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College Basketball
Luke Winn
June 05, 2006
Bob the Builder
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June 05, 2006

College Basketball

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Bob the Builder

Bob Huggins made an immediate splash at Kansas State, signing three top recruits and suspending his team's star player

Although the journey from Jacksonville to Manhattan, Kans., would take 20 hours, Jason Bennett and his father, Duane, planned to drive straight through in their Chevy Blazer on May 31, three days after his graduation from Arlington Country Day School. "We're leaving at 4 a.m.," Jason said, "and making it a one-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 to join his new school's basketball revival.

Waiting for Bennett at K-State, which is 10 years removed from its last NCAA tournament appearance, would be new coach Bob Huggins, who was hired on March 23 to replace Jim Wooldridge. No one generated more buzz during the NCAA's spring signing period than Huggins, who inked three key recruits for next season: Bennett; his Miami Tropics AAU teammate, 6'10" forward Luis Colon of Puerto Rico; and 6'1" shooting guard Blake Young of Daytona Beach Community College.

Kansas State knew what it was getting in the former Cincinnati coach. Huggins led the Bearcats to 14 straight NCAA tournaments and the 1992 Final Four. But his tenure was marked by controversy. Nineteen of his players or recruits were charged with crimes, and in '98 the NCAA placed Cincinnati on probation for lack of institutional control. Huggins was arrested for DUI in 2004, and last August the school's president forced him to resign.

Huggins didn't remain idle during his seven months away from the college game. He continued to work his extensive web of recruiting connections. Frank Martin, a former Bearcats assistant and successful high school coach in Miami, helped him create an unlikely talent bridge from Florida to the Great Plains.

Bennett, who had committed to Cincinnati before Huggins was fired, says the coach called after alighting at KSU to say, "I hope you're excited to come here." Bennett's commitment on April 12 gave the program recruiting momentum. To enlist Young, Huggins reached out to former Kansas State player Brad Underwood, Young's coach in Daytona Beach. Soon after Young signed on April 19, Underwood accepted an offer to become the Wildcats' director of basketball operations.

Last Friday, Kansas State dismissed point guard Mario Taybron for violating its policy on substance abuse and suspended star forward Cartier Martin, the team's leading scorer last season, for unspecified conduct violations. Martin could be reinstated by the time the Wildcats begin practice in November. But Taybron's dismissal means Huggins has one more scholarship available for '06--07. It may be filled by guard Tyree Evans, a former Huggins recruit from Richmond who was denied admission by Cincinnati in 2005 after he was indicted on charges of statutory rape. Evans, who pleaded not guilty, was scheduled to make a court appearance on Tuesday. According to KSU associate athletic director Jim Epps, Evans will not be admitted unless the charges are dropped, but Evans told SI last week, "I'm coming to Kansas State, guaranteed. [ Huggins] is holding a spot for me."

Huggins's real blockbuster moves could come in 2007. Michael Beasley, a 6'9" forward at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., and the No. 3--rated player in that class, said that he'll "probably go to K-State," following his former AAU coach, Dalonte Hill, whom Huggins hired as an assistant. Two of Beasley's friends, No. 1 prospect O.J. Mayo, a 6'5" point guard, and No. 7--ranked Bill Walker, a 6'6" swingman at Cincinnati's North College Hill--prime targets of Huggins's since his Bearcats days--are also interested.

Regardless, Huggins has already made a splash before coaching a single game in Bramlage Coliseum. His tenure has the makings of a riveting ride.

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