Bob Huggins madean immediate splash at Kansas State, signing three top recruits and suspendinghis team's star player
Although thejourney from Jacksonville to Manhattan, Kans., would take 20 hours, JasonBennett and his father, Duane, planned to drive straight through in their ChevyBlazer on May 31, three days after his graduation from Arlington Country DaySchool. "We're leaving at 4 a.m.," Jason said, "and making it aone-day trip." Summer classes begin at Kansas State on June 5, and Bennett,a 7'3" center and the No. 30 prospect in the class of 2006, was eager tojoin his new school's basketball revival.
Waiting forBennett at K-State, which is 10 years removed from its last NCAA tournamentappearance, would be new coach Bob Huggins, who was hired on March 23 toreplace Jim Wooldridge. No one generated more buzz during the NCAA's springsigning period than Huggins, who inked three key recruits for next season:Bennett; his Miami Tropics AAU teammate, 6'10" forward Luis Colon of PuertoRico; and 6'1" shooting guard Blake Young of Daytona Beach CommunityCollege.
Kansas State knewwhat it was getting in the former Cincinnati coach. Huggins led the Bearcats to14 straight NCAA tournaments and the 1992 Final Four. But his tenure was markedby controversy. Nineteen of his players or recruits were charged with crimes,and in '98 the NCAA placed Cincinnati on probation for lack of institutionalcontrol. Huggins was arrested for DUI in 2004, and last August the school'spresident forced him to resign.
Huggins didn'tremain idle during his seven months away from the college game. He continued towork his extensive web of recruiting connections. Frank Martin, a formerBearcats assistant and successful high school coach in Miami, helped him createan unlikely talent bridge from Florida to the Great Plains.
Bennett, who hadcommitted to Cincinnati before Huggins was fired, says the coach called afteralighting at KSU to say, "I hope you're excited to come here."Bennett's commitment on April 12 gave the program recruiting momentum. Toenlist Young, Huggins reached out to former Kansas State player Brad Underwood,Young's coach in Daytona Beach. Soon after Young signed on April 19, Underwoodaccepted an offer to become the Wildcats' director of basketballoperations.
Last Friday,Kansas State dismissed point guard Mario Taybron for violating its policy onsubstance abuse and suspended star forward Cartier Martin, the team's leadingscorer last season, for unspecified conduct violations. Martin could bereinstated by the time the Wildcats begin practice in November. But Taybron'sdismissal means Huggins has one more scholarship available for '06--07. It maybe filled by guard Tyree Evans, a former Huggins recruit from Richmond who wasdenied admission by Cincinnati in 2005 after he was indicted on charges ofstatutory rape. Evans, who pleaded not guilty, was scheduled to make a courtappearance on Tuesday. According to KSU associate athletic director Jim Epps,Evans will not be admitted unless the charges are dropped, but Evans told SIlast week, "I'm coming to Kansas State, guaranteed. [Huggins] is holding aspot for me."
Huggins's realblockbuster moves could come in 2007. Michael Beasley, a 6'9" forward atOak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., and the No. 3--rated player in thatclass, said that he'll "probably go to K-State," following his formerAAU coach, Dalonte Hill, whom Huggins hired as an assistant. Two of Beasley'sfriends, No. 1 prospect O.J. Mayo, a 6'5" point guard, and No. 7--rankedBill Walker, a 6'6" swingman at Cincinnati's North College Hill--primetargets of Huggins's since his Bearcats days--are also interested.
Regardless,Huggins has already made a splash before coaching a single game in BramlageColiseum. His tenure has the makings of a riveting ride.
• Read more fromLuke Winn at SI.com/collegebasketball.
Three other schools landed impact recruits during thespring signing period:
Kansas Lanky Dallas forward Darrell Arthur, the No. 9prospect in the class of '06, dreamed the night before his announcement on May9 that he was a Jayhawk--and then chose KU over Baylor.
Texas Three recruits bailed on Oklahoma followingKelvin Sampson's March 29 departure for Indiana, and the rival Longhornssnatched up 6'8" forward Damion James, ranked No. 19.
Villanova The Wildcats, who could lose backcourt starsRandy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray to the NBA, picked up another ex-Soonerspledge, 6-foot point guard Scotty Reynolds (above), on May 23.
PETER AIKEN/WIREIMAGE.COM (MARTIN); BOB ROSATO (HUGGINS)
WITHIN REACH Even if Martin (left) isn't allowed to return, Huggins's team could contend in the Big 12.
SCOTT CLARKE/WIREIMAGE.COM (REYNOLDS)