By Mark Janssen
Leadership is one of those intangible things that's tough to put a definition to other than to say that good teams are said to have it, and iffy teams are said to lack it.
There's no question that Kansas State's No. 5 ranked and 7-1 basketball team has a world of potential, but the search continues to locate that steady leadership on a team that includes six sophomores and four freshmen.
In coach Frank Martin's mind, the leadership starts with Pullen, himself.
"Jake's back to leading again," said Martin. "Jacob has to be our leader. He's the heart and soul of our team. He needs to be that leader every day. That's not an easy job, but there has to be somebody out there who we can depend on to move the team forward."
The Wildcats coach added, "Jake's earned the respect of everyone on our staff with his approach and willingness to learn."
Picking up the wordage of his coach, Pullen said, "It's all about wanting to learn. We have to have people on this team who want to learn. We can't have attitudes of against being coached. We have to have guys coming in every day to get better."
He added, "It's a long way to the top, but it's easy to fall to the bottom."
Pullen didn't shoot the ball well in Friday's 63-58 win over Washington State, but with the game on the line, K-State's No. 0 was the one that made the winning plays.
While shooting just 2-of-11 from the field, it was the preseason All-American who drilled a trey with 5:52 remaining to put the Wildcats up by six, and it was Pullen with the steal and the assist to Curtis Kelly at the 1:55 mark to keep K-State in the lead, and it was Pullen with nine seconds left who swished a pair of free throws to solidify the victory.
The bad of his game was his 2-of-11 accuracy and a half-dozen turnovers. But the good were the pivotal plays, the six rebounds, the five assists and the two steals.
In trying to coach leadership into K-State's current freshman class, Pullen vividly remembers his own personal learning curve.
"It took me a long time to learn what leading the team was all about as opposed to just playing for myself," Pullen said. "I would say it took my entire freshman year and a lot of my sophomore year. I was playing with Denis (Clemente) who played with more passion and was more vocal, while I did my thing by example."
"I'm trying to get it into these young guys that they don't have to be vocal right now ... I'll do that, but we need people to lead by doing the little things right every time," said Pullen.
It's a message Pullen has learned from his head coach.
"Our players have to take ownership of this team and we have to get them to learn how to sustain discipline and effort," said Martin. "We built who we are at Kansas State over the last four years playing a certain way, and we're not going to deviate from that. That's our stamp; that's our identity. We're not going to change because we have guys who don't like to play with that kind of effort all the time. It's not going to happen."
Martin summarized, "When we play the right way you see the ability of this basketball team. We're not a very good team right now, but the one thing I like is the fact our room for growth is phenomenal."