Tempting though it may be, Frank Martin is refusing to sit back and bask in the glow.
The third-year head coach figures he’ll either ride the momentum created by one of the greatest seasons in Kansas State history, or waste it. The Wildcats won a school-record 29 games, finished higher in the Big 12 than they ever had and advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals for the first time in more than two decades.
He could be excused for taking it easy for a while.
“You get to this point, then one of two things happen,” Martin said Tuesday. “You sit around and just think, ‘Oh, this is easy.’ Then the next thing you know, I’m on the unemployment line, and the program is back to scrambling to try to make an NIT. Or you embrace the responsibility that comes with where we’re at right now, and you work harder, not less.”
In spite of a loss to Butler in the West Regional that denied them a trip to their first Final Four, Kansas State fans are still abuzz. Team records set by Martin’s hardworking, guard-oriented bunch included games played and won, victories over ranked teams, road wins, total points, blocked shots and offensive rebounds.
It’s been quite a turnaround for a program that had been wallowing in mediocrity for 20 years before Martin arrived as head coach three years ago this spring.
Martin’s first K-State team won 21 games and went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. In 2008-09, the Wildcats won 22 games and won an NIT game. Then this year, fueled by guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, the Wildcats took another step up the ladder.
All of a sudden, basketball is fun again in the Flint Hills. Football coach Bill Snyder, in whose honor the stadium is named, is no longer the absolute monarch of Manhattan.
“I told the team, we’ve taken a step forward every year,” said Martin, 43. “It’s just like me when I try to lose weight.”
He snapped his fingers.
“Those first 10 pounds come off like this. Those next 10, it’s a little harder. The 10 after that, it gets real hard. Well, the steps we’ve taken, it was easy to get to where we got two years ago. It’s a little harder last year. It got a little harder to grow to where we got this year.”