Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Growing up on a farm near tiny Agenda, Kan., hard work was a part of Kansas State freshmen Alex Potuzak's life from the very beginning. From throwing bales of hay to working 15 hours a day during wheat harvest, it isn't surprising to hear that Potuzak, or as his teammates call him, "Sticks", is one of the hardest working players on the K-State squad.
"Sticks works hard, he is a beast," said preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Jacob Pullen. "If people would come and watch us practice, they would see that Sticks is the first one of the floor for loose balls. He gets up every day, he comes in and he works hard."
K-State men's basketball coach Frank Martin pulled into the Bramlage Coliseum parking lot one summer afternoon to find a kid waiting outside the doors of the arena. When Martin first got out of his car he was approached by the tall, lanky kid who had a basketball under his arm.
"I'm Alex Potuzak," he said. "I'm here to play with the guys."
Coach Martin asked him why he was sitting outside and Potuzak replied 'well the doors are locked.' Potuzak was just sitting there waiting for someone to come outside and that is how simple he is, he didn't want to disturb anyone.
Martin opened the door and Potuzak showed up every single day that summer, and that is why Martin and the rest of the Wildcat coaching staff and players love him.
"He has improved so much. He competes. He is a heck of a teammate. He has a chance to help this team out, not just as a practice player but as a guy who is going to help us win some games as he goes through his college career," said Martin.
When asked about his work ethic on and off the court, Potuzak said that he owed it all to the farm where he grew up. In his words, "just working hard and just taking care of what you take pride in," is how Alex lives each day.
Though he might not see much action on gamedays, Potuzak is still an important contributor to the Wildcats success. Whether it's cheering on his teammates from the bench or scrapping with them in practice, Potuzak gives everything he's got to ensure the progress of the team, day in and day out.
According to sophomore guard Rodney McGruder, "He brings toughness to this team. He is a competitor. He rebounds in practice. He pushes the bigs and he challenges everyone. He is vocal sometimes when things are not going well; he will let us know what we are doing wrong. It helps a lot because he is so soft spoken that when he speaks up, you really know you are doing something wrong. He means a lot to this team."
You might think that the love from his teammates and coaches would be more than enough; Alex has quickly become a fan-favorite, especially within the K-State student body. As soon as the coaches yell "Sticks" down to the end of the bench, you immediately hear the crowd's reaction to him as he moves towards the scorer's table to check-in. Once the horn sounds and Potuzak is whistled into the game, the student section erupts in cheers. Each time he touches the ball, the excitement builds.
Although the level of excitement would make the average 18-year-old sick to his stomach, Potuzak has learned how to keep his emotions in check, even if it took a little time.
"It can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially at the beginning of the game," Alex said. "But when I am in the game, I try to block that out. I am doing a better job at it, but it's definitely there and it is a cool experience to have the fans cheering me on and I really enjoy it."
That excitement was at an all-time high on December 6, when Potuzak scored his first points as a Wildcat against Alcorn State in the final minutes of an 89-55 Wildcat route.
K-State head coach Frank Martin could not hold back his thoughts on the Potuzak's first collegiate basket during his post-game press conference.
"I am just ecstatic for him," Martin said. "When a young man pays his own way to school and comes in and the first thing that he ever says to me is it that it has been a life-long dream of his to play at Kansas State, that is a memory that will be with him for the rest of his life and that is what it is all about."
Although he sees limited minutes, especially during conference play, Potuzak continues to be a campus-favorite. Students can barely hide their excitement when they see him on campus, as they give him high-fives and fist-bumps.
"It is pretty cool to have strangers come up to me, because I am used to knowing everybody," Potuzak said. "It is a good feeling to have people that I do not know look up to me."
Potuzak's status as a member of K-State basketball team has made him a local celebrity back at his old stomping grounds of Clifton-Clyde High School.
"I went back to a basketball game at home a couple of weeks ago and I was bombarded with autograph requests from kids that I knew a year ago," he said. "It was insane, it just blew my mind."
It is pretty remarkable to think how far Potuzak has come in such a short period of time. Just a year ago, he was competing in the smallest classification, 1A, in the state of Kansas and now he is playing on the biggest stage in collegiate athletics in the Big 12 Conference.
While he might not be up for any post-season awards anytime soon, one teammate in particular, 2010 Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Jamar Samuels, believes that Alex Potuzak is one of the best walk-ons in the conference.
"If there was a Big 12 All-Walk-On team, Sticks would be first-team, seriously."