What About Bob?
K-State is having one of its most successful seasons, thanks to Bob Huggins.
by Chris Deaton
Huggins to K-State could’ve been a fraud. It could’ve been a two-minute joyride of four- and five-star passengers. It could’ve been Britney and K-Fed—one granting the other relevancy for only as long as the marriage endured.
But Hugs never left. He did more than lend the Little Apple legitimacy—he gave the Little Apple legacy. He made the Little Apple big.
Maybe “legacy” is a bit of a stretch for a period that stretches to only ’06. But consider the program’s current direction relative to the 16 seasons before Bob Huggins’ arrival. Kansas State made only two Tournaments—it earned a 6-seed in ’93 and a 10 in ’96. Its best conference finish during that same stretch was fourth. Number of head coaches: three. Number of 20-win seasons: two. Number of ways to right the ship …
Kansas State needed a jolt at the top; a game-changer, not a program-builder. The team hadn’t been wrecked by sanctions. It wasn’t a small-conference also-ran. This was a school that had seen seven Elite Eights and four Final Fours. It produced Rolando Blackman and Mitch Richmond. Kansas State has a history—not a “storied history” or some such, but enough of a history to be regarded as one of college basketball’s top-25 programs.
A lagging Big 12 team with a tradition—sounds like a recipe for a facelift.
And that’s what Huggins provided. With him came Bill Walker, Michael Beasley, media recognition, expectations—things inherent of a winning school. Call it the “Calipari Effect;” that a coach’s very presence can generate instant success. In a conference of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, credibility is paramount.
Credibility existed despite thrashings at the hands of Cal and New Mexico. It existed despite the loss of a prized freshman to a torn ACL. It existed despite Kansas State missing the Dance—the team won 23 games in ’06-07, 10 in conference, and sold-out its gymnasium. Manhattan cared about basketball.
Bob Huggins was in that town for barely 12 months before he bolted for the hills. And yet his departure wasn’t a killer. Whereas Bob Huggins was unquestionably bigger than Kansas State basketball in March ’06—the time he took the reins—the program outgrew him in the span of a year. One man can get the ball rolling, egg on that momentum, and step aside when other actors step in.
At first, there was Hugs. Then there was a stout freshman class added to a competitive returning corps. Then came the hype and the fans. Then came the televised games and some wins. Then Kansas State basketball was snowballing.
And then came Frank Martin to make sure it didn’t stop.
He was a reputed recruiting force as a Cincinnati assistant before following his boss to Manhattan. He was said to be a key tool in maintaining continuity from the Huggins years year—said Bill Walker, “I told [university officials] that in order for me to stay, they have to hire someone who’s been here.” Martin plays the tough guy role—he has a G.I. Joe face shape, storms on the sidelines and claims to be “always on edge.”
He was a veritable stand-in for his predecessor. He was a convenient torch-bearer. And so the snowball still rolls.
This year’s Wildcats (No. 10 AP/No. 11 Coaches) are 18-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12. Only one of their top eight scorers is a senior. Rivals ranked its 2009 signing class 20th in the country. Kansas State will be around this year, they’ll be around next year—their success is blooming into a trend.
And though his Kansas State stint was brief, the school has Bob Huggins to thank for planting the seeds.