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Fear the Beard? More like fear the stable of talented big men

JACOB PULLEN'S facial hair took Manhattan by storm last spring, but the Beard wasn't his idea alone. After spotting an especially hirsute face on TV, power forward Curtis Kelly urged Pullen to grow out his whiskers. "I helped his marketing scheme," Kelly says with a laugh. "Fans owe that whole Fear the Beard logo to me."

This season the resurgent Wildcats figure to enter into an even more significant debt to the big man. Last year K-State rode one of the best backcourts in the country—Pullen and point guard Denis Clemente—to the Elite Eight. But the graduation of Clemente shifts the focus to a cast of large characters, led by Kelly, that coach Frank Martin has assembled down low. "I think we have the best frontcourt in the country," says Pullen. "We have a lot of depth. We really want to look to get the ball inside."

Especially to the Bronx-bred Kelly, a transfer from UConn who emerged as K-State's third-leading scorer and leading rebounder last year. A former five-star recruit known for his aggressive defense and a clever hook shot around the basket, Kelly believes he's vastly different from his younger self. "I wasn't hungry at UConn," Kelly admits. "But now I am." Joining him in the frenzy in the paint is 6'7" Jamar Samuels, the reigning Big 12 sixth man of the year, and a maturing crew of perhaps unparalleled size: 6'9" Wally Judge, 6'10" Freddy Asprilla and 7-foot Jordan Henriquez-Roberts. "We didn't have all that last year," Kelly says. "Now we can score from different angles, and we all have different skills."

As for the bearded one, Pullen will slide into Clemente's spot, where he has some experience. (As a freshman, Pullen led an upset of Kansas from the point.) But alongside his new backcourtmate, likely sophomore Rodney McGruder, he'll be leading a new-look attack. "This year our front line is the one with experience," Martin says. "They'll have to lead our team as our guards find their way."


Coach Frank Martin (4th season)

2009--10 record 29--8

Big 12 11--5 (2nd)

NCAA tournament Elite Eight


Returning starter

*2008--09 stats at Florida International


Nov. 12 James Madison

Nov. 16 Virginia Tech

Nov. 18 Presbyterian

Nov. 22 Gonzaga*

Nov. 23 Duke or Marquette*

Nov. 26 Texas Southern

Nov. 29 Emporia State

Dec. 3 at Washington State

Dec. 6 Alcorn State

Dec. 11 at Loyola

Dec. 18 Florida

Dec. 21 UNLV

Dec. 23 UMKC

Dec. 31 North Florida

Jan. 3 Savannah State

Jan. 8 at Oklahoma State

Jan. 12 Colorado

Jan. 17 at Missouri

Jan. 22 at Texas A&M

Jan. 24 Baylor

Jan. 29 at Kansas

Feb. 2 Nebraska

Feb. 5 at Iowa State

Feb. 12 at Colorado

Feb. 14 Kansas

Feb. 19 Oklahoma

Feb. 23 at Nebraska

Feb. 26 Missouri

Feb. 28 at Texas

March 5 Iowa State

*O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic in Durham, N.C.


The momentum is turning in this intrastate rivalry, but to coach Frank Martin, Kansas State is still Kansas's little brother. "We're not quite there yet," Martin says. "We're working to elevate our program to their status." Their first duel of the year, in which the Wildcats will be favored, will show how much work remains.

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CURTIS KELLY After lifting his game, the city slicker will lead what Pullen calls "the best frontcourt in the country."