Kansas State is primed to be a Final Four contender in 2010-11, but if the Wildcats do reach the lofty heights that barely evaded them in 2009-10, they'll have to do so in spite of a semi-shocking transfer.
Junior forward Dominique Sutton, who figured to play a major role in K-State's interior in the coming season, has decided to transfer. Sutton wants to be closer to his hometown of Durham, N.C., where his girlfriend, two daughters and immediate family still live.
"Being around my kids every day, and having the chance to play in front of my family all the time sounds pretty good," Sutton said by phone Saturday. "I love them a lot. I want to be there for them, and be a part of their life. Seeing them grow up is something I want to do."
"I'm leaving behind everything that I helped build," Sutton said. "It's tough to say goodbye to all that, but sometimes other things come up that are just more important."
It's hard not to respect Sutton's decision. K-State fans might feel a little scorned, but the easy thing for Sutton would have been to stay and play at K-State, where Sutton could have been an immediate part of a successful team in 2010-11. Instead, the transfer decision will force the player to take a year off and hope one of the schools in his area will pick him up for a one-year transfer in 2011-12. That's a big sacrifice to make for one's family, but it's a sacrifice Sutton is apparently -- and somewhat admirably -- willing to take.
Where does it leave the Wildcats? It's a testament to the depth of Frank Martin's program that the loss of Sutton doesn't immediately diminish his team's chances at the 2011 Final Four. Jacob Pullen's return is a major factor, obviously, but so is the return of junior Curtis Kelly, the Wildcats' most productive frontcourt player and one who took major steps forward in the Wildcats' 2010 NCAA tournament run. Forward Jamar Samuels is back, as is improving freshman Wally Judge.
For their part, the Wildcats seem particularly excited about two newcomers: Will Spradling, a point guard Wildcats fans will hope can compensate for the loss of senior Denis Clemente; and Freddy Asprilla, the 2009 Sun Belt rookie of the year who withdrew from the school after it hired Isiah Thomas. Asprilla averaged 13.7 points per game at FIU as a freshman.
In other words, the Wildcats might take a slight hit from Sutton's transfer, especially on the defensive end, where Kelly will have to improve. Still, if all goes well, Pullen and company will be right where they planned before they heard Sutton's news. That's the kind of depth you'd expect from a powerhouse like Kansas. But it's happening in Manhattan, too.