(Photo courtesy of Kansas State Athletics)

As last season began to turn the page from non-conference play to the Big 12 season, something changed in my game. I started conference play with a 34-point performance against Iowa State, and began to just play at a different level. I scored at least 20 points in six straight games, and as the regular season ended I was playing some of the best basketball of my life.

We embarked on the Big 12 Tournament with hopes of earning a really high seed for the NCAA Tournament the next week, and that's when it happened.

It wasn't like a snap or a tear inside my body. It was more gradual than that.

We were playing against TCU in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal, and as the second half wore on I could feel the pain throbbing in my foot. I didn't know what was going on, but I wasn't myself. We won the game, but after I walked off the floor the staff decided to do some tests.

That's when they sat me out for the next game, which happened to be against our rival Kansas. We lost that game, but that was okay. Our sights were really on the NCAA Tournament. With several days to rest, I thought I could play in our opener against Creighton.

But I couldn't. I wanted to, but I just couldn't. Even if I wanted to pretend like the pain wasn't there, I would have actually hurt our team by being ineffective out there on the court.

We won that game, which gave us the right to face UMBC in the second round, but I couldn't play then either. It was by far the toughest stretch of my career.

When my teammates found out I couldn't play, you could see the energy in the room just drop. I was the team leader and our top scorer, and I wouldn't be out there to help them win.

But I knew that if I let the energy stay this negative, I might actually contribute to us losing.

One of my favorite Bible verses is from Proverbs 27:17, which says "Just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." That verse shows that my teammates and I feed off each other's personality and make each other into better people. And just as they had sharpened me the entire season, now it was my turn to sharpen them.

Instead of letting my teammates feel sad for me, I decided to stay positive. I reminded them that injuries are just part of the game, and that I was going to be fine. I encouraged them from the bench and pointed out what I was seeing from my point of view during timeouts.

We went the first six minutes of that game without scoring a single point, but my teammates responded exactly how I thought they would, and we fought our way to a 50-43 win. We were now in the Sweet 16.

That gave us the opportunity to face Kentucky, arguably the most prestigious program in the history of college basketball. Nobody gave us a chance in that game, but my teammates believed in each other.

I was also cleared for the game, and even though I only played eight minutes, it helped give my teammates a little rest on the bench. And when they came back out on the court, they were incredible. Of course, so was Kentucky.

The game was tied at 58 with less than 20 seconds to go when my teamamte Barry Brown attacked the basket. Moments earlier he had driven to the hoop and had the ball swatted away, but he is fearless. Bobby attacked his defender a second time, tucking the ball in his bicep like a football, and rolled it in at the last moment to give us the 60-58 lead.

Then after Kentucky's last-second three fell off the rim, it was over. We were heading to the Elite 8.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 4

Thomas Hager