OKLAHOMA CITY — They need to rework Frank Martin's contract as basketball coach, give him a zillion dollars and enjoy this ride.
Oh wait, the Kansas State administration just did that. Well, do it again.
The Wildcats beat Brigham Young on Saturday night to advance to their first Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament since Mitch Richmond was wearing No. 23 in 1988. Since then, Kansas State's reputation as a basketball school has taken a beating.
Bill Snyder came along and made K-State a football school that went to a lot of bowl games. I swear, I've known Wildcat fans who thought a basketball was flat.
Martin is proving to be one heck of a coach of one heck of a team that fell behind BYU 10-0, then made its move, outscoring the Cougars 41-21 the rest of the first half and riding the 34-point performance of guard Jacob Pullen. The junior made seven 3-pointers and all 11 of his free throws despite playing only 29 minutes because of foul trouble and another painful spill to the floor at the Ford Center, even worse than the one he suffered in a first- round win Thursday.
It would take a spill from the sixth floor to get Pullen out of a game, especially one being played in March. He has lived to play in this tournament, one he has watched since he was a kid growing up in Chicago.
"Frank told me I was OK," said Pullen, who writhed on the floor for a bit after colliding with a BYU player. "And I told myself I was OK."
He was, but not until he took a bit to regroup. From the look on his face and the contortions of his body, it appeared this blow might finally be the one that caused Pullen to leave a game.
"Your adrenaline is rushing, man," he said. "I look over at my teammates and they're telling me, 'Come on, come on.' I just couldn't sit there and watch us play. So regardless, man, unless something was broken or I couldn't walk, I was going to get back up and try to play."
"OK"doesn't begin to describe Pullen or his backcourt running mate Denis Clemente, who contributed 19 points and made three three- pointers. If those two stay hot, K-State is in this to win it.
Oh, and Pullen also pulled the defensive task of guarding BYU sophomore guard Jimmer Fredette, whose game is every bit as colorful as his name. Somebody called Fredette's 21 points quiet and boy, were they right. He made one three-pointer and was 5 of 13 from the field. If he hadn't gone to the free-throw line 11 times, and made 10, Fredette would have been a mouse.
Fredette, as much an acrobat as a basketball player, had scored 45, 30 and 37 in his previous three games, so Pullen figured defense was going to eat up a lot of his energy. And he goes out and puts up 34 himself.
Quite a player.
"It's an amazing feeling," Pullen said of moving on. "Like I said, it's a childhood dream. You watch basketball — I've watched it my whole life. I watched all the NCAA Tournaments since I was a kid. For me to be able to be in this position — I thank Frank all the time. It's an amazing thing that he was able to give me this opportunity."
Martin, the emotional coach, usually doesn't let the masses see his tender side. It's all shouting, screaming, gesturing and cursing.
But he took a moment after Saturday's win.
"When I saw my family in the stands — my wife, my mom, my kids, my uncle and one of my best friends who is in town — I realized that those are the people who believed in me from Day 1 and that stuck with me when I was a young coach who wanted to pursue this as a career," Martin said. "It was a great feeling."
Martin said he spent a couple of minutes sitting alone in the locker room, and even took his buzzing cell phone out of his pocket to check one of the 400 or so messages he had gotten within minutes of the win.
"It was from another one of my dear friends and his text said, 'Never seen so many people at Hooters in Miami chanting your name.'f"
Martin has made his name in college coaching this season. Earlier Saturday, he was named as one of four finalists for the Naismith National Coach of the Year along with Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Steve Alford (New Mexico) and John Calipari (Kentucky).3 comments on this story
"When the season is over," Martin said, "and whenever these kids get me off this ride, I'll separate from the whole deal and I'm sure I'll enjoy the moment. I enjoy this, don't misunderstand me."
This ride is a wild one and it's taking K-State to not- so-wild Salt Lake City, where the streets roll up early.
That's OK. K-State is going out there to play either Pittsburgh or Xavier in the Sweet 16, not to party.
"We are just going to celebrate tonight and once we get back to Manhattan, it's business again," K-State junior forward Dominique Sutton said. "We still have four more rounds to go. Round 3 is next and we're going to head out to Utah ready to go."