Pullen Sold on Martin's Honesty

Editor's Note: The following story ran in Thursday's edition of Kansas State Official Sports Report and is the second of a two-part interview 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. - First, the basics.

Jacob Pullen has played in 102 Wildcats games with 71 of those being victories. The junior from Maywood, Ill., has netted 1,464 points putting him No. 7 on the all-time scoring chart.

This year, his 673 points are fifth for a single season in K-State history, his 102 3-pointers rank second high (to Askia Jones' 110 in 1993-94), and his 195 free throws made rank third for a single season.

To all those numbers, the Wildcat junior bearded guard simply says, "It's about winning. If that's what it takes to win, great. I'm doing my job."

Pullen is doing his job like few believed he could. Oh, he was an excellent high school player, but even he says, "My recruiting wasn't crazy. I didn't have a million schools knocking at my door. But Frank (Martin) told me that K-State needed players and that he would make me better. A lot of schools talked to me, but I had the feeling that if they had a chance to get someone better, they would want the other guy. (Pausing and smiling) It was sort of like, I will date you, but if I find a better looking girl, too bad.

"With Bill (Walker) and Mike (Beasley), he said I was joining a No. 1 recruiting class and that a starting job was pretty much mine until I lost it," Pullen continued.  "It came down to Kansas State and Dayton as the schools I thought were absolutely honest in their recruiting, and I chose Kansas State."

Pullen started 14 games as a freshman in 2007-08 when he averaged 9.7 points while serving as more of a set up man for Beasley and Walker.

"That freshman year was fun because none of the pressure was on me. Not much was expected of me. If I played good, it was an extra; if I played bad, it was because he was a freshman," Pullen said. "If I went crazy, as long as it wasn't too crazy, off the court, it was because I was a freshman. It was a relaxed year because there was always an excuse for my mistakes ... I was young."

That was then, and this is now. Pullen is now being counted on for his maturity, and his understanding what it takes to be that total Wildcat player.

To a certain degree, along with senior guard Denis Clemente, the two have taken on ownership of this Sweet 16 Wildcat team that plays tonight against Xavier.

"I want people to see it as my team and I do try to lead it, but with the help of Denis (Clemente) and the other seniors, so the weight is not all on my shoulders," said Pullen. "As a freshman, I stepped back and didn't think it was my responsibility with Mike (Beasley) and Bill (Walker) around. It was like when I was a freshman in high school and there were other players with Division I talent on the floor and I didn't feel I needed to speak up. But that changed when I was a junior and senior, like it's changing now."

While arriving at K-State with an offense-offense-offense mentality, Pullen's game has expanded to the point he was a member of this year's All-Defensive team in the Big 12 Conference. It's an honor he says he took more pride in than being named first team All-Big 12.

"Poor preparation and sloppy defense got him benched several times that first year, even though he was good enough to go out and score 20 points, said Martin.

But today Martin says, "Jake's an anchor for us defensively. He's taken on the challenge to the point he's willing to sacrifice his offense in some games to take on the best offensive player of the other team.

"I'm telling you, Jake embraces coaching. Jake wants to win," said Martin. "Jake came here not even knowing what a scouting report looked like. Today, no one works harder learning about opponents than he does."

Teammate Curtis Kelly said of Pullen's prep work, "He's going to take away what you like to do and push you into what you don't like to do."

On the importance of his total game, Pullen said, "Defense wins games. You can make shots on offense, but defense is what helps the total team, and in our case, it's our defense that gets our transition offense going and that's when we're playing at our highest level."

Pullen then added, "When we lost that NCAA game two years ago (vs. Wisconsin), that was my fault because I couldn't guard anyone."

Last Saturday against BYU, Pullen packaged one of the better games that a K-State player has ever played when he scored 34 points, plus guarded BYU's Jimmer Fredette, holding him to 5-of-13 shooting from the field.

Offensively, Pullen's game continues to grow.

His scoring average is up from his sophomore year from 13.9 to 19.2; his shooting has gone from 38 percent to 42 percent; his 3-point shooting from 33 percent to 39 percent, and this year he has made 195 free throws to last year when he attempted 125.

"Jake has grown as a player," Martin said. "Getting to the foul line is what great players do, and Jake's getting to the foul line."

With scoring, and defending, comes winning. And with scoring, defending and winning comes fun.

"Frank's (coach Martin) making it fun. He's loosened up and letting us drive the car. He's telling us where we're going, but he's letting us control the offense a little more where we can say, 'Let's run so and so.'," said Pullen. "I'm not sure if he wouldn't have let us do that in the past, but we never asked. We didn't feel it was our place.

"There's an understanding now that to be a really good team, you need that coach on the floor. I'm trying to provide that, and Denis is trying to provide that, along with someone like Frank telling us what to do," continued Pullen.

While the focus today is only on Xavier Thursday night, and then either Syracuse or Butler on Saturday, and then the Final Four next week, it was at mid-season that Pullen did take time to dream of his future.

"Yes, I think I can play at the next level.  I think I can score the ball, pass the ball and definitely guard the ball. Hopefully, that will get me somewhere some day," said Pullen. "If it comes up at the end of this year, it's something Frank and I will talk about. But right now the focus is on Big 12 play. That's the focus of everyone in that locker room.

"Right now, I just want to win. I've never won a state title, never won an AAU national title. In some ways, I've never accomplished anything. I want to win the Big 12 and I want to get to the Final Four. I want to feel like I've accomplished something playing basketball. I want a championship before I leave here."