It was a year ago that the preseason perception was that the men of Frank Martin would be good … very good, but in all likelihood, not "Elite Eight" good.
But the Wildcats smiled and laughed their way, and used the "Fear The Beard" of Jacob Pullen, to a school-record 29 victories, which included 11 in Big 12 victories, which placed them second.
Now with a Big 12 No. 1, and national No. 3, target decorating those purple and white jerseys, will the Wildcats feel the pressure? Will they play as loosey-goosey as a year ago when they were a hunter instead of the hunted?
First, fourth-year coach Frank Martin will tell you, "Pressure is when nobody thinks you're any good. It's then that nobody holds anybody accountable in your own organization."
Of being No. 1 in the league and No. 3 in the nation, he says, "These expectations are a positive. Now everybody takes pride in all of the work that has taken place over the last four years. Every sacrifice that every young man has made to make themselves better, that gives them all an added incentive in a positive way to continue to do their jobs.
"Will we be perfect? No, but that does not mean that we will not prepare everyday to win every game."
But it is fair to wonder if the team will lose that identity of a "fun" gang with the added expectations?
Quick with the answer, Martin said, "I'm not going to change, so why would they change." Unofficially the season has begun with a win over Newman in Bramlage Coliseum Tuesday evening. The Wildcats play a second exhibition game Sunday afternoon at 2:30 against Washburn University.
Martin's not a bit bashful in saying that this team "by far from a physical standpoint" is the most talented team top to bottom that K-State has had during his K-State years.
"We're bigger, longer and more skilled athletically," he said.
"But now some of the younger guys need to embrace roles of more leadership and take on more responsibility. The faster they grow into handling those situations, the better we will become. If they don't have the desire and fight as last year, then we won't be as good."
For now, Jacob Pullen will play the point guard, while Martin says there is a "plethora" of candidates for the second guard spot, which he adds, "… is a good problem to have."
Of Pullen playing the point, Martin said, "Just from a maturity standpoint and an understanding standpoint, Jacob is the one most prepared to do the job, but Will (Spradling) is going to be a good one, Nick (Russell) can play the point, Martavious (Irving) can play, and Juevol Myles will be a good one, so we have plenty of heads and faces to man the position."
Martin added of Pullen, "He's far superior to last year. He has a total understanding of the game, is a better shooter and a stronger athlete. The more you understand the game, the slower the game is. You see things happen before they take place. Jacob is getting to that point." The second guard will also be a continuous rotation with Pullen, Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell.
Candidates for the small-forward spot will be Jamar Samuels, who Martin calls a "hybrid-forward," plus Victor Ojeleye and Nino Williams. Inside, Martin says, "We have a slew of them, which you have to have to compete for a Big 12 championship."
"Curtis is really shooting the ball well and continues to get in better physical condition, and Jordan has taken a tremendous step forward," Martin said.
Overall, Martin said of the 2010-11 cast, "We're more versatile, we have more depth, and we have more size at the guard, which will give us the ability to do a few more things defensively."
Freddy Asprilla, 6-10, Jr, Villavicencio, Columbia
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, 7-0, Soph, Port Chester, N.Y.
Martavious Irving, 6-1, Soph, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Wally Judge, 6-9, Soph, Washington, D.C.
Curtis Kelly, 6-8, Sr, Bronx, N.Y.
Rodney McGruder, 6-4, Soph, Washington, D.C.
Juevol Myles, 6-1, Ajax, Ontario
** Victor Ojeleye, 6-6, Jr, Ottawa, Kan.
** Devon Peterson, 6-3, Jr, Brooklyn, N.Y.
** Alex Potuzak, 6-9, Fr, Clyde, Kan.
Jacob Pullen, 6-0, Sr, Maywood, Ill.
Nick Russell, 6-4, Soph, Duncanville, Texas
Jamar Samuels, 6-7, Jr, Washington, D.C.
Shane Southwell, 6-6, Fr, Harlem, N.Y.
Will Spradling, 6-3, Fr, Overland Park, Kan.
Nino Williams, 6-5, Fr, St. Louis, Mo.