MANHATTAN, Kans. -- There was a class observing Kansas State's practice last Tuesday, and so, for the sake of decorum, coach
Watching Kelly's performance made me worried about the Wildcats, who finished fourth in the Big 12 last season and were spurned on Selection Sunday despite having a 22-12 record. Was this really the guy who was supposed to get them over the hump by solving their frontcourt scoring problems, the former five-star recruit who was supposed to be reviving his career after two tumultuous years at UConn? It didn't seem likely.
Damning someone on the basis of one practice is unfair, though, and Martin -- who's not in the business of defending players who don't deserve defending -- walked over afterward to provide some context. I had apparently seen their worst workout of the young season. "Curtis was awful today," he said, "but he had been playing like a pro before this. On his good days, he blocks shots, he plays with a lot of energy, and he's extremely skilled with his back to the basket offensively."
That should be a relief to K-State fans, because for this team to be good -- and they really are an intriguing dark horse in the Big 12 -- Kelly must become a third, quality scoring option alongside senior guard
"We have a legitimate threat down there now," Pullen says. "If a team tries to trap us and we throw Curt the ball, he can actually go score."
Kelly, to his credit, acknowledges that focus and effort issues were what doomed him at UConn in '06-07 and '07-08. Coming out of Rice High in the Bronx, he says, "I was a young fool, and I didn't adjust to college quick enough. The combination of me not working hard, and me not being able to handle coach Calhoun mentally -- he's a great coach, but he's tough to play for because he can really get into you -- just ate away at my career."
As a freshman and sophomore, he was buried on the Huskies' front line behind
After he dislocated his elbow against Villanova on Feb. 23, and felt that too there wasn't much interest in when he was coming back -- "when I didn't feel that love, that was the most depressing time of my life," he says -- he opted to transfer. His criteria were to find a coach who wasn't in the Hall of Fame, and school that was still in building mode. Martin and K-State fit. "If you work hard," Martin told him on his visit, "I promise I'll get you somewhere."
Where Kelly and the Wildcats go depends on what version of him they get: the lackadaisical one I saw on Tuesday, or the energetic one Martin's seen in most other practices. He really is their only scoring option inside; Colon is too limited, Samuels is more of a wing player, and four-star 6-9 freshman
If forced to choose one heart-and-soul guy, though, I'd go with Clemente, who's older (a fifth-year senior, whereas Pullen is a true junior) as well as more fiery and demonstrative. Plus, Clemente's speed is the key to the Wildcats capitalizing on their athletic advantage over much of the Big 12 -- they're most dangerous when he's pushing the ball upcourt at a breakneck pace.
Pullen is correct in pointing out that the Wildcats have the most seasoned backcourt of any of the upper-echelon teams in the Big 12. I just don't think pundits believe in the rest of their roster yet, and I'm still on the fence, too.