Jamar Samuels heard the preseason talk — that Kansas State would struggle to replace Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, and because of it, the Wildcats, who have finished in the top four of the Big 12 five straight seasons, were picked sixth in the league’s preseason poll.
“Everyone doubted this team at the beginning of the season saying we’re not going to be anything,” Samuels said Thursday night.
Just a week ago, the Wildcats were 17-8 and 6-7 in league play with road trips to the homes of two top-10 teams looming, and quite frankly, the general consensus within the media was that K-State would probably be 17-10, 6-9 in the Big 12 and fighting for their NCAA-tournament life.
To put it bluntly, all of the talk was annoying to Samuels.
“You can’t count a team out,” he said. “This is a hell of a team, probably one of the toughest teams I’ve ever played on.”
Most people around the country who watch the Wildcats speak of that physical toughness, and that’s certainly a quality Martin’s squads have possessed. But the mental toughness this team has shown may be its most important character trait.
“Even though we lost some hard-fought games, the willingness to stay the course, to maintain what we’re trying to build, who we are, and to not lose confidence, that’s what I’m the proudest of,” K-State coach Frank Martin said.
Because of that, K-State was able to go on the road and beat a Baylor team ranked No. 9 at the time, and followed it up with a 10-point win over No. 3 Missouri on Tuesday night.
“Sometimes, including me, we all get wrapped up on the score of the game rather than everything that goes into that,” Martin said. “You can’t control the score of games, but you can control who you are everyday. I couldn’t be prouder of how our guys have maintained that focus even though we’ve come on the short end of the stick on the scores of some close games.
“To go out and play two of the top-five teams in the country in my opinion on their courts and figure out a way to win — that doesn’t get us a parade, doesn’t get us what we want — we didn’t come in here and celebrate today. But as a coach I’m extremely proud that these young kids continue to believe.”
And once again, the Wildcats have proven to be solid in the month of February. After winning 14 of their 15 games over the last two seasons during the month, K-State is currently 4-2 in the shortest month of the year.
“We focus for this time of year, that’s what we prepare for,” Martin said. “We don’t deviate from our mission in November and December. There’s sometimes in November and December that I have to do certain things to get this team as prepared as we can to be rock solid at this time of year.
“I don’t overlook those things to take a shortcut — to allow certain things to take place where it can hurt us now. We’ve got to do some things, sometimes early in the year, that I don’t want to do to make sure we create the mindset to be rock solid this time of year.
“That’s how we do it. It’s just the way I’ve done it for 16 years (as a head coach) in high school and the five years I’ve been the head coach here. And usually at this time of the year our teams are pretty good.”
This squad is no different, and right now, there’s a strong sense of confidence coming out of Bramlage Coliseum.
“We know that we have a lot of tough battles ahead of us,” freshman Thomas Gipson said. “But we know if we remain together there is nothing that can stop us.”
And after these last two victories, the Wildcats may have put a stop to the doubters.
“It feels good to prove the world wrong,” Samuels said.
IOWA STATE (20-8, 10-5)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G —Chris Allen Sr. 6-3 12.5 2.3
G — Chris Babb Jr. 6-5 8.4 4.3
G — S.Christopherson Sr. 6-3 11.5 3.0
F — Melvin Ejim So. 6-6 9.3 6.6
F — Royce White So. 6-8 12.9 9.1
KANSAS STATE (19-8, 8-7)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G —Will Spradling So. 6-2 10.1 2.3
G — Angel Rodriguez Fr. 5-11 7.7 2.4
G — Rodney McGruder Jr. 6-4 14.9 5.3
F — Jamar Samuels Sr. 6-7 10.0 6.5
F — Thomas Gipson Fr. 6-7 8.1 5.2