If I told you the Kansas State Wildcats, the third-ranked team in the country, would miss a fouling, offensively-challenged, grace-repelling center more than a flashy, highly-skilled, household-name guard, would you buy it?
Denis Clemente will someday be the answer to trivia questions regarding K-State basketball lore. Luis Colon, on the other hand, is as likely to be hosting a trivia night as he is to being an answer, but if head coach Frank Martin could dress him, even for one more game, he’d do it in an instant.
Colon’s post moves put big men back 50 years. His shooting form hurt peoples’ feelings. His caricature’ish scowl humored fans. However, his effort, like Clemente’s, like Chris Merriewether’s, was undeniable.
Their last team was an Elite 8 participant.
It’s a lesson that would serve one Curtis Kelly well, and if the senior overslept past the start of the season, hung over on preseason acknowledgement and accolades, consider Martin benching him for the season-opener against James Madison the rude, needed, wakeup call.
“He just has to figure out if he wants to be a good teammate and be here,” Martin said of Kelly in his postgame comments. “When he does that for a consistent period of time then I will consider putting him out there again.”
But, you wonder if it will make a difference – this latest giant pull by Martin in the almost constant mental tug-of-war he and Kelly have waged in their time together – because Kelly seems to be of the ilk that just does things on his own time.
Kelly’s mind, like his game, wanders. He says the right things at the right time. He talks of effort – and showed it last year with four double-doubles. He talks of preparation – and it showed in his willingness to lose substantial weight. He talks of his love for how Martin gave him a second chance and has pushed him since arriving from Connecticut.
He makes you believe…until he does things like not show the necessary effort and attitude to get on the floor in the season opener.
It is as if he is too self-aware, knowing how to size up an opponent or situation and measuring to the decimal point how much energy it will take to make things work. What a blessing to be good enough to pull that off. But, under a coach who demands full effort all the time, what a curse.
And, for a player now in his third year, his final year, a year in which his team more than ever needs him to be consistent and lead, what a disappointment.
Am I making too much of a guy who started every one of K-State’s 37 games last year, set a new school single-season blocks record, shot a team-best 56.5-percent from the field and also led in rebounding?
Had K-State’s big men shown well against James Madison, I’d say yes because it would mean Kelly’s role possibly could be filled and the team could move on with or without him. But, the big guys – Jamar Samuels, Freddy Asprilla, WallyJudge, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts – none of them showed well. They were soft around the rim on both ends of the floor and indecisive at times to the point that it choked off the team’s normal tenacity.
After the game, Martin blamed the team’s play on a lack of leadership.
“We are not a good basketball team right now,” Martin said. “We have a bunch of new kids. They are trying to figure it out, and the upperclassmen have been awful with their ability to lead our basketball team.”
Any of the bigs could have stepped up, Samuels especially, but for me obviously, the awful starts with Kelly. He has to be on the floor. His teammates expect him to be there. Their roles, though barely outlined as they are at this point, are defined by his being there. And apparently, they aren’t strong enough mentally, at this point at least, to adjust without him.
Kelly did this song-and-dance a year ago, stretching it all the way into the first conference game of the season at Missouri. With a tough non-conference schedule on tap, he can’t wait that long this time.
There’s no Big Lou to step in and set the tone for him until he decides to turn on his game.
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