K-State coach Frank Martin arrived at K-State as Bob Huggins’ right-hand man in 2006.
He was greeted with a roster of leftovers from the Jim Wooldridge era – a group that had some talent but had yet to learn how to win.
But there was one player in particular who might have drawn some skepticism about whether he could make it in Huggins’ tough-minded and rugged system – one that required strength and a tough defensive mentality.
It was Darren Kent, who at the time, barely eclipsed the 200-pound mark on the scale. But the 6-foot-11, 230-pound senior battled through difficult times, committed himself to getting stronger and is finally, after all his hard work, reaping the rewards.
Kent stood in the dark Bramlage Coliseum tunnel with reporters engulfing him, microphones and recorders in his face. A bright light beamed off a camera, causing him to squint.
This was all new for the native of Apple Valley, Minn., who had only scored 104 points in his first three years of wearing a K-State uniform. He was rarely, if at all, treated to such a media onslaught in previous years.
But Martin said he never doubted him and always knew Kent had a chance to turn into a solid player in one of the toughest leagues in America – the Big 12 Conference.
“We’ve pushed him real hard,” said Martin, who is the second-fastest coach in school history to reach 40 wins. “We’ve been on him on how good we thought he could be. We pushed him hard enough where he was gonna become a good player, or he was just gonna leave.
“Obviously, he didn’t want to leave. He’s chosen to grow and that’s why he’s played as well as he’s played for us this year.”
Martin said it was all about Kent getting stronger and developing a commitment to getting better.
“He needed to become a stronger athlete,” he said. “To have success in the Big 12, you better have some strength. He needed to commit himself to becoming a better player.
“He wouldn’t spend the amount of time he needed to grow individually, and he’s done that, and that’s why he was such an important part to our team last year. That’s why he was able to deal with guarding Mike [Beasley] and Bill [Walker] in practice, and that’s why he’s been able to accept the responsibility this year,” Martin said.
As Kent’s game has evolved, so has his personality. He has become not only a vocal leader on the court but a man who leads by example.
The lone Wildcat senior leads the team in rebounding with 5.6 per game and is tied for fourth on the team in scoring with nine points a game.
Martin pointed to the second half of the KU game in Lawrence as the turning point for Kent. Since that time, Kent has averaged 10.4 points per conference game while grabbing 5.4 rebounds during the 10-game stretch.
He is also often relied upon to guard the opposition’s best interior player.
Kent has developed a degree of toughness not often seen on the hardwood. During the Iowa State game last Saturday, Kent took a nose-breaking elbow from teammate Luis Colon. The injury sent him to the bench, but only briefly.
“Two years ago, he doesn’t get back into that game after he breaks his nose,” Martin said. “Now he’s accepted the responsibility that he needs to help this team succeed. So he popped that nose back into place and immediately said ‘Get me back in there,’ and that’s a sign of a guy that’s willing to lead.”
Kent said his performance on the court is all a matter of confidence this year, something he no longer lacks.
“I just worked really hard this summer on my game,” said Kent, who has seen 590 minutes of action this year, 13 more than he had seen his whole previous career combined. “I tried to work on my post moves a little more.
“During games I just try to assert myself. The key for me has been just staying aggressive on offense and creating a presence.”
There may have been a fair share of doubters when Kent set foot on campus four years ago. But years later, Kent has left nothing to doubt.