By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Frank Martin will tell you the new found link with Jacob Pullen is ... well, he'll only say, "That's between Jake and I."
But whatever conversation that took place, the words were well chosen by the coach, with every syllable intently listened to by the player.
But the basics are these: "I'm doing my job better," said Martin. "Rather than expecting him to do things, I'm helping him to do things, which enables him to be a better leader for those young guys."
One of those young guys is Will Spradling, who gives his teammate much of the credit for his recent play, which has included an average of over nine points per game in his last four outings, which included Monday's career-high of 17 against Baylor.
Prior to his most recent hot streak, Spradling had scored only five, zero and three points.
"I was not playing too well, and he (Pullen) told me what I needed to work on and where I could get better in practice," said Spradling. "If I am not doing something right, or am having problems, he is always pushing me and trying to make me better."
Since his three-game suspension, Pullen has returned to the court to score 141 points in his last seven games along with three-plus rebounds and nearly three assists per game.
To a degree, Martin is taking part of the credit for his guard's stellar play: "I am doing a better job of coaching Jake. I am doing my job, and if I do my job, it allows him to play like he is capable of playing. He has been great here for about a 10-day period. If I would have gotten off my you know what and done my job better earlier in the year, he probably would have been playing a lot better and we would have been that much better of a basketball team."
Without being specific, Martin added, "I was telling him to lead, but he was begging for my help. I finally got off my rear end and helped him."
Martin called Pullen's effort against Baylor his "most disciplined" play of the season on both sides of the floor.
Not only is Pullen providing leadership, not to mention his 18 points per game for the total season, he's also become the lock-down defender on the perimeter with his latest heroics coming against Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn.
The 6-foot-4 Dunn was limited to 13 points, or eight under his season norm, and those points came on an icy 4-of-17 shooting from the field. With 2,058 career points, Dunn just happens to be the Big 12's fourth all-time leading scorer with 42 games of at least 20 points.
"Jake was extremely disciplined, and then his teammates really helped him by being in the right places, which made him catch the ball further out on the floor," said Martin. "Never did LaceDarius catch it looking at the rim and in rhythm. He was always in duress."
On the assignment, Pullen said, "I like to guard LaceDarius. It is a good challenge. He does a great job manipulating people to get his shots. I tried to stay in his face because I have watched a lot of film on him. He is a great challenge, and he is one of the best players in the Big 12."
And, the compliments go the other way, as well, "He (Pullen) is one of the best defenders in the Big 12. He did a good job. Whatever their plan was, he stepped up and was the leader of his team and doing his role."
In the last seven games, Pullen has scored at least 20 points in five games, and never below 16. He's shooting 46 percent from the field, 33 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the foul stripe. He's also handed out 21 assists and had eight steals, all while averaging 33 minutes of court time.
"Jake came off the suspension more focused in what he needs to do to help this basketball team, and how to prepare to play better and lead this team," said Martin.
To his recent play, Pullen added, "I just do whatever the team needs. I was able to get off the ball some, but if I have to play the point for 30 minutes, it is not a problem. We just have to be energized and enthusiastic."
Now, if that play can only continue into Saturday at the University of Kansas, and into a slightly easier February schedule to wrap up Big 12 Conference play.
"Tonight's game (Baylor) was a must-win," said Pullen. "It gives us some momentum to build on going into Lawrence on Saturday."