Much of the conversation during Tuesday's Big 12 basketball coaches' summer teleconference was about the strength of the conference as a whole.
By the time Kansas State head coach Frank Martin, who has never been shy when it comes to expressing his opinion on the league's national perception, was allowed to speak, it seemed everything had already been said, but that didn't stop the Wildcat coach from once again voicing his opinion on the matter.
During his 10-minute Q&A with reporters, Martin also discussed the state of his program and the impact he hopes his incoming recruiting class will have in the season ahead.
You've had the opportunity to watch Curtis Kelly in practice for a full season. What kind of player is he and in which area has he developed most in the last year?
To answer your first question, he's a guy with a high skill level and as a tremendous understanding of the game. Then, he's a presence at the rim. He can score at the rim and he can block shots at the rim. He brings something that we weren't consistent at last year. That's exciting for us. You know, the first thing he had to do was to get re-excited about playing basketball again. He's done an unbelievable job of recommitting himself to being a Division-I athlete. He's lost somewhere in the vicinity of 25 pounds, but he's stronger. He jumps higher and he runs faster than he did when he got here. That's a credit to him for putting in all the time in the weight room.
Is this the best mixture of experience and incoming talent that you've had?
If you count my first year here with (Bob Huggins), this is my fourth year at Kansas State, and this is the best mix we've had as far as players, by far. A couple years ago, when I was going into my first year, we lost David Hoskins, who was the Big 12's leading returning scorer. That really affected us because we had seven freshmen on that roster. Last year, we were a sophomore dominant team, and the guy who ended up becoming our MVP, (junior guard Denis Clemente), had redshirted the previous year. He was a year removed from playing. So absolutely, this is the best situation we've had going into a season.
How important is this summer going to be for getting the new guys acclimated?
For us, summers are huge and they always have been. We made an unbelievable commitment to the weight room. It's just something that we do. The time we spend id the weight room is almost as valuable as the time we spend practicing. The great thing about this year is that this group of incoming players has a group of guys that have been through it for two years now to help them understand the work ethic it takes and how it all correlates to us succeeding as a basketball team. Our guys didn't really have that luxury a few years ago, but these guys have it now.
Obviously, the Big 12 is going to be loaded again. It looks like everybody is going to be really good. Do you get any sense that the league is starting to get its due nationally?
I came from the East Coast. I only knew how the national media covered East Coast schools. They are very good basketball programs over there. Because I came from there, I was not as knowledgeable about the Big 12 as I needed to be. I was only seeing the national media, which kind of only covers that neck of the basketball world. Since I've been in this league, I've been pretty consistent in my opinion that this league is as good as any I've ever been a part of. I mean, the coaches in this league ... take Rick Barnes and Bill Self. Those guys have won big everywhere they've been. I'm not a big numbers person, but when you look at seven years, we've got more non-conference wins than any other league in the country. We've had more teams in the Final Four, more teams in the Elite Eight and more teams in the Sweet 16 than any other league in the country. So I just don't understand why the national scope finds it so difficult to give the Big 12 the credit that it deserves. This is just a ridiculously difficult league to win in.
How much do the guys who played for you last year get the newcomers prepared for playing in the Big 12?
That's what it's all about. A couple years ago, it was up to coaches to tell the incoming freshman that you have to do this for this reason and this reason. Let's be honest, freshmen are six weeks removed from their high school prom and we're expecting the to understand what it takes to be a college student, a college athlete and understand what it takes to succeed in the Big 12. It had to be coaches, now the players do it. That's why we feel so much better about where we are as a program. When you get that pressure from player to player, they understand that it's more realistic.
What can we expect from Wally Judge?
Wally is an extremely talented young man. He's been blessed with tremendous athleticism and basketball ability. He's a 6-foot-9, 245-pound kid as a true freshman and he runs like the wind. He just runs, and runs and runs. He has a knack for the ball and really good hands. The good thing for Wally is that we have so many returning players that the weight of finding success isn't going to fall on his shoulders. He's going to be allowed to grow at a normal rate. He is not going to feel that burden of having to carry a program on his shoulders. The negative part to that is that we have some upperclassmen, guys that are pretty darn good, that he is going to have to come in and compete with, That's going to bring the best out of everybody. It's a great thing that you get the best of both worlds there.
So it's different than when Michael (Beasley) came in?
Absolutely. I mean, Mike and Bill were both here as college freshmen. Winning and losing fell directly on their shoulders. Even though, as a team, we understood it was about what we did as a whole, the perception was basically those two guys. When we won, they got the credit and when we didn't win, they got the burden of the responsibility for lack of success. That's not fair for freshmen to have those kinds of expectations placed on them.