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From famed players such as Jack Parr, Bob Boozer, Rolando Blackman and Mitch Richmond to legendary coaches Jack Gardner, Tex Winter and Jack Hartman, K-State has one of the nation’s proudest traditions.
The Wildcats have been playing the game since 1903 and have racked up over 1,300 victories, 22 NCAA Tournament appearances and 17 conference championships. The program has advanced to the Sweet 16 on 16 occasions, while making 11 trips to the Elite Eight and four ventures to the game’s ultimate destination, the Final Four.
This tradition of excellence began on Jan. 16, 1903 when Kansas State took on Haskell College. After a two-year hiatus, the Wildcats returned to the court in 1905-06 under the direction of C.W. Melick. Melick was replaced after a year by a man that has become a true pioneer in Kansas State Athletics, Mike Ahearn. The man that once coached nearly every sport at the college and became the namesake for Ahearn Field House took the reins in 1906 and guided the Wildcats to three consecutive winning seasons. Guy Lowman replaced Ahearn after five seasons and guided the program to three straight winning seasons.
Head coach Z.G. Clevenger captured the first of the Wildcats’ 17 conference crowns in 1916-17, when he helped K-State to a 15-2 overall record and the Missouri Valley Conference Championship. The team rallied off 13 straight wins to conclude the season by average margin of victory of 20 points. The season would produce the first All-American in school history, as guard F.I. Reynolds garnered first team honors. After a second-place finish the following year, Clevenger guided the program to another conference title in 1918-19 with a 17-2 mark. During his brief four-year tenure, Clevenger helped the program to a 54-17 (.761) record, including a 38-15 (.717) league mark.
After successful tenures by Charles Corsault (1923–33) and Frank Root (1933–39), the university hired Jack Gardner in 1939 as its ninth head coach. Gardner, who is enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame, coached the Wildcats in two stints, from 1939–42 and again from 1946-53. After posting just 20 wins in his first three seasons, Gardner returned to Manhattan in 1947 and led the team to its first winning season in 16 years with a 14-10 mark.
The following season, the Wildcats made the most of their first NCAA Tournament appearance, advancing all the way to the 1948 Final Four, where they lost to eventual national runner-up Baylor in the Western Regional Finals, 60-52. The squad became the first in school history to win 20 games en route to capturing the Big Seven crown. The team tied for the league title in 1950 with a 17-7 record before Gardner guided the ‘Cats to arguably the greatest season in school history.
With first team All-American Ernie Barrett leading the way, Gardner’s Wildcats rattled off 25 wins to just four losses en route to capturing the Big Seven crown for the third time in four seasons. Entering the NCAA Tournament ranked fourth in the nation, K-State survived a scare from Arizona, 61-59, in the first round before beating No. 11 BYU and No. 24 Oklahoma A&M to advance to their second Final Four appearance. Facing No. 1-ranked Kentucky for the national championship, the Wildcats took a 29-27 lead into halftime. However, the Wildcats with an injured Ernie Barrett were overwhelmed in the second half in a 68-58 loss.
Under Gardner’s guidance, K-State posted an 147-81 (.645) record, including a 127-47 (.730) record in his last seven years. He helped the program to a pair of 20-win seasons and two Final Four appearances. After helping the squad to back-to-back second-place conference finishes in 1952 and 1953, he handed the reins of the program to his assistant, Tex Winter, in 1953.
The man best known for helping Phil Jackson mold NBA championship teams in Chicago and Los Angeles, Winter led Kansas State to 262 wins in his 15 seasons from 1954-68. He still owns the highest winning percentage (.691) and most league titles (eight) in school history and twice led the Wildcats to the Final Four (1958 and 1964). Winter guided K-State to postseason play seven times, including six trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Winter was named UPI National Coach of the Year in 1958 after he led Kansas State to the Final Four by knocking off Oscar Robertson and second-ranked Cincinnati in an 83-80 double-overtime thriller. Junior center Bob Boozer was one of three Wildcats to be named a first team All-America, along with teammates Jack Parr and Roy DeWitz. K-State advanced to their fourth Final Four in 1964. Winter’s Wildcats knocked off Texas Western and No. 5 Wichita State to reach Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. Two-time Big Eight selection Willie Murrell averaged 25.3 points per game during the run, which ended in a 90-82 loss to eventual national champion UCLA.
Kansas State’s long line of successful coaches continued in 1970 when then-athletic director and former All-American Ernie Barrett hired Jack Hartman as head coach. Hartman led the Wildcats for 16 seasons, becoming the program’s all-time winningest coach with 295 wins and guiding it to three league titles and seven NCAA Tournament appearances. Hartman’s teams advanced to the Elite Eight on four occasions (1971–72, 1972–73, 1974–75, 1980–81) and six times to the Sweet 16 (1971–72, 1972–73, 1974–75, 1976–77, 1980–81, 1981–82).
Former Wildcat and two-time Big Eight Player of the Year Lon Kruger followed Hartman as head coach in 1986. Kruger became the first coach in K-State history to guide four consecutive teams to the NCAA Tournament, including the Midwest Regional Finals in 1988 where the Wildcats lost to eventual champion Kansas. Following the season, Mitch Richmond was named the school’s most recent All-American.
Former assistant Dana Altman took over for Kruger following the 1990 season. In four years, Altman guided the Wildcats to three postseason appearances, including the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Best remembered for his ability to win close games, and for pulling off some of the biggest upsets in school history, Altman led the Wildcats to three consecutive winning seasons from 1992-94. His 1994 squad, led by Askia Jones, upset No. 1 Kansas, 68-64, before a nationally-televised audience on ESPN in Lawrence en route to winning 20 games for the first time since the 1988 season and advancing to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
Tom Asbury took over the program in 1994, guiding the Wildcats to the 1996 NCAA Tournament in his second season. Asbury would help the program to back-to-back postseason appearances at the NIT in 1998 and 1999. His 1999 squad won 20 games for the first time since the 1994 season.
Jim Wooldridge arrived on campus in 2000 and has continued to build on the great tradition established many years ago. He built a strong foundation that helped the program capture back-to-back winning seasons in 2004-05 and 2005–06, including a 17-win season in 2004-05 and narrowly missing the postseason.
Kansas State began a new era on March 23, 2006 when the Wildcats chose legendary head coach Bob Huggins as the school's 21st head coach. Although he stayed just one season, Huggins made an immediate impact on the school, as he guided the program to a 23-12 overall record and a fourth-place finish in Big 12 play with a 10-6 mark. It was the most wins since tallying 25 during the 1987-88 season and first 20-win season since 1998-99, while the 10 conference wins were the most in the Big 12 era and the most since the Mitch Richmond-led 'Cats earned 11 Big Eight wins in 1987-88. Huggins also guided the squad to its first postseason appearance in eight seasons with its invitation to the MasterCard NIT, helping the Wildcats to a 1-1 record.
Hoping to continue the momentum started in 2006-07, Kansas State chose Huggins' top assistant, Frank Martin, as the Wildcats' 22nd head coach on April 6, 2007. An ultra-successful high school coach and college assistant since 2000, Martin helped attract the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the country to the school in November as recruiting coordinator, including consensus Top 10 prospects Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Prior to coming to K-State, Martin served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northeastern (2000–04) and Cincinnati (2004–06).