April 10, 2007

K-State ready to move on without Huggins

Kansas State's players have some differing opinions about Bob Huggins' sudden departure to West Virginia.

"I found out in a team meeting in our locker room. It was very disappointing," freshman forward Bill Walker told Rivals.com. "(Coach Huggins) wouldn't tell me what was going on face to face. He didn't explain why he was leaving."

Walker has good reason to be upset. The prize recruit in Huggins' first recruiting class, Walker graduated early from high school, turned down many elite programs and gave up the first nine games of his college career (NCAA rule for enrolling in mid-October) so he could play for "Coach Huggs." Then, he tore an ACL in his seventh game, putting a sharp end to a promising freshman season.

Walker has spent the last few months focused on rehabbing his knee. The Wildcats were bringing in the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class. Plus, he thought they'd have Huggins, who worked plenty of magic in his first season in Manhattan, Kan., guiding the Wildcats to 23 wins and the brink of an NCAA Tournament bid after they failed to reach the NIT in the previous season.

Senior forward David Hoskins, the Wildcats' leading returning scorer (14.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg), sympathizes with Huggins. Hoskins has learned not to get too attached to any coach. Former K-State assistant Frank Martin, who was promoted to head coach less than 24 hours after Huggins left, will be the fifth coach Hoskins will have played for in college.

"I was a little surprised and a little upset to hear the news, but I can't really be too upset," Hoskins said. "A lot of other head coaches take other jobs, and he was given an opportunity to coach at his alma mater. He said there was no other job in the country he would take. He definitely helped us. It wasn't personal.'"

Then there's Michael Beasley. Rivals.com's No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2007 cares more about K-State assistant Dalonte Hill than Huggins or Martin. It was Hill, whom Beasley has called an older brother figure, who convinced Beasley to sign a letter-of-intent with the Wildcats. Two years ago when Hill was on the Charlotte staff Beasley was committed to the 49ers.

But, Walker, Hoskins, Beasley and most of the other Wildcats can all come to an agreement when it comes to Huggins' replacement. Each was pleased to hear that Martin, who has never been a Division I head coach, was taking over the reins.

Walker might have left K-State if the Big 12 school hadn't made an in-house hire.

"I can't be too mad (about Huggins leaving), because at the same time Coach Martin is coming in and getting a chance to showcase his skills," he said. "Before Frank got the job I was thinking about transferring. I wasn't sure I would be here. I want to help him jump-start his career. I'm happy about that."

Beasley announced he would honor his letter-of-intent soon after Martin announced he would be keeping Hill on his staff, promoting him to associate head coach.

Hoskins says all his current teammates had Martin at the top of their wish list, perhaps none more so than the veteran himself.

"Right away the team wanted Coach Martin," Hoskins said. "With my senior year coming up, I really did. I didn't want to have to adjust to a whole new system. He is the same type of guy as Huggins. Overall he is the perfect fit."

Martin's sideline demeanor probably will resemble much of what we saw out of the volatile Huggins, who was well known for his verbal outbursts during practices and games.

"I'm an emotional guy and I expect my players to be passionate as well," Martin said. "We will be striving for perfection."

The Wildcats could also be striving for a different style of play, particularly when they have possession of the ball.

"Some things will be just like Coach Huggs and others will be completely different," Martin said. "They'll be some technical differences, like how we play offense. We'll have our own flavor."

That flavor will taste a lot like Beasley. Muscular and explosive, the 6-foot-9 forward also owns a soft shooting touch and a knack for winning rebounding battles. He scored a game-high 23 points and pulled down 12 boards while earning MVP honors at the McDonald's All-American game last month.

Many are predicting Beasley will have an impact similar to that of Kevin Durant, the freshman who finished in the top 10 in the nation in scoring and rebounding and went on to collect every national player of the year trophy last season.

"He'll have to have that kind of year for us to win a national championship," said Walker, who played against Beasley and Durant several times on the AAU circuit. "He can do it. Mike can't be guarded with a small guy or a big guy. He has so much versatility."

Could a school go from the NIT to the best team in college basketball in just one season? Could adding Beasley mean that much? Martin doesn't mind the national-title talk or the questions.

"I don't see why not," said Martin, when told about Walker's brash comments. "Once you get in the NCAA Tournament it's all about matchups, some dedication and finding some luck in a bottle. The rest is history. I think we have what it takes to put that together."

Sounds like the new-look Wildcats have found something else to agree on.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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