Blair Kerkhoff: Road to Final Four went through … Kansas State


By Blair Kerkhoff - The Kansas City Star



This would be a great time for Tom Asbury and Jim Wooldridge to rejuvenate their Division I coaching careers. Because of their previous roles as head coach at Kansas State, their new teams could be Final Four-bound.

With the regional finals advancing two other former Wildcats coaches in the Final Four — South Carolina’sFrank Martin and Oregon’sDana Altman — only Asbury and his successor Wooldridge among the previous seven head K-State head coaches haven’t taken a team to college basketball’s final weekend.

Sadly for the Wildcats, none of those who are taking or have taken teams to Final Fours accomplished the feat during their tenure in Manhattan, including current coach Bruce Weber.

Weber got there with Illinois in 2005. Lon Kruger, the former K-State star, took Florida in 1994 and Oklahoma last season. Bob Huggins, who coached K-State in 2006-07, has had two Final Four teams, Cincinnati in 1992 and West Virginia in 2010.

Woodridge is the athletic director at Riverside City College and Asbury is retired, having last coached Pepperdine in 2011.

Martin joined the K-State coaching staff with Huggins, after then-athletic director Tim Weiser fired Wooldridge. When Huggins returned to his alma mater, West Virginia, after the season, Martin was elevated to head coach.

The next five seasons were some of the best in K-State hoops over the previous two decades. The Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a dozen years and in 2010 reached the first Elite Eight in more than two decades.

Martin left Kansas State after the 2011-12 season and now has South Carolina in its first Final Four after the Gamecocks defeated Florida 77-70 in the East Region final Sunday in New York. His thoughts turned to previous stops, including those K-State years, after cutting down the nets.

“When Huggs got the West Virginia job he could have done what every other coach in America would have done,” Martin said. “He could have taken the other assistants with him. That means Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen, Michael Beasley, all those guys would have gone to West Virginia too.

“Instead, he huddled all the coaches up and said, ‘It’s Frank’s turn. I’ll be OK.’ “

Those players remained at Kansas State and helped Martin build the program. Beasley was a consensus All-America and Big 12 player of the year in 2008, his lone college season. Pullen left as the school’s career scoring leader.

Altman was a Kansas State assistant who became the Wildcats’ head coach after spending one season at Marshall. He replaced Kruger, who left for Florida.

Altman remained four years, taking the Wildcats to one NCAA Tournament before becoming Creighton’s head coach after the 1994 season.

For Altman, Oregon’s first finals appearance since winning the inaugural tournament in 1939 was made all the more sweeter by beating Kansas, K-State’s top rival, in Kansas City.

Before the game, Altman referenced the 1988 Midwest Region final, when KU beat K-State to advance to the Final Four after the Wildcats had beaten Kansas twice earlier in the season.

“If you spend seven years at Kansas State you don’t like the Jayhawks, all right?” Altman said. “Chickenhawks, all right? You can’t spend seven years 90 miles away and the one chance we had to go to the Final Four in 88 they beat us.”

Altman and Martin are in the Final Four for the first time. So is Mark Few after Gonzaga beat Xavier 83-59 in the West Region final on Saturday.

Like South Carolina, Gonzaga is making its first Final Four appearance. Those teams will meet in the national semifinals on Saturday.

In the other semifinal, Oregon will face North Carolina, which held on to defeat Kentucky in a South Region final thriller. The Tar Heels fell to Villanova in last year’s championship game on a buzzer-beater. This time, Luke Maye’s long jumper fell through with .3 seconds remaining for the 75-73 heart-stopper.

That puts former Kansas coach Roy Williams in his ninth Final Four, his fifth at North Carolina.

And if you’re looking for a Kansas State connection there, well, there’s this: the late Bill Guthridge, a longtime North Carolina assistant coach who took the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in his short tenure (1998-2000) as a head coach, played for K-State’s 1958 Final Four team, and was an assistant for Tex Winter in 1964, the Wildcats’ last Final Four appearance.

The road to the Final Four may not pass through Kansas State, but plenty have stopped there along the way.

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By Blair Kerkhoff

The Kansas City Star