K-State's Jacob Pullen knows that only a championship will help his team gain ground on a certain in-state rival
When it comes to hoops, Jacob Pullen knows word-association games in the Sunflower State can be a bit one-sided. Say "Kansas," and people might say "James Naismith" or "Danny Manning." But say "Kansas State," and you're likely to hear "Hmmm."
The Wildcats' top scorer had a similar response in 2007 coming out of suburban Chicago's Proviso East High. "I didn't know anything about Kansas State," says the 6-foot junior shooting guard. "Then I did my research and found out the program has history, and it's our chance to bring it back."
Plenty of college basketball's boldface names—including Bob Boozer, Rolando Blackman, Mitch Richmond and Michael Beasley—have worn the Kansas State purple and white. But compared with the Jayhawks' three NCAA crowns, K-State's solid but untitled program lacks ... heritage.
Pullen knows nothing would close the gap between an esteemed program and a vaunted one than out-Kansas-ing Kansas at the NCAA tournament.
"We have to [get] people's attention so they say there's two good schools in Kansas," says Pullen, 20.
Stealing the spotlight depends on the play of Pullen and senior point guard Denis Clemente, who combined for 1,047 of the team's 2,397 regular-season points and led the Cats to as high as a No. 5 ranking, in Week 16, and a second-place finish to KU in the loaded Big 12. Pullen, who scored 13 points in Kansas State's 72--64 loss to the Jayhawks in last Saturday's conference final, averaged 18.9 points and was so consistent that he hit double figures in every game. At the other end, his gritty play landed him on the Big 12's all-defensive team. He stresses those two characteristics—consistency and hard-nosed defense—to the Wildcats' freshmen, in hopes of parlaying one successful season into a new K-State tradition. (The No. 2--seeded Cats play North Texas on Thursday.)
"I'm hard on our freshman guards because I want them to understand the game and become better players," says Pullen, who often sentences freshmen to extra sprints should they not execute. "We want people to understand this program is going to stay. [Coach Frank] Martin is going to do a good job of getting good players in. The players who are here are going to get better."
Which has Pullen playing a little word association of his own: When he hears "March," he thinks "legacy."
DOUBLE TROUBLE Pullen, an All--Big 12 defensive performer, has scored 10 or more points in every game