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The Best of the Best

By Mark Janssen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In years to come when debating about the best of the best guards in K-State history, two leading candidates will be wearing suits as coaches for the opposing team tonight, while the other has helped K-State re-emerge as one of the nation's top programs heading into the 8 p.m. game with UNLV at the Sprint Center. 

Pullen (2007-08 - present) is K-State's preseason All-American; Lon Kruger (1971-72 - 1973-74) is the current head coach at UNLV, and Steve Henson (1986-87 - 1989-90) is an assistant for the Rebels.

"I don't know how you could pick which one was best," said Ernie "Mr. K-State" Barrett, an All-American guard, himself, in 1951. "They each played for a different coach and in a different style, but each was just fantastic in what they were asked to do."

For the record:
• Kruger (in three years) was on Jack Hartman-coached teams that won 61 games, two Big 8 titles (K-State has won just one since the Kruger era) and two NCAA games.
• Henson, who was coached by Kruger, was a part of 81 wins, is the only player in KSU history to play in four NCAA Tournaments, where the Wildcats scored five wins.
• Pullen, under the guidance of Frank Martin, has been a part of 81 wins, including five in postseason play - four NCAA and one NIT.

"The individual records are special, but it's so difficult to compare eras," said the 42-year-old Henson. "Coach Kruger played only three seasons and that 3-point shot changed everything when it comes to records. The thing that is significant to my career is getting to four NCAA Tournaments as a team. Nothing is more important to me than doing that, and I'm sure the others would agree that team accomplishments rank higher than anything done as an individual."

For the record:
• Scoring - Pullen's 1,688 points ranks fourth in K-State history, Henson's 1,655 points is sixth, and Kruger, who played before freshman eligibility started in 1971-72, ranks 17th with 1,063 points.
• Accuracy - Kruger shot 47 percent from the field, Henson 44 percent and Pullen 41 percent.
• Free throw shooting - From the line, Henson's .900 career accuracy is a K-State record, while Kruger ranks fourth at .826, while Pullen's at .765.
• From afar - Pullen is KSU's all-time leader with 246 3-pointers, to Henson's 240, which is second. The first year for the 3-point shot was 1986-87.
• Passing - Henson holds the record for all-time assists with 582, while Pullen is second with 382. The first year assist records were kept was 1976-77.
• Steals - Henson ranks first in career steals with 190, while Pullen is No. 2 with 182. The first year steal records were kept was 1979-80.

"He's a terrific all-around player," Henson said of Pullen. "He's had a great career and won a bunch of games by doing a variety of things."

Adding a soft chuckle, Henson added, "Someone sent me a note telling me he broke the 3-point record, but I didn't know he passed me on the scoring list. It was only a matter of time."

For the record:
• Kruger was a two-time Big 8 Conference Player of the Year. He led KSU to a pair of NCAA Elite Eight finishes and two Big 8 regular season titles. A member of the All-Century team, Kruger was also a two-time first-team all-Big 8 player, plus earned the league's Newcomer of the Year Award. Kruger was drafted by both the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and baseball's St. Louis Cardinals. He later returned to coach the Wildcats to four NCAA Tournaments during the Henson playing era.

"Kruger was a very good leader and had such a sense for running coach Hartman's motion-type offense," said Barrett.

"He was very good at making his own moves and making shots. But what you really think of is his leadership. As coaches say, he was that coach on the floor."

• Henson, another member of KSU's All-Century team, is the only player in Kansas State history to play in four NCAA tournaments. At the end of his career, he had broken 21 school records. Three times he was voted as KSU's Most Inspirational Player and twice an honorable mention All-American selection. He was a second round draft pick by Milwaukee, and had a six-year NBA career.

"Henson was bigger and stronger than the other two," said Barrett. "He scored more than Lon and was just a more aggressive player, while Lon was more of a playmaker. Henson was also a smart player on defense."

• Pullen entered the year as a preseason All-American after earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last year, plus was part of the league's All-Defensive team. With a normal rest of the year, his point total will rank second only to Mike Evans. Pullen ranks as one of just four players in KSU history to score 700 points in a single season. The others are Michael Beasley, Mitch Richmond and Askia Jones. He currently ranks in the top-five in 13 career categories

"Because of what coach Martin stresses, Jacob has really improved on defense. He's a terrific scorer, who is trying to learn how to be a point guard again, but you can see him developing. Like the others, Jacob plays without fear."

For the record:
• A native of Silver Lake, Kan., Kruger played at 5-11, 165 pounds. He didn't sign with K-State until the summer months after the hiring of Hartman. Kruger played in 80 games and was a three-year starter.
• A native of McPherson, Kan., Henson was 6-1 and 180 pounds. He was only lightly recruited and was Kruger's first scholarship offer. Henson played in a record 127 games with 118 of those as a four-year starter.
• A product of Maywood, Ill., Pullen is 6-1, 185 pounds. A three-star recruit, Pullen was primarily recruited by mid-major schools. He has played in 115 games with 96 starts as a four-year starter.

For the record:
• Joining Kruger as starters in his senior season in 1973-74 were Danny Beard, Dean Harris, Larry Williams and Gene McVey. That year K-State went 19-8, was ranked as high as No. 13, placed second in the Big 8 and played in the Commissioner's Classic in St. Louis at the end of the year.
• Joining Henson as starters in his senior season in 1987-88 were Will Scott, Mitch Richmond, Charles Bledsoe and Fred McCoy. That year K-State went 25-9, was ranked as high as No. 14, placed second in the Big 8 and reached the NCAA's Elite Eight.
• Joining Pullen as starters in his senior season in 2010-11, to date, are Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling, Curtis Kelly and Freddy Asprilla. The Wildcats are 9-2 and have been ranked as high as No. 3.