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K-State Basketball Fans Wonder If They Should’ve Hired A Former Wildcat

Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3

This is the time of year when college basketball coaches play musical chairs. They’re coming and going.

The big news since the Big 12 tournament was TCU’s hiring of one of its former players, Jamie Dixon. But around Kansas City, there’s one fan base that’s unhappy about not reaching out to one of its alumni.

Alan Martin, a Kansas State alumnus who lives in Olathe, works in the insurance business. Away from work, he cheers passionately for the Wildcats. So much so that he isn’t afraid to speak his mind, especially about the Wildcats’ slide in men’s basketball lately.

“State of emotions are frustration, anger,” says Martin. “lt has since turned to a lethargic feel like, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it.’”

  Bruce Weber just completed his fourth season as K-State’s coach. The Wildcats finished eighth in the Big 12 standings with a 5-13 record. The two teams below the Wildcats in the standings, Oklahoma State and TCU, fired their coaches. Despite their abysmal season K-State didn’t make a move.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State hired former Brad Underwood, who has a long history with the Wildcasts. He is from McPherson, Kansas, played at K-State and was a former assistant with the Wildcats under coaches Bob Huggins and Frank Martin.

When Frank Martin departed for South Carolina, he recommended Underwood as his successor. But Underwood was bypassed and ended up with a successful stint as a head coach at Stephen F. Austin in Texas. Then Oklahoma State made its move.

“To be out here today on Eddie Sutton court, one of the winningest coaches in the history of what our sport is about, and to be standing here today means a great deal,” said Underwood at his introductory news conference in Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Basketball fans around Kansas City are familiar with coaches returning to their alma mater. Roy Williams first dealt with deciding between Kansas and North Carolina in 2000.

“I’m very happy here,” said Williams at a news conference in 2000 when he coached KU. “This is a day I hoped would never come to be honest with you. I never wanted to have this decision.”

But three years later, he left for North Carolina and this weekend he’s trying for his third national championship with the Tar Heels.

Norm Stewart, once a basketball player for the Missouri Tigers, was best known for coaching the team for 32 years. Stewart said he enjoyed the limelight in the state of Missouri.

“It was nice to go around the state and walk down the street, being in St. Louis or being in Kansas City, a guy would roll down the window, ‘Hey Coach!’  That was nice,” says Stewart in 1999 at his retirement news conference.

Two seasons ago, Mizzou turned to one of its own again. Kim Anderson was named head coach, but whether that hire works out remains to be seen. The Tigers finished last in the SEC this season with a 3-15 record.

While Wildcat fans are taking a hard look at their record, wishing for Brad Underwood or another former Wildcast, the fact is K-State at one time did reach out for one of its own.

But that guy, Lon Kruger, a native of Silver Lake, Kansas, left the Wildcats after four years for Florida.

It’s been 26 years since Lon Kruger coached at K-State, but his sister and three brothers still remain deeply rooted in the area. Mike Kruger says even the family was caught off-guard by Lon’s departure from K-State.

“I think it probably did, thinking an alum goes back to an alma mater and you think he’s there for life,” says Mike Kruger. “Why he’s still not there today?  I don’t know.”

But Lon Kruger didn’t settle at Florida either. He became the first coach to take five different teams to the NCAA tournament and is now in his second Final Four, one with the Sooners and the other with Florida.

Whether or not K-State rebounds with Bruce Weber is uncertain. But for the moment, Wildcat fans feel the sting of their guys succeeding elsewhere.

Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter, @GregEchlin.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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