Leading Questions

11 Dec

The Wildcats won on Sunday, but to continue to win, the leadership on the team has to get better, coach Frank Martin said.

If it doesn’t?

“We’ll be a very average team.”

At the postgame press conference after an overtime victory over North Florida, Martin spent a significant amount of time talking about leadership from past players … and not a whole lot discussing the leadership of this 2011-12 team.

First of all, he talked about Jacob Pullen. Even though Martin and the other coaches had to get him out of the spoiled, baby-of-the-family mode he was in when he came to the program, he was willing to work and do what was asked of him. Also, he put an emphasis on preparation and attention to detail. However, his leadership was not quite the same as that of guys a year older than him.

“Last year when [Jacob] struggled with leadership, he wanted to be friends with guys off the court, which is great, but when guys didn’t do what they were supposed to do on the floor, he wouldn’t step up and demand that they do it differently,” Martin said. “Luis Colon, Denis Clemente, those guys, they stepped up. If you didn’t respect what we were asking you to do on the floor, or the culture that we had as a program,  they weren’t going to waste any time or mince any words to get you to do things right. Merriewether, same way.”

Martin acknowledges that there is no magic formula that can create that kind of accountability at the beginning of a season. Part of the reason Kansas State went to the Elite Eight in 2010 was that the previous year the team had to go through leadership struggles and miss out on the NCAA tournament. That transformation happened, Martin said, because of the leadership of Clemente, Colon and Merriewether.

“Those guys said, ‘Man, we’ve worked too hard in our lives to get somewhere with this basketball, and to build a culture around here. This is not happening,’” Martin recalled. “Well, that team dealt with it that year, and at the end of the year, we weren’t quite good enough to go to the NCAA tournament, but then what happened the following year? That culture was in that locker room. That lack of respect for who we were, we didn’t have to worry about that.”

That early stage of development – where no one has quite put his foot down and demanded a certain standard – is where this year’s team is now, to hear Martin tell it. He is optimistic, though, saying that the team has good guys in the locker room and that he needs to help them learn how to grow in those leadership roles.

Still, Martin issued a bit of an ultimatum, albeit a reasonable one.

“There’s two words that need to take place, and I just shared this with them in the locker room,” Martin said. “Honesty and loyalty, and if you don’t have those two words in your vocabulary, you can’t lead, and you can’t follow.”

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