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Fortune Favors the Bold

You want bold? You can't handle f***ing bold!
You want bold? You can't handle f***ing bold!

The date was Jan. 14, 2011. Kansas State University's men's basketball team was in turmoil.

Absent suspended starter Curtis Kelly, the Wildcats just two days prior had put the finishing touches on an embarrassing 74-66 home loss to the Colorado Buffaloes.

That defeat came on the heels of a 76-62 debacle in Stillwater, Okla., that saw all four remaining frontcourt players foul out of the game.

And although the general public would not become aware of it until the next day, junior transfer Freddy Asprilla was on his way out the door, leaving that frontcourt even more empty-handed.

Plus, sophomore forward Wally Judge was teetering on the edge of a decision that would cause him, too, to leave the team in less than a month.

The Wildcats were 0-2 in conference play and staring their hardest stretch of the season in the face.

This was not K-State basketball. Something had to be done. It was time for a bold decision.

Two men deserve the lion's share of the credit for the unconventional choice to scrap an entire offensive system just three games into the Big 12 season: Assistant coach Brad Underwood, who had the idea in the first place, and head coach Frank Martin, who put his job security on the line by making the decision to do it.

Despite a relatively easy 94-60 win over hapless Texas Tech, it was clear that Asprilla's absence and Judge's ineptitude would cripple what already was a fairly dysfunctional offense.

K-State's scoring numbers were down from the previous season across the board. Senior guard Jacob Pullen was being asked to do too much, while other players just stood around and watched far too often.

The haphazard, free-flowing system that had worked so well with speedy Denis Clemente at the helm in 2009-10 now was more gunked up than a car engine in a Ford commercial with Mike Rowe.

So Underwood went to Martin with a radical idea: Implement the pinch-post offense he had run at Chipola Community College in Florida, among other coaching stops.

Nobody installs a new basketball offense in January. The time for that is October and November, when a team still is a work in progress. By January, things better be clicking or the train will go off the rails.

But K-State wasn't scoring and K-State wasn't winning. So Martin said, "Yes."

He credited the players with making it work. They never balked, he said, even though they probably had every right to look askance at him and ask if he was insane.

The bulk of the offense was installed in just a few practices. Its first test flight was not pretty. The Wildcats trailed by 15 points for most of a 75-59 loss to Missouri in Columbia and looked even more discombobulated than they had.

Then came an oh-so-close loss at Texas A&M, an ugly-as-sin win over Baylor and an utter demolition as the Cats provided Kansas forward Thomas Robinson with a cathartic release in his midseason comeback game.

Losing three of four games would be enough to make any coach second-guess such a decision, even backpedal, but not Frank Martin.

If there's one thing he has preached since the day he took this job, it's consistency and staying the course.

So the Cats persevered, and they started to understand. They started to mesh. They won two straight. Then they dropped a heart-breaker at Colorado in a game that should have served as vengeance, but delivered only woe.

But the night always is darkest just before the dawn, and when Pullen gathered the team in its Boulder locker room and stated emphatically that they were done losing, the dawn started to peek over the horizon.

On Feb. 14, 2011, exactly one month after the chain of events that led to this pinch-post adventure was set into motion, Kansas State did the unthinkable.

That Kansas team that so convincingly embarrassed the Cats on its floor, toyed with them, made them its plaything for its amusement? It walked into Bramlage Coliseum and was flattened. Destroyed. Humiliated beyond belief.

Some might say it merely was the superhuman 38-point performance delivered by Pullen, one of the two best in his career, that secured the win, but astute observers know better.

While Pullen's contributions were critical, he couldn't have done it alone.

Time and again, other Wildcats chipped in at crucial moments, whether it was Will Spradling taking a charge or Jamar Samuels forcing a Morris twin to accumulate another foul or Jordan Henriquez-Roberts hitting another long jumper or Rodney McGruder sinking another dagger.

Those contributions, at least in part, were a product of the new offensive system.

And the winning didn't stop there. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, Iowa State — all fell before the scythe Underwood had unsheathed and Martin had honed.

Thus did K-State go from 0-2 and contemplating an NIT berth to 10-6, a fifth straight Big 12 Tournament bye and its third NCAA Tournament berth in four years. Fortune truly does favor the bold.