The CBS studio analyst for March Madness agreed to speak with “K-Stated.” Full disclosure — my dad, B-Mart, has a man-crush on Clark Kellogg. Just sayin’. Anyway, I talked with “Special K,” the former Ohio State and Indiana Pacers star today about a variety of topics, but mostly Kansas State. Enjoy:
1. It’s the Year of the Freshmen, especially in the K-State-Southern California match-up in Omaha. But we’ll touch on that in a minute. Who are some of the more underrated freshmen that the national audience is going to get a chance to see?
We’re not going to see one whose team was on the cutting room floor, (Arizona State’s) James Harden. He’s good. The kid at Baylor, LaceDarius Dunn… The kid at Pitt, DeJuan Blair, plays with an effervescent smile, a wide body and tremendous heart. And Austin Daye at Gonzaga… Oh, he’s got major game. A bunch of game… 6-foot-10 and can shoot it.
2. OK, enough with the small talk. O.J. and Mike. Thoughts?
Both have stepped up and led their teams. Mike has been phenomenal. I think Mike has been the most outstanding performer in the nation, even though Tyler Hansbrough will probably be the Player of the Year. But it’s semantics. And I’ve been impressed with O.J. I just did USC’s game against Stanford. He’s strong, has change of pace, a terrific stroke, great disposition on the floor — there’s an awful lot to like about his game. I seem to think he wants to fit in some times, holding back a little. He’s working so hard, but he’s still keeping about 20 percent of what he has in the tank. It’s an admirable quality, but I’d like to see him let him rip… Measured is a good word. I think he wants to fit in more… Back to Mike, he’s got a phenomenal pace to his game. He’s so supremely gifted. He has a smoothness that gives the impression he’s not breathing harder.
3. You’re an outsider. How legitimate is the argument that youth has held K-State back?
It’s legitimate. The cynics don’t want to hear it. The haters don’t want to hear it. When you have young players, regardless of how good you are… There is a difference between being a junior with two-plus years of experience… Being able to ward off distractions, handle the success, the workload, to come back from adversity — it’s the stuff you grow through as you navigate college. That’s what youth is about. That’s where the roadblocks are. Sure, they can go out and play, but they can still be outdone by people with more experience. … Watch a team like Wisconsin, like UCLA. Watch those teams closely. Watch Georgetown. You see a difference in how they handle their business in between the lines. They don’t get rattled when they make mistakes. Whether it’s losing your cool, like Bill Walker in the game when Frank sat him for the last 10 minutes (at Nebraska)… Heck, I’ve got three kids, two in college. There are things they won’t grasp until they experience it for themselves.
4. Does K-State have what it takes to make a run in the NCAA Tournament?
That’s a tough match-up in the first round, chief. They’re going to have to strap it on. Did you see them against Memphis (in the Jimmy V Classic)? They’re going to do something defensively. The Taj Gibson-Michael Beasley match-up — it will be interesting. Gibson is angular, smart, and he’s quick. It will be interesting. And Davon Jefferson is good… The ability to dribble-drive that USC has… It’s going to be a really good game. To project a tournament run, I’m not sure. USC has shown the consistency to be a better defensive team than K-State… But USC has struggled to score the ball over the course of the year. Then again, K-State has some really nice pieces. I like Jacob Pullen, who is having a solid freshman year… It will be intriguing.
5. Everybody seems to have a take on Bill Walker. What’s yours?
I think he’s really talented. He seems like a hard-working kid. I know he’s had some issues… But part of that is just growing pains. He’s coming off an injury last year. For him to do what he’s doing, it’s hard for people to understand. With an ACL, you can come back after seven months… But you don’t get the last 10 percent back until the next year. It’s a testament to how hard he’s worked… He seems like an ideal big-time player who doesn’t mind not being “The Guy.” He can be a marquee guy in most places, and that takes a special guy. It’s what it seems to be to me. I’m speaking from a long way away now. That’s just my impression… I always try to give these kids the benefit of the doubt. So many of my col-leagues want to project where they’re going to be in the pros. I think it’s important to know who or where they are now… Everyone’s rate of development will be different. He’s tremendously talented,though. And he’s coming off an injury… You don’t get it all back right away. He’ll be what he used to be next year. Look at anybody (with an ACL injury). It takes a year-and-a-half plus. The last 10-15 percent of consistency, of explosion, that takes longer.
(BONUS) 6. So what’s it going to take for K-State to “upset” USC?
A couple of things. One, K-State is going to have to take care of the ball. To be a good offensive team, you don’t short-change possessions. A low turnover game is important. They average 15 turnovers a game. They’ll have to do better than that. And two, it’s mind-set. Staying the course for 40 minutes, and that’s tough for young kids to do. You might get a lead, a cushion, and want to let up, but it’s fight on until the final buzzer. It’s a tough thing to get players to understand. Bring it every possession, every ro-tation on defense… It’s hard to sustain. But it will be significant to watch — which young team is going to stay engaged physically and mentally for the entire 40 minutes?