Clemente, Colon Going Home

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State takes its basketball show on the road this week at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tipoff in San Juan. For a pair of Wildcats – Luis Colon and Denis Clemente -- they will be going back to their native country.

Denis Clemente and Luis Colon are saying, "These are home games for us." And, they are. The two Kansas State seniors are going home to play in their native country as the Wildcats play in the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tipoff in San Juan.

"Those two guys left their country some years ago with hopes of doing better," said KSU coach Frank Martin.

"They're now taking advantage of the opportunity basketball has brought to them. I'm sure they're both excited and motivated about playing at home."

Kansas State will open play Thursday at 6:45 against Boston University, followed by a Friday game at either 5 or 7:30 against Indiana or Ole Miss. A third game will be played on Sunday.

"I'm excited," said the Wildcat senior, who estimates 30 to 40 family members and friends will be cheering him on, which will include his grandmother, who has never seen him play.

"She was the one I grew up with," said Clemente, who has her name, Juanin, tattooed on his left shoulder.

Also in the stands will be Raquel Perez, Clemente's mother, who he moved to Miami, Fla., with at the age of 16 when he couldn't speak English when he enrolled in Calusa Prep High School.

Cracking a smile, Clemente said, "In Miami, 70 percent of the people speak Spanish, so I was home again. I didn't have to speak English."

While Clemente has been a fixture in the K-State lineup, Colon is still looking for his first action after breaking a bone in his hand in early-October. Thursday, he's expected to play.

Colon will be making his first trip back to his native country in three years. He admits, not even family members truly understand what he's accomplished at Kansas State in the previous three years.

"My mom came to Manhattan to see me and saw people waving at me and asking for autographs," said K-State's 6-foot-10, 265-pound center. "She said, ‘Wow!' She had no idea people would know me."

Along with his father, Miguel, Colon moved to Miami, Fla., at the age of 17 when he enrolled at Dr. Michael Krop High School.

"It was my only chance to better my basketball skills," said Colon, who has a career scoring average of 2.6 points, but has become an interior defensive stopper for the Wildcats.

"There are not many big men playing the game (in Puerto Rico). I had to move to get better and make the most of my game."

More of a kickboxer until the age of 15, Colon added, "Back home, basketball is a game you play in the season and then you take months off. It's not a game you really concentrated on."

Clemente averaged 15.0 points per game last year, plus led the team in assists with 112 in the Wildcats' 22-victory season. He was the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year and a second-team all-Big 12 selection.

He's a big-time hoopster, but Clemente, the second cousin to baseball hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, says he would have probably made a better shortstop.

Returning home, he says, "I might be a role model to some. A lot of people ask me how I did that (basketball accomplishments). They see me on ESPN and in magazines. I tell them hard work. Decide what you want to do, and do it."

Colon adds, "I have (Puerto Rico) friends who admire me, but others who are jealous. You just don't focus on them. The way life is, you just keep moving on and moving up. You don't focus on negative people or negative things."


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