HUGGINS HUGE FAN OF MARTIN, ‘CATS

Kansas State vs. West Virginia; Frank Martin vs. Bob Huggins? It could happen in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament. For now, the Wildcats and Mountaineers will be trying to advance from the "Sweet 16" to the "Elite Eight."

How about this for a scenario: Kansas State (31-7) vs. West Virginia (32-6) for the NCAA Championship on April 5?

"Normally, I don't like to play friends, but something like that … that would be fun. That would be good for both of us."

The words were those of Bob Huggins, former head basketball coach of the Wildcats, and now of the Mountaineers.

This week, both clubs enter "Sweet 16" play with Kansas State playing Xavier in the West Regional in Salt Lake City, while West Virginia plays Washington in the East Regional in Syracuse, N.Y.

On K-State's record-breaking year of 28 victories, Huggins said, "Frank (Martin) has done an unbelievable job, but I knew he would. I have a great appreciation for a coach that helps you be as good as you can be."

It was Huggins who first hired Martin away from Northeastern University to be an assistant at Cincinnati in 2004, and later would bring Martin with him to K-State in 2006-07.

"I watched Frank's teams at Miami Senior High, plus knew what he did at Northeastern," Huggins said. "He had great recruiting contacts from his days in the AAU ranks and high schools in Miami."

Returning the appreciation toward Huggins, Martin said that he had several opportunities to be packaged with players for an early entry into the college coaching ranks.

"I never wanted somebody to hire me because they recruited my players," Martin said.

"The guy who gave me the break in the business to move from a school like Northeastern to the high level situation was the guy that never signed one of my players. He had a belief in me as a person and didn't try to utilize me as a pawn to benefit his career."

Martin continued that when Huggins left for West Virginia, "... he could have done what 99 percent of the other coaches do, which is take the the players. He told everybody to stay put. He convinced the K-State administration to hire me. He basically said, 'I've had my run. It's Frank's turn now.' For a human being to do that for me, there can't be a better man in this business than him."

The players did stay, and today Martin has the Wildcat program in the Sweet 16.

Huggins said of Martin, "Kids want to play for him. He can be hard on them, but at the same time he has a great connection with them. He had that as a high school coach. His kids are incredibly loyal to him. You can be hard on a kid as long as you also have a relationship with them. The coaches who have problems with kids are those who have no relationship with players." Summarizing Martin, Huggins said, "He is who he is. There's nothing fake about him."

Along with having no doubts about Martin, Huggins also had a belief this could be a special K-State season after watching the Wildcats a year ago in Las Vegas.

"Their guards are really good. Jake (Pullen) and Denis (Clemente) are really good. Curtis (Kelly) really helps them inside, and Jamar (Samuels) is playing so much better," Huggins said. "You can see where all of their guys are improving and expanding their games, which is the mark of a good coach."

Of Pullen, Huggins said, "He's good, and you can tell he really wants to be good. It's helped that Denis has taken the ball out of his hands (as a point guard), which has given Jake more freedom. And then Denis is so good at the penetrate-and-pitch game."

While Huggins is happy for Martin's success, he's equally thrilled for the people of Kansas State.

"I've always said K-State has great people from the day I got there until today. They want to win, and they want to win the right way. The support is incredible," said Huggins. "There's no place like Bramlage when you get it going. It's a lot like our place."

The 56-year-old Huggins is giving his own fans something to cheer about this year as West Virginia tied for second in the Big East Conference with a 13-5 league mark, to go along with a 27-6 overall record.

With 667 victories in his 28 years as a collegiate head coach, Huggins ranks fourth in wins among all active coaches today and is currently in his 18th NCAA Tournament.

While Frank Martin is 71-31 in his first three seasons at K-State, Huggins has coached West Virginia to a 78-39 record in reaching the NCAA Tournament in each season. This will be the third school that he has escorted to the "Dance" with the others being Akron and Cincinnati.

"We can be pretty good if we make some shots," Huggins said. "We play hard, we rebound and we play together. But we just don't shoot it as consistently as I would like."

All that sounds like this year's K-State team, but as Huggins said, "I think they have a few more weapons than we have."

Huggins did admit that there has been conversation with Martin about a K-State vs. West Virginia two-game set in Kansas City and Charleston, but nothing has been schedule.

Overall, Huggins said, "The whole thing has worked out. The hardest thing I ever had to do was leave K-State, but as it has turned out, it's been great. I came back home and have been fortunate to win, and from here, I've been able to watch what Frank has done. It's been win-win for both schools."


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