Pullen Develops Toughness as Wildcat
Pullen Develops Toughness as Wildcat
Editor's Note: The following story appeared in Wednesday's edition of the Kansas State Official Sports Report. It is the first of a two-part visit Official Sports Report had with Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen. For more information or to subscribe to OSR visit www.kansasstateosr.com.
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Scott Greenawalt chuckles in reflection to his initial opinion of Kansas State junior guard Jacob Pullen.
"I'm generally an upbeat guy, but he had the ability to ruin my mood by just walking into the weight room," said the Wildcat strength and conditioning coach for basketball. "He was immature, very soft, had a bad body language, didn't like to work and acted like he could care less to learn what I could do for him."
Again, offering a soft laugh, Greenawalt said, "He came here as a short little fat kid ... pudgy. He's still short, but he has a new body and his work ethic has changed from night to day. He's a new person, completely."
Even as a "little fat kid," Pullen was a productive Kansas State player starting 14 games and playing in 33 in his rookie season. As a freshman in 2007-08, and while teaming with Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, Pullen averaged 9.7 points with nearly a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.
Last year as a sophomore, the Maywood, Ill., product started all 34 Wildcat games averaging 13.9 points, but his assist-to-turnover ratio slipped to a bit better than one-to-one.
Now 35 starts into his junior season, the 6-foot, 200-pound Pullen ranks as Kansas State's No. 7 all-time scorer ranking only behind the all-star cast of Mike Evans, Rolando Blackman, Askia Jones, Bob Boozer, Steve Henson and Cartier Martin.
With a senior season in 2010-11 similar to his junior campaign, Pullen could surpass the 2,115 career point total that Evans established from 1974-78.
Entering Thursday's game against Xavier in the NCAA's Sweet 16, Pullen is averaging 19.2 points (4th in the Big 12), 3.5 assists (10th in the Big 12), 1.6 steals (5th in the Big 12) and nets 82 percent of his free throws (5th in the Big 12).
In K-State's storied hoop tradition, Pullen has joined only Steve Henson as a Wildcat who has scored at least 1,000 points, netted 200 3-pointers, handed out 300 assists and come up with 100 steals.
"I hope this means my name will be in the record book for a long time," said Pullen, an All-Big 12 first team honoree and third team All-American recipient. "One day I might see my jersey hanging up in the rafters of Bramlage."
But now let's return to the Greenawalt-Pullen, at least initially, detest-detest relationship that has turned into a respect-respect agreement.
Asked about Greenawalt's first-year assessment, Pullen gave a soft chuckle as he said, "He said that? (Laughing) He said I ruined his day? (Pause) He's probably right. I had never really had to work before. When other guys were in the weight room in high school, I was out getting more shots.
"Here, where I had to go in (to the weight room), I would still try to cheat and do things halfway, so I wasn't getting stronger," Pullen said.
Giving a reflective pause, and then laughing out loud, Pullen continued, "I remember one time he threw me out of the weight room because I wasn't doing anything productive. He told me to get out, and then texted me not to come back until I was ready to work. Now it's me showing and telling freshmen if they don't work they'll never become a player who can perform at this level. You have to have strength to get through screens, accept contact and play long minutes."
Both coach and player agree that the "light went on" for Pullen when Greenawalt showed the rather stubborn guard living examples of what he had done for players. Examples like the ultra-talented Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
"I could see with my own eyes how much stronger they had become, and I learned first-hand how strong you have to be to play in the Big 12," said Pullen. "I got knocked on my butt enough times that first year, so I guess I was a slow learner. It finally clicked that no matter how many shots you take, that's only one part of the game. Without the rest, things like weights, you're never going to be able to get a shot up. Young kids just don't understand the strength that it takes to play at this level."
If it wasn't Greenawalt's wrath that Pullen was dealing with as a young player, then it was head coach Frank Martin.
Oh, Pullen said he had an older brother back home who was constantly criticizing him in an attempt to make him a better player, and he had high school coaches that urged him to better his game.
But, "I've never been challenged like Frank challenged me. You've got to be tough. Frank is not for the weak-minded. If you can't take criticism to make you better, then he'll probably break you and you will want to transfer."
And of the Martin stare that Pullen, especially in his first year, seemed to ignore by looking to the right, or the left, of the eyes of his coach?
Smiling, Pullen said, "I did learn how to do that. You already know you've messed up, so why look at him when you can already hear him? You have to get used to it and be tough enough. The bad part is when he doesn't say anything and is just staring. You don't know what's going through his mind then.
"But yeah," Pullen said, "You have to be thick-skinned to play for Frank."