So far in Frank Martin's tenure at Kansas State he has helped rebuild the Wildcat program from basically an afterthought in the Big 12 to a perennial NCAA Tournament contender. He has helped lead a team to the Elite Eight, broken KU's unbelievable winning streak in Bramlage Coliseum and given a face and attitude to the Wildcats program.
That is the good news and Wildcat fans have come to embrace Martin and vehemently defend him against his critics who mention issues like players transferring and still even his screaming and behavior during the course of ballgames. One area though where even his biggest defenders should see some fault with Martin and his staff is their lack of success in recruiting and developing big men.
If you subtract Michael Beasley, and understood that is a MAJOR subtraction, the list of K-State big men during Martin's tenure reads something like this: Luis Colon, Ron Anderson Jr., Jordan Henriquez, Freddy Asprilla, Wally Judge, Abdul Herrera, Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly. Not exactly murders row in the post for opponents too fear when taking on the Wildcats.
The best of the bunch of those mentioned would probably be Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly but even those players have caused K-State basketball fans the most frustration. After coming in as a transfer from UConn, Kelly was one of the key players on an Elite Eight squad and entered his senior year as an All-Big 12 preseason choice. Unfortunately he dealt with an offcourt issue and on the court he just never reached the expectation levels that were put on him. Even though he in no way could be considered a bust his short career at K-State left more to be desired.
With Samuels you have an athletic player who as a freshman averaged a respectable 8.3 points a game and then increased that total to 11.0 in his sophomore season where he won the Big 12's sixth man of the year award. Towards the end of his sophomore season it looked like maybe Samuels was finally harnessing his abilities as he exploded for 27 points in the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma State and followed that up with a solid 14 point outing against KU in the tournament finale. Just when the expectations were raised he went out in the NCAA Tournament and scored a total of 17 points in four games with 14 of those points coming in one game.
And that is the problem with Samuels as he has never turned into a consistent performer who can be counted on a daily basis by the KSU coaches or his teammates. Even in this his senior season he was suspended by Frank Martin for the first two games of the year and this was after coming off an offseason where he talked about getting stronger and wanting to atone for a disappointing junior season where his scoring total dropped back down to 8.5 ppg despite averaging more minutes. This year it looked like Samuels might have turned the corner to some degree as he scored in double figures in seven straight games at one point but in the Wildcats previous four contests prior to Texas Tech he has only scored in double figures once and in one of those games he did not register a single point. He might go down in K-State history as the single most frustrating four year player of all time and even though he has been productive it seems that Martin and his staff have not fully gotten everything out of his abilities.
Maybe the most high profile big man failure during Martin's time at KSU is that of former big time recruit Wally Judge who came to Manhattan amid much hype. His ability to wow crowds with pre-game and off-season dunk exhibitions just never translated to production on the basketball court for K-State. Somewhat similar to Samuels in the fact that fans would see glimpses of what he could be but then just as quickly he would regress back to looking lost on the court and finding himself in Martin's doghouse for extended stretches. After two subpar seasons along with some strange circumstances regarding Judge's status on the team last year he decided to transfer to Rutgers.
Before last season much hype surrounded transfer Freddy Asprilla who at one point was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2009. After watching him in his one half-season in Manhattan it left many fans wondering just how bad the freshman class was in the Sun Belt that year as Asprilla averaged only 4.9 points a game for K-State. His one and only double digit scoring effort as a Wildcat came against Division II Emporia State. The question has to be asked how Martin and his fellow coaches could so badly misjudge not only Asprilla's talent level but also his attitude. At least with Judge it was apparent to everyone that there was and still is a high amount of raw talent but that definitely was not the case when watching Asprilla. It was widely speculated that both Judge and Asprilla did not respond well to Martin's coaching methods and both finally decided to leave instead of pushing through.
Another big man who transferred out of the program was Ron Anderson, Jr who played for Martin in the 2007-2008 & 2008-2009 seasons where he averaged 3.3 and 5.2 points per game respectively mostly in a reserve role. While only playing two years in Manhattan, for those that can remember he is another player who did not seem to improve much from his freshman to sophomore season, usually the time frame when college players experience the most growth.
The main area where Martin seems to be very consistent with his big men in the past couple of years is suspensions. This year he has had to suspend both Samuels and Jordan Henriquez while last season it was Kelly, Asprilla and Judge who all were sit down at some point in the season. With Henriquez the suspension this year seems to have stalled the progress that had been made with him.
After entering K-State as an extremely raw player it looked like Henriquez was finally starting to make some strides but then he was suspended and his playing time has been sporadic at best lately. In the Wildcats last two games before Texas Tech he did not register a single point and he looks to be spiraling towards the fate of being another somewhat failed big man recruit under Martin.
What makes the lack of big man production at K-State so glaring is the progress seen right down the road in Lawrence. It seems that Bill Self and particularly Danny Manning have the knack to take almost any post player and eventually turn him into a good to great Big 12 player. Even further down the road in Columbia the Missouri Tigers only play two big guys but one of them happens to be leading the nation in field goal percentage.
There is some hope for Wildcat fans moving forward though as freshman power forward Thomas Gipson has shown flashes this year of being a very good player in the Big 12 for years to come. Though not blessed with excellent athleticism he looks like the type of player who could really excel if taught some crafty post moves. His progress will be a great case study of how well Martin and his staff have improved in their development of big men.
Next year the Wildcats will welcome in a four star center in Robert Upshaw who is rated as the No. 8 high school center prospect and the No. 43 overall recruit in the country. K-State fans had better hope there is some combination of better coaching from the staff or a tougher attitude from Upshaw than what occurred with previous recruits like Judge & Asprilla.
So while Martin and his staff have seemingly done a poor job of developing big men, it is a good sign they are not stopping in their pursuit of size. A quick glance of next year's potential roster shows a chance of the Wildcats having four seven-footers. Hopefully for K-State fans the coaching staff will have learned from the past and won't repeat their mistakes.