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October 25, 2008Rivals.com has selected the top 25 story lines for the 2008-09 season and will be revealing one daily. At No. 17, we look at Kansas State - which must replace departed stars Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
Martin never doubted Beasley, the Rivals.com National Player of the Year and second pick in the NBA draft, would be one-and-done. Or Bill Walker, for that matter.
"Give me five of those guys," Martin said. "It's a heck of a lot easier to win with five NBA guys than five non-NBA guys. If you don't have pros on your team, your chances of beating Texas and Kansas are out the window."
With the focal point of his team gone after one season, Martin isn't entirely sure what his second year at Kansas State will bring.
Beasley led Kansas State to its first NCAA tournament since 1996, and the Wildcats won their first tournament game in 20 years. Beasley was third in the nation in scoring and first in rebounding and double-doubles.
Few teams have a Beasley waiting in the wings. Certainly not Kansas State. What remains on Martin's roster is a collection of sophomores and juniors thrust into action last season with the anticipation they would be the leaders for 2008-09.
"I don't know from our team if we're going to have any pros," Martin said. "To win this league, you better have a couple of those guys. If you don't have them, your chances for competing for the league championship probably aren't going to be there."
Outside of Manhattan, Kan., the predictions are grim for Kansas State. The Wildcats were 21-12 overall and 10-6 in the Big 12 last season.
K-State begins the season with considerably less fanfare. Coaches tabbed Kansas State to finish eighth, behind two teams that did not make the NCAA tournament last year.
"Every player knows we lost Mike and Bill," forward Ron Anderson said. "They left some really big shoes. After going through the preseason, I feel we're going to be able to exceed what many people think we're going to do."
Without the two superstar freshmen, Kansas State will look for more egalitarian results on the court.
This year, the Wildcats won't be able to defer to Beasley - or anyone of his stature - during times of trouble.
"This year we don't look for any one person to be our star or the one person anyone looks to," sophomore guard Jacob Pullen said. "We'll play to who's hot and who has the mismatches. We don't have to go down and give it to one person every time. It's whoever feels comfortable, whoever is in scoring position. It's more of a team unity this season."
First, they'll have to find new areas of production on the scoreboard and on the glass. Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. Beasley or Walker led the team in scoring in all but two games.
Though Kansas State depended heavily on the two freshmen, Martin didn't have any illusions they would put off NBA fortunes.
"We didn't go into last year thinking Mike and Bill were going to be in college for three or four years," Martin said. "We prepared assuming that they were going to leave after the year. We forced a lot of guys to play a lot of minutes."
Of those sophomores, only Pullen scored double digits in a Big 12 game. Anderson scored 10 in the first-round NCAA win over USC.
Pullen, though, is Kansas State's top returning threat. He is the team's leading returning scorer with 9.7 points per game and the only one of Kansas State's top five scorers back for this season.
His two best games came against top competition, including a 20-point effort off the bench in Kansas State's first win over Kansas in Manhattan in 24 years. Martin said Pullen is "starting to become a Big 12 athlete."
"Who is going to be the go-to guy? That's up to the players to determine that," Martin said. "We as coaches have to make that read. It's what players are willing to take that responsibility. I've got all the confidence in the world in our nucleus of guys. We're going to have more than one guy be willing to step up to that challenge."
It might take a little time, though.
Without the safety net of Beasley and Walker, Kansas State is still trying to find its identity for the next season.
"I will say in practice everyone is working their hardest because everyone is trying to find their role," Anderson said. "The earlier guys find their role on the team, that's going to determine how much success we have this season."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.