February 11, 2008

Martin: 'It was about life'

In his first year, Kansas State head coach Frank Martin has his team ranked among the top teams in America and sitting in first place the Big 12 standings, a tremendous accomplishment for a man with less than 25 games experience as a head coach. Martin will attempt to collect the 17th victory of his young career Wednesday at Texas Tech, but the line of questioning he faced during Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference had little to do with the Wildcats' next on-court contest.

Can you talk about your decision to take the whole team to the funeral of Clent Stewart's mother?
There was no decision to make. It's the right thing to do. It's how I do things. It's the kind of respect that our players have for one another. The decision wasn't about basketball. It was about life. Basketball comes way down the totem poll when it comes to these things.

You only have one starter averaging 30 minutes. Can you talk about you substitution methods?
I believe in depth. I believe in preparing guys for the day they have to get on the court and play. It's a matter of getting guys experience. If Jacob Pullen didn't play more early in the season, once we had to deal with this tragedy, how would he have had the confidence to go on the court and help us succeed? It's what I believe in.

Is Jacob Pullen the unnoticed part of your team's success?
We felt Jacob was very talented. That's why he was a priority for us in recruiting. I think for a young man, who I think plays the most important position on the basketball court, he's been extremely productive. He's been above and beyond what I expected him to be. You also battle his youth sometimes and the understanding of how hard it is on a day-to-day basis to perform at a high level.

They say quarterbacks, shortstops and point guards are born into their positions. Is that true for Jake?
I don't know if you're born, but you learn the ability to do that at an early age. It's hard to take a 19-year old or a 20-year old, and say, 'You're going to be a point guard.' Jacob has accepted that since he was a young kid. With him, it's not a matter of whether he can do it. It's just a matter of continuing to understand how hard it is to succeed at this level. As he continues to grow and understand that, his play will continue to become more consistent and even better than what it is now.

We were talking to Texas Tech coach Pat Knight earlier, and he was saying that he will always use his dad as a sounding board to talk about games with. Do you have people like that?
It's probably a nucleus of about four or five people that I have tremendous respect for what they have to say. Obviously, (Bob Huggins)is at the top of that list in the colligate game because of who he is and what he has done for me. I talk to Andy Kennedy all the time. Then, I also talk to Ron Everhart at Duquesne University. He is a dear friend. He's been instrumental to me and my career. Then Anthony Grant, the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth. We talk about not just basketball, but life decisions. He's a boyhood friend and someone I have tremendous trust in. I know he and I still rely on Marcos Rodriguez, our high school coach, who is now back to being a high school coach in Miami.

Can you get any sense of how Coach Huggins feels about what you have been able to do so far at Kansas State?
We haven't sat around and talked about that because the season's not over. I'm sure after the season is over, and we sit down and talk about whatever level of success we are able to have here, I'm sure it will be something that he is happy with. I can tell you he takes a lot of pride in watching our games. Not just for me, but for the people of Kansas State, the administration here and the players. We all came here with a shared vision, and there is nothing that would make him happier than to see that vision go through.

With all the injuries and how he has responded, is Bill Walker as mentally tough as anyone in this league?
When you're around Bill day in and day out, the last thing you worry about is his will and his mind. The young man is going to succeed. It's going to be very hard for anything or anyone to prevent him from succeeding. He has an unbelievable passion for winning. That's what you need to have to overcome some of the things he has. His game has evolved. He's gone from a high-flyer jumper, to a guy that's playing basketball now.

He understands how to play. He is one of our better passers, if not out best passer. People don't understand what he does defensively. A lot of people want to nitpick at him and call him a bad defender. Well, whoever his matchup is doesn't ever have a very good game, and there's a reason for that. It's because he pays attention to scouting reports, takes people's strengths away from them and makes them have to score with their weaknesses.

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