Kansas State coach Frank Martin gets a bad rep. My friends see Martin's intense-would-be-an-understatement sideline demeanor and automatically assume he's like that with the media, or after games, but he's not. All in all, he's a pretty nice guy. He handles the media politely and professionally; he doesn't try to (at least in my experience) bully or badger reporters the way some coaches (cough, Kelvin Sampson, cough) so often do.
That said ... last night was probably not the best time to attend a Frank Martin news conference. Martin just sat (and stood, and screamed) through a loss to UNLV. His two best players, Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, face separate suspensions for receiving impermissible benefits. His team, one expected to make the Final Four before the season began, is now 9-3 and looking in dire shape on the verge of league play.
Then, when a Kansas State spokesman told the media before the postgame news conference that Martin wouldn't take any questions about Pullen or Kelly, it was time to gird your loins, because news conference awkwardness was surely impending. The Topeka Clarion-Journal's Austin Meeks was there, and he copied down this transcript from last night's fun (warning: long blockquote ahead):
Reporters: Is Rodney OK?
Martin: That's part of playing sports. You get hit. You bleed a little bit.
Q. Frank, I don't want you to ... I know you said you guys wouldn't expand on the statement--
A. So why are you asking?
Q. I'm not asking you about it. How emotional--
A. I'm not speaking about people that are not here today.
Q. Did Rodney lose a tooth?
A. I got no idea. I don't know. I broke my nose three times. It's part of playing sports. He'll be all right.
Q. How do you think the guys who did play responded to being shorthanded?
A. We lost. Obviously not good enough. We're not about losing here. We're not about playing hard and coming up close and moral victories. That's not what we built our program about. We lost, so it wasn't good enough.
Q. Any hints of the leadership without those guys on the court?
A. You guys are trying to get under my skin today, aren't you? I've been pretty respectful of the media my whole career.
Q. I saw some guys--
A. I don't want to hear anything else about leadership about anyone other than the guys on the basketball court. I do not want you to refer any questions again about anybody who was not dressed and in uniform here today.
Q. It looked like Jamar and Rodney--
A. They tried. They tried. They tried. Until this team doesn't find that character and that leadership, we're going to continue to flounder around.
You can understand why Martin didn't want to answer questions about Pullen and Kelly, not only for personal but also professional reasons. Kansas State seemed somewhat blindsided by the NCAA's ruling before the game. It is no doubt still getting its ducks in a row as the reinstatement process moves forward for both players. And, of course, Martin probably just didn't feel like talking, after a tough loss no less, about the ways his best players have disappointed him.
But his final assessment is true: Kansas State has to get some leadership. If not from Pullen, if not from Kelly, then from someone. Before Tuesday, that assessment was mostly related to basketball. After Tuesday, it's clear that leadership void has to be filled in other ways, too.