Monday, March 26, 2012

What Frank Martin Means to Me

First, to get some perspective. There are worse things in the world going on than the Frank Martin Saga. There are people who hate each other more than Frank and John Currie dislike each other. Nobody's life is going to be ruined if Frank leaves. Nobody's life is going to be ruined if he stays. No one is going to jail, going to die, or be tortured because of this decision. In the grand scheme of things, this really matters diddly.

However, most of what I read, write, and talk about matters diddly in the grand scheme of things as well. Probably even less than diddly, since it matters less what I think about this than maybe anyone else. I have never met Frank Martin and probably never will. He has no clue who I am and probably never will. We have very little in common. He is a father, basketball coach, gets paid millions of dollars, while I am none of these things. I am just getting started in my life, making little impact on those around me, while Frank matters to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, as evinced by Twitter this afternoon. Nevertheless, we do share something that matters to me (again, as insignificant as that is and as I am)- we both have loved being a part of the K-State family, and that, to me at least, means a bit more than diddly.

"About six years ago I interviewed for a job. Their average attendance was 127 people," Martin said. "There's a lot of jobs like that out there. I am blessed. I'm fortunate I got my first opportunity at such an incredible place."

When I was preparing to come to K-State, I had a high school teacher tell me we were about to experience the "Golden Years" of K-State sports - a new, young and energetic football coach (Ron Prince) and a proven, battle-tested, hard-nose basketball coach (Bob Huggins). Needless to say, neither of those worked out, but what I appreciated about Huggins, and about what we all still appreciate, was his willingness to come here in the first place, to leave it better than he found it, and to put K-State back on the map, if only for a short time. He left us with something K-Staters hadn't known in their basketball program for a long time - hope.

I had actually never experienced such a sensation when it came to K-State basketball, as I had been a K-State fan my entire life and only seen K-State beat KU once and only make the NCAA tournament when I was too small to remember. My hopes were crushed by Huggins leaving but soon revitalized by this assistant Huggins left us named Frank Martin. Unproven, but with a highly-touted recruiting class, we really didn't know what to expect. But Beasley and company gratified everyone with the greatest season for any one player in K-State history, beat KU in Bramlage for the first time ever (yes, I cried) and its first NCAA tournament win since the early 90s. The next year Beasley and Walker left and we were ready to see what Frank could do without them. An NIT bid wasn't much, but it was still more than we were used to, and then Frank really showed everyone with a NCAA tourney 2seed and an Elite Eight appearance - the first since 1988. Two years later and K-State has had two more NCAA victories, with varying degrees of success of course.

And through it all, I was there with so many K-Staters supporting, cheering, applauding, and most of all, hoping. To come back into perspective, this kind of hope is minimal compared to the hoping over hoping to get a job, hoping to find love, hoping to be successful, hoping to be happy. I had no control over this hope. Yet hope it remained. Hope that I was going to be there when K-State got back to the Final Four for the first time since the 1960s. Hope that K-State (or anyone, really) was going to finish ahead of KU in the Big XII standings. Hope that a coach would find love and peace and happiness in the same place I did - Manhattan, Kansas. Hope that maybe K-State mattered to more people than just the ones that grew up loving it like I did.

That last hope most certainly came true. During K-State's Elite Eight run, ESPN couldn't get enough of K-State and Frank's antics. Jacob Pullen, who became K-State's all-time leading scorer under Frank, kissed the court when he left Bramlage Coliseum for the last time. Frank continued to show that he wasn't just coaching these kids, he was preparing them for life, a life that would be full of future potential but also a life to remember where they came from and what made them who they were - Kansas State University.

"He came in as a freshman who thought he was the third pick of the NBA draft and he's getting ready to walk out with a college degree, as a man who is ready for life. And I don't get to coach him anymore. That's not fun." - Frank on how he had prepared Jamar Samuels, and about how he would miss him as a player.

Kansas State University, as the place my great-grandfather got a degree, the place my parents both got their degrees, as the team I rooted for as a little kid and as an adult still do, and as the place that I got my degree, matters a great deal to me. Sports matter a great deal to me, what they can do in the lives of young men and women who play and who watch. Frank Martin matters to me, for what he's done for K-State, for sports in general, for these young men he's coached, and for the HOPE that he's given all of us that things can always get better.

So no matter where Frank goes, I'll support him. He's earned that from us, for what he's done. It's his life, his decision, no one can make it save for him. Of course, I HOPE he picks one decision over the other, for whatever that's worth....

"Remember- hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." -The Shawshank Redemption

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