Jordan Willis gets drafted by the Bengals … dang it

Thoughts from the past week or so outside of remembering what god-awful Kansas City Royals baseball feels like …

– Jordan Willis was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft on Friday, and the Kansas State Wildcats extended their streak to 24 straight years of having a player selected.

– That’s the good news.

– Third in K-State history with 26 sacks, Willis was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.

– That part … well …

– You hope for the best, but there are some teams out there that just make you cringe when you hear them draft guys you like.

– In any case, here’s to the Kansas City, Missouri, native surviving Cincy and having a productive pro career.

– This year’s K-State spring game had a different feel to it, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad.

– Pregame hype, game day news, and postgame discussion all seemed to be left wanting for more.

– It’s a chicken/egg thing, I suppose. Did most media not cover it the same because outlets felt like fans don’t prioritize it like they did in the past (attendance)? Or, did most media limit their coverage because they internally don’t feel it is worth the effort, and the lack of coverage led to limited talking points and discussion for fans?

– Regardless, did anyone notice the same thing? If you did, do you care?

– Personally, though I felt it was lacking some, I’ve never felt the spring game mattered much unless you were Nebraska or Oklahoma, so it doesn’t bother me one way or the other.

– Jesse Ertz is going to be the K-State starting quarterback, and for good reason.

– Neither Skylar Thompson nor Alex Delton showed enough for me to think it would benefit K-State to have them in the first-string conversation at this point.

– And, that’s okay.

– I’m pretty okay with the Kansas City Chiefs taking Pat Mahomes in the manner they did.

– It’s hard to get mad at a team’s decision to use extra picks to move up and get the guy it really wants. As for analysis …

– I’ll go the Bill Snyder route and have you check back in with me in three years or so. I mean, it’s such a crapshoot how someone will respond to being asked to be the future face of a franchise. Who knows?

– So … the Royals — ah, I held out on this as long as I could in this column.

– Lineups with Mike Moustakas leading off. Young guys getting goat-ed and sent down because the supposed stars aren’t producing (Raul Mondesi). No sense of roles in the bullpen. Pointing at things like playing at home versus on the road as if that is the real issue (Eric Hosmer).

– It’s all seems so anti-Royals, at least based from the past three seasons.

– It reeks of panic.

– It makes me wonder if Royals management badly misjudged who was responsible for the winning attitude and culture in the clubhouse.

– Let’s end on a winning note.

– Kansas State Women’s Basketball Coach Jeff Mittie was named 2017 Coach of the Year by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.

– Kansas State concluded the 2016-17 season with 23 wins, the most since the 2008-09 season, and Mittie became the first KSU WBB coach to make the NCAA Tournament in two of their first three seasons.

 

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Surprised by Frank Martin and South Carolina? You shouldn’t be

When a team makes a Final Four for the first time ever – heck, when it wins an NCAA Tournament game for the first time ever – surprise is part of the expected reaction.

So it has been for the South Carolina Gamecocks and their head coach, Frank Martin, who have become a Tournament darling, especially after dismantling love-to-hate Duke and beating up Baylor along the way. (The darling label also was helped when Martin honored a Sports Illustrated for Kids child reporter’s perfect question and another time commented about today’s adults being the problem in society instead of kids.)

The extended run has even provided enough time for national reporter Bill Reiter to dive (again) into why Frank Martin isn’t at Kansas State anymore and opine (again) that the University of Tennessee is riding John Currie’s ego into administrative hell, probably.

Indeed, from wins to the podium to media good feels, Martin has had a perfect tournament. He has basked in its stature-building spotlight and only kind of had to share it with Gonzaga and Oregon. (Nobody has really even mentioned Final Four old-hat North Carolina, which might be scary.) Nope, this week has deservedly mostly belonged to Martin, who has appeared more ready than ever to, as he has said in the past he tells his players, “live in the moment.”

Having covered Martin’s tenure up close at Kansas State from start to finish, it’s intriguing to watch the man now and think he was this close to this year perhaps being his second Final Four.

In the 2009-10 season, Martin coached the fastest point guard in America in Denis Clemente and had him paired with K-State’s future all-time leading scorer, Jacob Pullen. Curtis Kelly was silky smooth and sneakily tough on the glass, while Dominique Sutton was the kind of guy a 15-year-old Sindarius Thornwell should have been dreaming to play like some day. Luis Colon provided some anchor toughness in the post, while Jamar Samuels was a pogo stick around the rim on both ends of the floor. The third senior in the three-man class with Clemente and Colon, Chris Merriewether averaged less than 1 point per game and 1.4 rebounds, but he appeared in 33 games because he poured his life into his eight minutes per game.

