Backcourt Duo: Pullen and Clemente

by: Mark Janssen, K-State Official Sports Report

K-State will hold an open practice and meet with the media Wednesday in Oklahoma City before opening NCAA First Round play at 2 p.m. on Thursday

Jacob Pullen or Denis Clemente?

Asked which "one" player he would promote for first-team all-Big 12 honors late in the season, Kansas State coach Frank Martin had a definite opinion. One that left no doubt to his thinking.

"I will leave that to you guys (media). I'm not into individual awards," said the Wildcat coach. "We've got guys who care about competing and have all bought into being a better team. I'm not going to identify one guy and put him on a pedestal."

When the postseason voting was done, Pullen was a first-team all-Big 12 selection and Clemente a second-teamer; Pullen was a third-team all-American in one service, and Clemente a fourth-teamer in another.

"They are two guys with a tremendous understanding of how to play," said Martin. "They understand what I want, and they understand the game of basketball. They've learned off each other. Denis has an unbelievable work-ethic, and Jacob has learned from that. And, they both play with a lack of fear. They believe in who they are."

One could say that Clemente would be favored because he runs the offense from the point, but then Pullen has the higher scoring average, 18.9 to 16.2. Pullen has led the team in scoring 17 times, but Clemente has been tops in assists 18 times.

In all honesty, one could make a case for either being most vital to the Wildcats' success, and be correct.

As Texas A&M assistant coach Pooh Williamson said, "You take first pick and I'll take who's left over and be perfectly satisfied. It's six-of-one, half-dozen of the other. Each one is so dangerous. It's a pick your poison deal."

Williamson is right.

In 16 Big 12 games, Pullen has led in scoring eight times with six games of at least 21 points; Clemente has been high-scorer seven times with six games of at least 21 points.

Other Big 12 coaches agree with Martin in that the two Wildcat guards are equally dangerous.  After all, they are averaging 35.1 points between them with 11 different games of at least 40 points, and two of those being at least 50 points.

In K-State history, only the tandem of Chuckie Williams and Mike Evans (39.1 in 1974-75 and 38.8 in 1975-76) have been a more explosive guard combo.

"You really can't pick one over the other because they both can be so explosive on a given night," said MU assistant Melvin Watkins. "That's the beauty of that team. If one isn't going, the other one is."

Against Iowa State, it was Clemente who struck for 30 points, while Pullen had just 15. It left Cyclone assistant Daniyal Robinson to say, "They are equally important to that team because they feed off each other. They really are phenomenal together. They're great by themselves, but they are even better together when they are feeding off each other."

Oklahoma State assistant Chris Ferguson called picking one over the other "impossible ... a push."

He explained, "Both of them can just break your heart. You want to say the team goes as Clemente goes, but then Pullen is such a dead-eye shooter. Clemente is so quick with the ball, but Pullen is just a tenacious defender."

While losing twice to the Wildcats, Colorado did relatively well in keeping the K-State guard tandem from getting their averages. Pullen scored 18 and 15 in the two games, and Clemente 15 and 10.               

Still, CU assistant Steve McClain says, "It's a credit to both that they find ways to help their side win. Pullen might have a bad night, but then Clemente gets you; Clemente might be a little off, but Pullen will be great. They are such a hard combination to deal with. They play with such a passion and they play so hard."