K-State seniors put focus on Big 12 title

By Joel Jellison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Most Kansas State fans know Martavious Irving for his pregame dancing and his defensive prowess on the court.

But off the court, Irving is often quiet when surrounded by the media.

At the Big 12 men’s basketball media day in Kansas City on Wednesday, the senior guard made it clear what he wants his legacy to be.

“I want to bring (Manhattan) a championship,” he said. “I want to bring them a Big 12 championship and then I want to focus our sights on the next one, and that would be the national championship.”

Of course it won’t be an easy task for the Wildcats to accomplish, as in-state rival Kansas has won the last eight regular season titles, and has often won the league tournament crown too.

The last time the Wildcats had a chance to win the title, K-State’s three seniors were freshmen on a stacked team that would go all the way to the Elite 8. But in the championship game of the tournament, the Wildcats were defeated 72-64 by the Jayhawks.

Henriquez said he feels like winning a league championship would cement his legacy at K-State. It also seems to be a piece of unfinished business from the 2009-10 season.

“It’s so important, I’m hungry for it,” he said. “I’ve seen guys in the past get close. We were close my freshman year with Jacob (Pullen), and Curtis (Kelly) and Jamar (Samuels) and Denis (Clemente) and Dom (Sutton). We all played for that Big 12 title and came up short. We want to be out there on the floor to contend for a title.”

But again, it comes down to breaking a streak that seems impossible to stop. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said he wants to be the first team without Kansas on the front of its uniform to win the league.

Baylor has a team stacked with athletic talent, and Oklahoma State and Texas have the kind of talent to make some noise this season too.

But what would it mean to Rodney McGruder if K-State could be the team to do it?

“I would love it,” he said. “That would mean so much for me, not only for my teammates, but for the K-State nation. The fans would love it.”

Henriquez said coach Bruce Weber talks with them often about competing for the Big 12 title, saying championships build character.

Weber is tasked with competing against the coach he followed up at Illinois in Kansas coach Bill Self.

“It was difficult to follow him,” he said. “He did a tremendous job at Illinois, the kids liked him, the fans liked him, and I had to get them sold that, hey, we’ll be okay. Bill was truly missed there when he left. But we kind of got our own thing going.

“It’s obviously a rivalry, but we hope we can compete and have a chance to really get them worried about us also. He’s done a great job, and hopefully we can compete with them.”

The Jayhawks were picked to win the conference for the 11th time last week, despite losing several key players to the NBA.

Self said winning eight straight titles has very little to do with him. And he says there is always a drive each season to not be the team to break the streak.

“It’s not a reflection of anything I’ve done, it’s a reflection of having good players, period,” he said. “We’ve had some hard-rocking guys come through there and some guys that have developed over time and played at a really high level.

“But it’s a great sense of pride or source of pride for us. Our players don’t want to be the team that doesn’t.”

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