K-State’s NCAA run ends, but Mr. K-State remains appreciative

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March 25, 2018 2:31 am Published by

ATLANTA — If anyone knows the proud history of Kansas State basketball, it’s Ernie Barrett. After all, he helped write much of it.

Barrett, better known as “Mr. K-State,” led the Wildcats to their greatest feat ever in 1950-51. That season, the senior guard from Wellington earned first-team All-America honors while guiding K-State to a 25-4 record and its only appearance in the national championship game.

But to this day, that title game haunts the Wildcat icon because a shoulder injury prevented him from playing. Without its star and team captain, K-State lost to Kentucky, 68-58.

“He really feels like if he would have been healthy, we would have beat Kentucky and we’d have a national championship,” Mike Clark, K-State’s senior director of development, said Saturday while accompanying Barrett at a pep rally before K-State met Loyola-Chicago in the South Regional finals. “Maybe the whole history of Kansas State basketball would have been different.”

Barrett was among hundreds of K-State supporters who were hoping this year’s K-State team could write its own special chapter Saturday, but Ben Richardson and the 11th-seeded Ramblers dashed those hopes. Richardson, an Overland Park resident and graduate of Blue Valley Northwest, scored 23 points to lead Loyola to a 78-62 victory against K-State.

The loss brought an end to K-State’s season and kept the team from reaching its fifth Final Four, but it didn’t dampen Barrett’s appreciation for the Wildcats (25-12) or his hope for the future.

“I’m so excited,” Barrett said. “I’m kind of humble in my attitude, because I’ve taken the opportunity to do what I can to help them. I feel that we have a great dedication at Kansas State for basketball, and I am so proud to be here in Atlanta pulling for this team.”

To many longtime K-State followers, one of the best parts of this year’s tournament run was that it reminded the world of the Wildcats’ rich basketball tradition. K-State once routinely rubbed shoulders with the nation’s elite, reaching four Final Fours in a 17-season span (1948, 1951, 1958 and 1964) under the direction of legendary coaches Jack Gardner and Tex Winter.

The program remained strong until the early 1990s and was revived in 2006 and 2007 by Bob Huggins and Frank Martin, but Final Fours proved elusive after the ’64 season, when a slick-shooting guard named Willie Murrell carried K-State to the national semifinals and Barrett served as the school’s freshman coach.

This year’s group nearly ended the drought with wins against eighth-seeded Creighton, 16th-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County and fifth-seeded Kentucky before falling to Loyola.

“We have a great basketball tradition — it’s a matter of just making it stronger,” Barrett said. “The success of this particular tournament, being in the final 16 and then going to the Elite Eight, means everything in the world for the basketball program at Kansas State.”

Barrett, who served as K-State’s athletic director from 1969-75, retired in 2007 after nearly 60 years of service to the university as an athlete, coach and administrator. But his purple passion is as strong now as it was during that run to the NCAA championship game 67 years ago.

That was never more evident than Thursday night. Following K-State’s 61-58 win against the same Kentucky program that denied Barrett his crown, team officials circulated a video showing Barrett bear-hugging Wildcat players and coach Bruce Weber.

“It’s been a dream come true for Ernie,” Clark said. “That Kentucky win was kind of icing on the cake, him waiting all those years for us to beat Kentucky. And to have it happen in a meaningful game like that was huge for him.”

Barrett now will hope for an even bigger celebration next season. He said he was encouraged because this year’s team is expected to return all of its key players, making it possible that the team could take another step and finally return to the Final Four.

And if you really want to dream, perhaps the Wildcats could do something truly remarkable for the university’s 88-year-old ambassador.

“Ernie’s been to 62 Final Fours,” Clark said. “The one thing that bothers him the most is Kansas State’s banner is not up with the banners of all the champions. He’s living for the day that Kansas State could have a championship banner up there.”


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