By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Maywood, Ill., isn't Chicago, but the community of 30,000 just to the west side of the Windy City makes it a true homecoming game today at 3 p.m., when Jacob Pullen leads his No. 5 ranked Kansas State Wildcats against Loyola-Chicago.
Admitting that homecomings often times turn sour for the star of the day, Wildcat coach Frank Martin said, "I hope we break that so called mystique and Jacob plays well, because we need him to play well."
Pullen understands that, and now is getting an introduction to what Denis Clemente went through when he returned to Puerto Rico last season.
"I remember Denis being extremely nervous," Pullen said. "I remember Denis really wanting to impress his family and stuff like that. It has that tendency on people when they go back and play at home."
Pullen was a three-year starter for Proviso East High School where his play ranked him among the top 20 point guards in America and the No. 5 player in the state of Illinois by ChicagoHoops.com.
The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 21.7 points and 8.0 assists in his senior season, and 18.9 points and 7.0 assists in his junior season.
On his return home, Pullen speaks only of great appreciation: "When you get the opportunity for some of your family and friends to actually come to a game, you understand how much they've supported you, how much they went out of their way to make sure you were doing OK and to tell you they were proud of you. It makes you want to play your hardest."
If not in the same breath, at least in the second the Pullen name is mentioned with the names of other Proviso East grads that would go on to the NBA - Doc Rivers, Jim Brewer, Michael Finley, Dee Brown and Shannon Brown.
To Martin, Pullen fits in that same mold of Chicago-based players: "Chicago players are gritty and competitive. Chicago players are big-time competitors who play with an edge about them. Jake plays like that."
This season Pullen, a preseason All-American, leads the Wildcats with his 16.0 scoring average, plus is tops with 4.0 assists per game.
"I haven't talked to him about this game, but I'm sure there will be distractions," said Martin after Wednesday's practice this week. "I'm going through it with our game coming up in Miami. More people are calling about tickets, but that comes with the territory and is something to not run away from. You should be happy so many people believe in you."
As for the Wildcats' after-party late this afternoon, Martin quipped, "If we win, we'll be in a great mood and go over to Rush Street and have a great time. If we lose, we might just practice in Charlotte Pullen's backyard."
GOING HOME: Martin wouldn't mention any planned trips to Washington D.C. (Wally Judge, Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels) or New York City (Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, Devon Peterson and Shane Southwell), but it's sure to happen.
"It's our obligation to get these kids home to play a game," said Martin. "They believed in us to come here and play. We don't play in a league that plays near their home, so it's our duty to find a game close to their home. Those guys sacrificed for us and our school, so we will find an opportunity to get them home to play in front of their family."
LOYOLA-CHICAGO: Loyola is 8-2, which includes a 78-50 win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville earlier this week.
The Ramblers return all five starters from last year's 14-16 team leading Martin to say, "They're an upperclassman-laden team. They've got some depth on the front line. They're physical and they can shoot it."
The game will be played in the 5,200-seat Gentile Center where Loyola is 3-0 against K-State, plus the Ramblers also scored a win in Rosemont, Ill.
The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Kansas City.
OTHER KSU LETTERMEN FROM THE CHICAGO AREA: Tyrone Adams, 1978-82; Jerry Black, 1975-1978; Deryl Cunningham, 1991-1994; Roy DeWitz, 1955-58; Parker Laketa, 1982-84; Freddy Marshall, 1982-83; Don Matuszak, 1956-59; Jim Molinari, 1973-75; Trasel Rone, 1991-92; Fritz Schneider, 1954-56; Richie Terry, 2000-01; Ryan Thornton, 1946-48; Lafayette Watkins, 1981-84; Johnnie Williams, 1995-96; Kenny Williams, 1981-83; Daryl Winston, 1973-77.
LEFT TO PLAY IN 2010: K-State will take next week off for finals before playing Florida in Sunrise Fla., on Dec. 18 at 2:30. The Wildcats will then play UNLV in Kansas City's Sprint Center on Dec. 21, before playing in Bramlage Coliseum on Dec. 23 against UMKC and Dec. 31 against North Florida.