In that vein, every one of them (and several others) played exactly the kind of intensity and defense people are now losing their minds over with the Gamecocks. And, just like South Carolina now, it served K-State well. After handling North Texas, the Wildcats saw Pullen outduel Jimmer Fredette and No. 7 seed BYU. Then, in one of the greatest Tournament games ever played, K-State outlasted Jordan Crawford and No. 6 Xavier, 101-96, in double overtime. Just two days later, No. 5 Butler upended K-State’s run in a game where it was impossible not to wonder about fatigue.

“I’m sure we would of had a better chance [of making the Final Four]. We played a lot of basketball against Xavier,” Curtis Kelly told me this week. “As the [Butler] game went on, though, I can tell the overtime took a toll more then I gave it credit for.

“Butler was a great team, with a really good pro player in Gordon Hayward. So I’m glad we lost that year to a team that made it all the way.”

It’s impossible to say, of course, whether the double OT really was the ultimate factor that kept Martin and K-State out of the Final Four. But, considering K-State had beaten Xavier earlier by 15 that season in Manhattan, it’s hard not to seriously consider.

Back to the present, though, and Martin’s core fire is just as hot now as it was then. The love for his players also is there just the same. However, the same coach who once said in postgame about that 2010 KSU squad (following a Big 12 Conference win over Texas), “If they don’t come in ready to work tomorrow, I will destroy them,” now appears to have settled into understanding the fire doesn’t have to be an earth-scorching inferno all the time.

Tiredness aside, it makes you wonder if that added maturity is the last little something that might have been missing seven years ago in Manhattan but will be enough to propel Martin and his current group all the way. After all, the overall approach has gotten this team, a No. 7 seed that hasn’t been ranked in the AP Poll since Feb. 13, this far.

South Carolina is talented. It is tough. It is battle-tested. It offensive rebounds you into submission, and it can shoot the 3. And the defense, of course, is ferocious. Most of that is the result of its head coach believing in his guys and refusing to allow them to believe less. (Even if people like me believe far less – as recently as earlier this year.)

That’s a really scary, proven-winner combination if you’re the on the other side, and if it so happens that the Gamecocks make the National Final, nobody should be all that surprised. Not if they have been paying attention.

After Cincy loss, 30-year K-State season ticket holder is done

So, here we are … the end of the season.

We knew we’d get here eventually, even if it was a game or two longer than a solid minority of Kansas State fans wanted. And, the end came in the exact fashion they had been salivating over: overmatched and out-toughed by Cincinnati like a big brother holding his little bro’s head under his armpit for an NCAA-sized noogie.

Losing in the NCAA Tournament never leaves a good feeling – the finality of it all and other things – but this one is obviously different. In 99 of 100 other similar situations – 20 games for the first time in three years, first NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in that same span, picked ninth in the Big 12 before finishing sixth, and returns its starting backcourt and a promising young big man next year (no, not Dean Wade – K-State radio color analyst Stan Weber said as much on Friday during a segment on Sports Radio 810 WHB in Kansas City when he said the other players basically decided to stop waiting on him to figure things out) – this season would be reason for at least cautious optimism going forward.

But those other 99 situations don’t have the inexplicable caveat that a sizable portion of a fan base has simply washed its hands of a coach and wants its administration to do the same. They’re tired of drinking 3.2% Weber beer and barely getting a winning buzz. They want to get winning hammered, even if they don’t know where to buy it.

Regardless, an increasing number of fans want to go shopping, including some who gave it a legitimate go and have legitimate power in their actions.

For example, a season ticket of 30+ consecutive years keenly watched the past year and decided after Friday’s conclusion that they are finished until a change is made. Here’s the note they sent me on Twitter:

“If they keep this man after that effort, I believe I may have to save what amounts to $1000, once I make the full donation, pay for the tickets and parking, the gas and eating out.

“Hard to end over 30 years of loyalty, but the way we play has no semblance of heart, or recruited and developed skill. That got Altman, Asbury and Wooldridge out of here by the 5-year mark. I would think it would do so for a 60-year-old man. It’s probably going to take him resigning, because I don’t think an athletic department in flux, without a permanent choice for AD in place, to would probably pull the trigger.

“Does your voice resonate enough to help us small donors have any say in this? I sure wish the large donors, who effect any of these decisions anyway, knew how a bunch of us little guys feel. If a change is made, I’m sending my dollars right back in. No change, no reaching of 32 years on the streak!!”

It doesn’t sound like this fan is alone in thinking this way.

I don’t know if I have a voice that reaches the decision makers at K-State, and I don’t agree with how things have played out, but here’s hoping those KSU decision-making folks understand exactly how deep-rooted, and growing, their issue is.