Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving won’t ever forget the Elite Eight run they were a part of as freshmen at Kansas State.
It was a special time for the Wildcats and the trio of freshmen were getting on what would turn into a four-year run of NCAA tournament appearances.
Little did they realize the Elite Eight run during the 2009-10 season would be the furthest they’d advance in the Big Dance the next two years.
“I think you can take it for granted because its what you come into, like maybe this will happen every year,” Irving said this week. “We’ve learned that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication for a team to get that far.”
Irving hopes to cap what has been a record-breaking four years with another Elite Eight appearance, or perhaps more. That freshman trio was part of the Wildcats’ first Elite Eight run since 1988 and has won a school-best 101 games in four years. Three more wins and the Wildcats are back in the Elite Eight. Six more wins and the Wildcats are celebrating the national championship.
K-State (27-7) will look to start that run Friday afternoon at 2:10 when the fourth-seeded Wildcats meet No. 13-seed La Salle (22-9) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. — televised on truTV.
The Wildcats lost to rival Kansas in the Big 12 championship game last Saturday, just as they did during the 2009-10 season, which ignited the streak of three straight wins to reach the Elite Eight in Salt Lake City.
McGruder doesn’t intend to play his last game in a Wildcat uniform any time soon.
“It just makes you go that much harder because you know this could be your last game,” he said. “You don’t want it to come that, so you just have to give it your all.
“I saw the way guys left it all on the line that season — guys like Denis (Clemente), Luis Colon and Jacob Pullen. That’s what I intend to do this year as we try to make a run.”
Henriquez agrees and sees a similar makeup in this season’s team as he did three years ago in Salt Lake City when the Wildcats defeated Xavier 101-96 in double-overtime and lost to Butler 63-56 in the NCAA West Final.
“Being part of that team was special and we know we can make that same kind of run this year,” he said. “We were a couple possessions away from going to the Final Four and we have a similar team this year with a good core of guys, upperclassmen, who are all on the same page.”
But unlike last week, Henriquez knows every game could very well be his last.
“It’s huge because it could be it — we know that,” he said. “I know us seniors will leave it all on the floor and that our guys won’t quit on us. We have all the confidence in them that they’ll work hard and not let it be our last game either.”
For Irving, the seriousness of what’s about to start Friday, really hit home late Saturday night, just a few hours after losing to the Jayhawks for the third time this season.
“It really came to my attention at 2 in the morning when Jacob texted me,” he said. “He told about that Elite Eight run, my freshman year, when they also lost to KU in the championship and we made that run. He told me it’s not impossible to do it again.
“It was a long text message and I haven’t even responded to it because I was in such awe from it. I didn’t know what to say back. I usually speak to him a lot, but when he speaks to me on that level, you know its time to go and just listen.
“He’s been there for me all my years here.”