Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 6 storyline explores Bob Huggins' arrival at Kansas State and his impact on the program so far.
No program has undergone a bigger transformation this past offseason than Kansas State, which is squarely in the national spotlight after drifting off the college basketball map in recent years.
Consider these changes:
The Wildcats will play five nationally televised games in the regular season (ESPN2 recently picked up their game at Xavier on Jan. 3), including two appearances on ABC. The four TV games are more than the last three years combined. The Wildcats haven't been on ABC since reaching the Big Eight Tournament final in 1998.
Ticket sales have already hit record levels. Season tickets are sold out for the first time since 1982-83 when the Wildcats played in Ahearn Field House (they moved to Bramlage Coliseum 19 years ago) and it looks like most home games will be sold out.
The Wildcats have gone from recruiting traditional sleepers to going after some of the best prospects in the nation. Huggins has already achieved remarkable recruiting success. Michael Beasley, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2007, has committed to the Wildcats. According to the Kansas City Star, Bill Walker - the No. 6-ranked prospect in the class - has been admitted to the school and will be eligible by Dec. 17. The 2006 recruiting class is highlighted by five-star center Jason Bennett (7-foot-2) and guard Blake Young, one of the nation's top junior college transfers.
The Wildcats will be part of a three-game event televised by ESPN in November 2007 – near Thanksgiving.
The increased attention can be traced back to the hiring of Bob Huggins in March.
K-State couldn't have found a bigger – or perhaps more controversial - name. Huggins racked up more than 500 wins and took Cincinnati to 14 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. However, his players rarely graduated and several were involved in off-the-court incidents. Huggins was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, which ultimately cost him his job in August 2005.
Still, Huggins' allure and his long list of connections seem to be at an all-time high.
Just 11 days after he took the job, Bennett committed to the Wildcats. Huggins had recruited the imposing center while he was unemployed, and it appeared Bennett was just waiting to follow Huggins to his next destination. Bennett made only one other official visit (to Auburn) despite a string of scholarship offers from major programs.
Soon after, Huggins hired assistant Dalonte Hill away from Charlotte, perhaps the most influential move of his young tenure in Manhattan, Kan.
Hill, a former AAU coach from the Washington, D.C. area, had already snagged a commitment from Beasley, one of his former players. By late June, Beasley switched his pledge to the Wildcats.
Huggins' Cincinnati ties have helped with Walker, who had already exhausted his high school eligibility. Point guard O.J. Mayo, the No. 5 prospect in the class of 2007, is also considering the Wildcats. Mayo played with Walker at North College Hill High in Cincinnati the last three seasons.
But the scary part for the rest of the Big 12 is that they may have not seen the height of Huggins' impact just yet.
K-State returns four starters, including one of the Big 12's top players in forward Cartier Martin, from a team that went 15-13 last season. The Wildcats had wins over Kansas and Texas A&M in 2005-06, and those teams are picked first and second in the league this season. K-State also had nine losses by five or fewer points a year ago.
With the addition of the school's best recruiting class in years and one of the game's best coaches running the show, the Wildcats looks poised to contend for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996.
And for the first time in a long time, the Wildcats will be getting tremendous exposure along the way.
If some of the Big 12 coaches are already in awe of Huggins' impact at K-State, they won't want to see what he can do after earning an NCAA Tournament bid - especially with the next wave of recruits watching the Wildcats pull off the remarkable feat.