Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that the K-State basketball posters seem to represent the seasons they accompany. Not as strong of a point as it is solely judgmental on my part, but I like playing with the idea nonetheless. Any additional comments would be welcome.
My freshman year at K-State, 200-6-07, marked the first year that I even owned a K-State basketball poster. I couldn’t find a picture of it anywhere to post in this article, but what it basically was, was a dark poster with half the face of our coach lit up. That coach was Bob Huggins and there were mixed feelings about him being in Manhattan at all – thus the half of a face. His eye was purple in the poster, showing he was interested in and liked K-State, both of which I strongly believe. However, he wasn’t invested in K-State, as the end of the season proved. The bottom of the poster read "Welcome to Huggieville" - a play on words on Huggins and Aggieville, Manhattan's beloved bar district. Maybe that should have told us something too. That year, Huggins transformed a ragtag team of players that had never been better than 6-10 in the Big 12 into a legitimate threat to many teams, beating Texas on the road (we did fortunately “own Texas” that year) and gaining a bye in the Big 12 tournament. Despite these successes, K-State was still viewed as a bubble team by many and failed to make the NCAA tournament, accepting a bid to play in the NIT instead. As the poster suggests, it was about Huggins after all, and no one knew a soul on K-State’s actual team (though Cartier Martin, David Hoskins, and Lance Harris were all a joy to watch for many K-State fans). The lasting image of the poster, however, is the fact that Huggins left for West Virginia that year, leaving K-State in a seemingly even more flux position than it had been. The image that follows was what happened to most of these posters and is probably a good reason why I can’t find a picture of a single one.
The next year, 2007-08, was all about two guys: Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, both of whom were on the poster.
Though they were in the center of the poster, the rest of the team was on there as well. And that’s the reason that despite having the best player in the country in Beasley the Wildcats could do no better than 10-6 in the Big 12 and an 11 seed in the NCAA tournament. The rest of that team essentially contributed nothing, highlighted by a game against Baylor in which Beasley scored 44 points and Walker 31 and K-State still lost to the Bears. Walker was even at times absent, as K-State had a big game at home against Texas in which he didn’t make a single basket, finishing with one point. The players are all lined up on the poster, making all their own moves, and that’s exactly how they played out the season, never really working together as a team. Beasley was still great, and brought K-State its first win in Bramlage against KU and its first NCAA tournament win in over ten years, but ultimately the Wildcats were left with wanting more from such a sensational talent.
2008-09 was another unknown year for the Wildcats, and that’s exactly what the poster reflects.
We knew Frank Martin was a decent coach, having proved that from the year before, but we didn’t know what talent we really had left after Beasley and Walker left for the NBA and Clent Stewart, David Hoskins, and Blake Young graduated. There were newcomers no one had heard of (Buchi Awaji, Denis Clemente, Jamar Samuels, Victor Ojeleye) and there were freshmen who showed signs of talent from the year before but no one could be certain as to what their future held (Jacob Pullen, Dominique Sutton, Ron Anderson, Fred Brown). All that was reflected in the simple huddle of a cohesive team on the poster. Purple background, hands raised in the air. Maybe they didn’t have a tremendous amount of talent, but they proved to be a cohesive team and battled to a 9-7 Big 12 record, with a win at Texas in which Clemente tied Beasley’s Big 12 record 44 points and the Wildcats earned themselves a bye in the Big 12 tournament. This lack of talent and big name players once again turned K-State into a bubble NCAA tournament team and they went back to the NIT. The future loomed brightly.
The 2009-10 poster was cool, pure and simple.
A black background with five focused faces ready for a grueling season. All of the above describes this squad. Clemente was their leader, as he is on the poster, and newcomer Curtis Kelly in the back helped Sutton, Pullen, and Samuels lead a team that was considered by many a Final Four contender. They swept through the non-conference season with only one loss and continued their momentum into the Big 12, posting a record of 11-5 and making it to the Big 12 Championship game where they once again lost to KU. They made it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to the eventual National Runner-Up Butler Bulldogs. They were just great and played some great games. K-State fans were happy for once with basketball and loved every minute of it. I was so grateful for that season, and it was all about those five guys on that poster, really. Others contributed but the five of them made it go, especially Clemente.
And now we come to this season. I should have known by the poster.
It’s a joke, all a big joke. Pullen and Kelly looking ridiculous as they burst through white paper and try to show how fierce they are. And imagine that, Pullen and Kelly do look ridiculous this year. Pullen has struggled finding his groove and a consistent guard to play with him as Denis did. Rodney McGruder is the best option he has, and even he struggles at times with ball handling and even shooting. It was as if the athletic department forgot to make a poster and at the last minute drew one up. This year’s team has forgotten to show up at times as well, with Kelly and Pullen actually not showing up to several games because of suspensions. They are the only two players on the poster. They are the only two seniors on the team. We need them to step up their basketball skills, their leadership skills. And instead they look ridiculous. This of course isn’t to say that they can’t turn this season around and somehow make the NCAA tournament. But with a record of 13-6, 1-3 in the Big 12 with some tough games coming up, it’s not looking likely. I hope I’m wrong. But if the past posters teach us anything, I may not be…
Sorry for the depressing ending. Maybe the athletic department will take this all into consideration in the coming years when they draw up their basketball posters. But I doubt it. Instead, lets enjoy the fact that once we did have a great basketball team and that the 2009-10 season was a blast that none of us will ever forget. And I’ll always have the poster to remind me.