STILLWATER, Okla. — Bruce Weber left this place without a smile. How could he smile? He left miserable. Frustrated. Angry. His Kansas State basketball team lost its most important game of the season here, so hope had no place in his heart.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
No. He would not watch Kansas game with Baylor, even if a KU loss meant K-State would share the Big 12 title with the Jayhawks. A few weeks ago, Weber watched KUs win at Iowa State and those emotions did him no good. So he got home, unpacked. He and his wife took their dog Penny for a walk. Thats when they heard the car horns blaring. Thats when they heard Webers cell phone ring. John Currie, the K-State athletic director, was on the Caller ID.
Congratulations, Weber heard.
You dont know?
Dont know what?
Weber hugged his wife. Now he smiled. Texted his players congratulations. Sports are funny sometimes. K-States first conference mens basketball championship since 1977, and the coach had to be told.
Just a few hours before, he and his players cursed themselves after a 76-70 loss at Oklahoma State. Forward Thomas Gipson was like his coach. Said he wouldnt even bother checking the KU-Baylor score. Didnt matter, Gipson said. Now the game they refused to care about is the reason they will hang a new banner at Bramlage Coliseum. It is the reason they will all get shiny new rings.
And its the reason this is not only the most successful sports year in school history, but in the new Big 12. K-State is king. This is the new league order.
This isnt the way K-State wouldve preferred winning in basketball, of course. Celebrating after a loss is bizarre, and co-champion KU will have the top seed in the Big 12 Tournament for sweeping the season series. But that doesnt diminish the overall accomplishment.
Doesnt change the fact that K-State not Texas, not Oklahoma, not Kansas and not Oklahoma State is ruling the new league in the two sports people care most about.
You wouldve had a heck of a time convincing folks of this two years ago. Remember two years ago? Thats when the Big 12 actually included 12 schools, though not for long, and many figured the league had as much staying power as a gallon of milk.
And if the conference went sour, then it was hard not to wonder what might happen to K-State. Speculation tended to range from Mountain West to Big East, a demotion no matter what. Look how it turned out instead:
The Big 12 is down to 10 schools but stronger than anyone imagined, and the most successful school in the two major sports is by far, really the one so many wondered about two years ago.
We know what we have here, K-State athletic director John Currie says. Perhaps this allows national perception of what K-State is to catch up to reality.
Look around. Texas and Oklahoma bring in more money. Oklahoma State spends more money. Kansas basketball gets more glory (and another league title). But none of them have done as much winning as K-State.
This is the first time a school has won the Big 12 title in both football and mens basketball in the same school year since Texas in 2005-06. Even with the loss, K-State is in position to be join Louisville and Florida as the only teams to finish in the top 15 in both sports.
This will be the third year in a row Bill Snyders football team plays a bowl game and basketball makes the NCAA Tournament, so a true golden run in K-States athletic history is hitting a new peak. The football team won the Big 12 championship behind Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, and came within a bizarre night in Waco from what likely wouldve been a game against Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship.
The mens basketball team, picked fifth in the preseason, is hanging a banner. For all his success, Frank Martin never did that. Neither did Lon Kruger. Rodney McGruder was mentioned as a candidate for conference player of the year, but either way is graduating as the best player of a senior class with the most victories in school history.
Sports have always been a major part of K-States vision of growth. Footballs national emergence was built on an all-in bet on a quiet lifetime assistant coach, and this current football-basketball run of success is backed by another big financial commitment. In the last two years, the school has begun or planned around $100 million of facility construction to benefit nearly every sport from football to rowing.
The success of right now is a direct result of a stubborn resilience thats come to define K-State athletics. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, administrators spent money they didnt actually have to allow Snyder to transform what had been college footballs worst program. When the program lost its way under Ron Prince, Snyder came back to save it.
When basketball needed a shot of energy six years ago, K-State hired Bob Huggins. When he left for his alma mater, they took a chance on Martin. He took the program to new heights a school-record 29 wins and one short of the Final Four in 2010 and when he left many panned Webers hiring.
K-State, unranked in the preseason, played its way into the top 10. The Wildcats are four wins away from Martins school record and in position for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The coaches and players arent completely happy at the moment, not after losing here on Saturday. But step back, and the bigger picture is beautiful.
Politically, the new Big 12 will always be the league of Texas and Oklahoma. But in the two sports people care the most about, it is so far the league of the Wildcats.
How do you like them now?