Martavious Irving might be most synonymous with two things for Kansas State fans — dancing and defense.
But the soft-spoken senior guard is about more than that. In his time at K-State, Irving has been a leader, a mentor and a brother.
When former K-State coach Frank Martin first started recruiting Irving five years ago at Boyd Anderson High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he was getting serious attention from Saint Louis, Georgia and Central Florida.
Irving said he was drawn to the atmosphere that Martin was creating. And the idea of playing for one of the hottest schools in the country.
“I wanted to play at the highest level,” he said. “Frank and coach (Brad) Underwood came down for one of my games, talked to me, I talked to my mom and I just felt comfortable.”
Senior center Jordan Henriquez remembers the first time he met Irving on a visit to Manhattan during their senior years of high school. When they first played together, he said the difference was like night and day.
“Five years ago when we came on our visit, he wouldn’t even say a word to me,” he said. “He has one image on the court and a totally different image off the court. When he goes on the court, he turns it up and he’s vocal.”
Irving said he was like most freshman in their first season, wanting to come in and be one of the best players on the team. But in front of him were players like Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen.
The senior said Martin told him he could have a chance to get on the floor if he started defending as hard as he possibly could. And it worked.
By the midpoint of the 2009-10 season, Irving was playing more than 10 minutes per game and building an early reputation as a lock-down defender.
But Irving would be remembered for something else that season, a fan-favorite phenomenon that became known as the “tunnel dance.”
Irving, who still participates in the pregame ritual before home games in Bramlage Coliseum, said it all started out of boredom.
“We came out and were waiting and the lady who used to signal us to come out was just staring at us,” he said. “We were waiting around so we just started dancing. We didn’t even know at first about the camera.”
Henriquez said he joined in, and it’s been a way to get the team ready to play.
“I think he does 50 percent and I do the other 50 percent —I’m banging on the door you know,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t even want to, but I know it gets the guys going. That’s why we still do it.”
Irving’s minutes and points started to rise in his sophomore season, and so too did his voice, said Henriquez.
It’s during that year that Henriquez said he and Irving started to build a bond that will make them brothers forever.
And the culprit behind him being more vocal on the court, and breaking out of his shell, was Pullen.
Irving said K-State’s all-time career points leader was the kind of guy that couldn’t be ignored. And more importantly, Pullen never ignored him.
“He’s like that one who you always looked to in the locker room,” he said. “You always heard him when he spoke. He was always talking, always laughing, he always talked very highly of this program and he continues to do it.
“To this day he still talks to me. After games, I’ll get a text message from him about what I could do, what I shouldn’t do — confidence, aggressiveness — all that.”
So when Pullen left, and freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez came in, it was natural for Irving to take up the role as the new mentor of the Wildcats’ young guards.
Rodriguez and Irving were roommates on road trips, and often spent time reading Bible passages together to prepare for games. And Rodriguez said he was always there to help him on the court too.
“When there’s somebody else with more experience than you it’s always helpful, because the less experienced you are the more mistakes you’re going to make,” he said. “That’s when you need guys like him to come in and take over.”
Irving started 14 games in his junior season, but as the year progressed, those minutes started to go to Rodriguez. And when Martin left in March and the Wildcats hired Bruce Weber as their new coach, the move to the bench became permanent.
Irving said he’s never taken it personally, knowing that keeping a positive mental state is the best thing for him, and the best thing for the team.
He said Weber defined his role very early.
“Bruce just told me if I could do what I do on the defensive end and be willing to bring that out every night, and then do some things on the offensive end that I could be a hell of a player,” he said. “That’s what I try to do every night.”
In recent weeks, Irving has shown he could be a player to lean on off the bench. He scored 10 points in three straight games, logging more than 22 minutes in each outing.
Irving said he’s the type of player that can do anything that’s asked of him, and he wants to be remembered as one of the hardest-working players K-State fans have ever watched.
There’s another thing he wants to be remembered for too, being the first team to win a league title since the Wildcats claimed the Big Eight championship in 1976-77.
It’s something the soft-spoken senior has been vocal about since October. And something he’s still speaking up about.
“It hasn’t been here — it’s been 36 years,” he said. “It’s time for a change.”