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Made For Manhattan

NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Kansas State was an odd choice for a high-spirited kid with player-of-the-year talent, but it's worked out well for Michael Beasley -- for one season, anyway.

March 18, 2008|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Michael Beasley stepped off the plane to begin his new life at Kansas State last summer carrying nothing but his cellphone and a charger.

"He had no extra clothes, no bag, no anything. His charger was stuffed in his pocket with the cord hanging out," said his mother, Fatima Smith. "But they were so happy to see him, they didn't care if he came out here with his boxers on."

People call this remote college town on the rolling plains of Kansas the Little Apple, and after the way Beasley made it here, he can make it anywhere.

A season after Kevin Durant's seemingly once-in-a-generation debut at Texas made him the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft and the first freshman ever to be named national player of the year, his boyhood friend from the Washington, D.C., area has nearly outdone him.

Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds at Texas. Beasley averages 26.5 and 12.4 for Kansas State, making him the nation's leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, and he broke Carmelo Anthony's NCAA freshman record for double-doubles, now 26 and counting.

He is the co-favorite for national player of the year with North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in a race charged with debate over the merits of a freshman who might become the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and a veteran who might be on his way to an NCAA title.

If Beasley travels light, well, he has learned to. His prep career included five schools, and his whistle stop here could end as soon as Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament against USC.

"All I need is a basketball," Beasley said. "I'll take my ball and dribble through the airport."

Beasley will face another freshman phenom Thursday in O.J. Mayo, a player he met on the summer ball and all-star circuits.

They made vastly different college choices, Mayo choosing the big city. Beasley picked the one so small that when the clothes he shipped ahead didn't arrive for two weeks, he couldn't find a pair of sweat pants big enough for him at the local mall.

"He looked like Urkel," his mother said.

Amid the famous of L.A., the smaller Mayo often goes unnoticed. For Beasley in Manhattan, it's "like being a giraffe in a zoo," he told ESPN.com.

"He's what, 6-9, 240?" Kansas State Coach Frank Martin said. "It's hard for him to blend into the crowd."

Still, Mayo got into a bit of NCAA trouble for accepting a ticket to a Lakers game. That would be nearly impossible for Beasley, who lives two hours from Kansas City, which only wishes it had an NBA team.

"I've just been chilling, you know. There's nothing to do here besides play basketball," Beasley said. "I mean, you can go out to the bars and stuff, but there's nothing but trouble there. I don't need none of that. I go to practice, school and work out by myself."

Beasley said he doesn't care much about publicity. When CBS lent him a camera and asked him to film his days, he returned it unused. "I don't want to videotape my life," he said.

He is also wary of trouble, and there are reasons. That is part of the reason Smith, his mother, moved with her four other children and her boyfriend to Kansas -- to watch over her son and work as a medical staff manager for Medical Associates of Manhattan, where she said those who hired her didn't recognize who she was.

"You want to say misbehavior, but it's not misbehavior because Michael was never kicked out of schools," Smith said. "Whether he could have been a little bit more mature, yeah, but he was 13 or 14, 15, 16 years old, away from home. He was off on his own in private schools, living in dorms. There's really no discipline like your parents' discipline. He was a little out of hand. Do I regret it? Yeah. But it was also a learning experience for him."

One of the most-cited incidents was at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, where Beasley went on a graffiti spree that included signing his initials and nickname on the bumper of the principal's car.

"Why would he write on his car? Not to make light of anything that he's done, because Lord knows I know it can be frustrating, but thank God it was just writing on the bumper. It can be replaced," Smith said. "It wasn't anything malicious or anything horrific. He was just more annoying than anything."

At Kansas State, Martin, a first-year coach, has found nothing annoying about Beasley.

"You look at the top five, six, seven guys in the country, I guarantee you, they transfer. It's the culture that's been created," Martin said. "That doesn't make him a bad person. Has he done some silly things? Yes, he has, because he loves to laugh and loves to make people laugh.

"But in basketball, he's never been a goof-off. He's always been about winning. I think college has helped him understand when and when not to be playful."

Many wondered if Beasley would play for Kansas State at all after coach Bob Huggins bolted for West Virginia after one year and Martin, who had never been a college head coach, was chosen from the staff to take over.

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