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November 1, 2007

K-State fans have reason for excitement

Rivals.com has selected the top 25 storylines for the 2007-08 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 5 storyline focuses on the growing excitement surrounding Kansas State, which landed the nation's No. 2 recruiting class.

It's difficult to arrive at college with more hype than Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley.

Beasley, Rivals.com's No. 1 prospect from the 2007 class, has been a household name in the recruiting world for more than three years. He has graced the cover of numerous magazines and was called a lock for the lottery in the 2008 NBA Draft before capturing MVP honors at the prestigious McDonald's All-American Game in March.

But K-State senior forward David Hoskins seems to have found a way to raise the bar. "I feel Michael has a little more talent than Kevin," Hoskins told Rivals.com. "Obviously, they are two different kinds of players, but Michael can really shoot the ball and I think he's more athletic than Kevin."

The "Kevin" that Hoskins is talking about is Kevin Durant. The same Kevin Durant who dominated college basketball last season like no freshman ever, averaging 25.6 points and 11.3 rebounds while sweeping every national player of the year award.

Before you discount Hoskins' opinion, consider that he has played against Durant when Durant was at his best. Durant, the No. 2 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, scored 32 points against the Wildcats last season. Many of his baskets came right over Hoskins.

Thinking another freshman could be better seems farfetched. Then again, so does the idea that K-State would be one of the most talked-about programs in the preseason. Or that the nation's top prep prospect would choose to attend school in Manhattan, Kan.

When Hoskins first arrived at K-State, the program was far removed from the national spotlight.

"It's night and day," Hoskins said of how the atmosphere around the program compares to his freshman season. "It was pretty much a football school when I first got here, but it's changed more and more every year. Now, students are asking me questions about the team all the time. You can tell everybody is excited about basketball."

The transformation began when K-State hired former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins last year. Almost immediately, a handful of high-profile prospects began committing to the Wildcats. The team won 23 games and went to the second round of the NIT. It was the program's first postseason bid since 1999.

Huggins left in the offseason to take over at West Virginia, his alma mater, but the interest surrounding K-State has increased. K-State has 12 games on national TV this season, breaking the school record of 10 last season. Five games are on ESPN, which is another first.

A glance at K-State's latest recruiting class explains why. Huggins leaves behind Beasley and six other prospects that make up the nation's No. 2 class. The university's decision to replace Huggins with former assistant Frank Martin and keep assistant Dalonte Hill, who has strong ties with Beasley, on the staff played a pivotal role in keeping the recruits from looking elsewhere.

"I think that is a huge indication that people are paying attention to us," Martin said of the 12 national TV games. "It started last year, and obviously it helped from a recruiting standpoint. We began getting a lot of national attention, and now we have high expectations."

K-State was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 coaches' preseason poll, the highest ranking ever for the program. The Wildcats are ranked No. 11 in Rivals.com's preseason top 64.

Much of those lofty predictions are based on what looks like the Big 12's top frontcourt. The return of Hoskins, a healthy Bill Walker and the addition of Beasley who was tabbed the league's preseason rookie of the year give the Wildcats a formidable group up front.

Hoskins led the Wildcats with 14.5 points per game last season and pulled down 5.9 rebounds per game. Walker, the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2007 class, accelerated his academics and enrolled in the spring semester last season. But in just his sixth game, Walker tore the ACL in his left knee and didn't play again. He received a medical redshirt. So far, all indications are that Walker, an explosive leaper, has fully recovered.

"Bill looks great," Martin said. "He's stronger than he's ever been."

The same goes for Beasley, who Martin says has put on 15 pounds of muscle since returning from the U-19 World Championships in July. Beasley averaged 12.3 points in just 17 minutes per game in the tournament. Martin says Beasley, who is 6 feet 9, now weighs 242 pounds.

"Michael is making the commitment in the weight room right now," Martin said. "He has a great work ethic to go along with great hands and a great feel for the game and tremendous talent. I've been around some good players, but he is the best."

The backcourt is led by three-year starter Clent Stewart at point guard. Stewart isn't much of a scoring threat, but his experience will be invaluable for a team that promises to play a handful of freshmen. That includes speedy Jacob Pullen, who will push Stewart for minutes.

Former junior college transfer Blake Young, who played steady minutes last season, is the favorite to start at shooting guard. However, he'll have plenty of competition from Andre Gilbert - another JC transfer - and freshman Fred Brown.

"I think we have very talented guards," Hoskins said. "The key is gaining experience. After a couple of games under their belt, I think they will play like sophomores and juniors. They will be fine."

The status of freshman wing Dominique Sutton, a four-star prospect, and freshman power forward Jamar Samuels is in question. Both are hoping to become eligible by the spring semester, which would put them on the court in time for the start of Big 12 play.

Martin has no problem with the high expectations, regardless of whether Sutton and Samuels are eligible. He believes the Wildcats have the pieces to contend for the Big 12 regular-season title.

"We expect to win championships," Martin said. "We have a lot of new players, but we also have a lot of returning guys who have been with us for more than a year. They are a year stronger and wiser, and are better players. A pretty good recruiting class has made us more athletic. All our freshmen will contribute. We want to line up and win every game we play. I don't know about a specific number, but I want to compete for that Big 12 championship."

If Beasley comes anything close to performing like Durant, Martin may get his wish.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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