TUCSON — Jacob Pullen says Frank Martin isn't just someone he'll forget about after his playing days at Kansas State and never talk to again.
Pullen says the two will share a lifetime relationship, even after its rocky start when Pullen could do little right in his coach's eyes, which always seemed to be staring a hole right through him.
But Martin would not be the successful coach he's become without Pullen, and Pullen admits he wouldn't be the player he is without Martin, screaming and all.
"So, yeah, I'll always have a relationship with Frank,'' Pullen said Friday on the eve of Kansas State's third-round NCAA Tournament game tonight against Wisconsin. "I think that whenever I'm done playing basketball, and wherever Frank's at then — if he's still at Kansas State — then he owes me a job.''
Martin owes Pullen something, all right. And vice versa.
They've grown together, Martin as a coach who got an opportunity and Pullen as a player who arrived at K-State thinking he knew a lot and found out early on he didn't know nearly as much as he thought he did.
The two butted heads frequently. Pullen showed flashes of the player the Wildcats thought they were getting when they recruited him out of Chicago but he was all over the place, including Martin's doghouse for much of the season.
Pullen didn't sulk. He didn't think about leaving. He took his verbal lashings like a man and he took them to heart.
"The one thing Frank has always told me I've done a great job with is accepting coaching,'' Pullen said. "And whenever the coaches told me I wasn't doing something right, I tried to do it right the next time.''
Pullen thought he would be one of those players who made college basketball a rest stop, like some of the guys he played high school basketball against in Chicago. He never expected to be at K-State for four years, but by doing so he's rewritten a good chunk of the Wildcats' record book.
With 2,094 points, Pullen is within 21 of Mike Evans' career scoring record. He's K-State's career leader in steals (210), three-pointers (293) and games (134) and is second in free throws made (521) and attempted (650), assists (453) and minutes (3,946).
Pullen doesn't even want to know how close he is to the scoring record and if you try to tell him, he'll cover his ears.
"He's absolutely great,'' Martin said. "All the accolades he got early this year — and you've got to remember that when we threw the ball up for the first time this year he was still 20 years of age — but with all of those accolades and he's been able to accept all of that at a young age and then deal with the tough moments, not run and hide.''
And there have been tough moments, including a two-game suspension for accepting clothing at a Manhattan department store, and an unfortunate but never retracted comment about not participating in the NIT if it came to that.
It didn't, and Pullen's play during the past three weeks has been a major reason. He scoffs at any suggestion that he put the Wildcats on his back, but the numbers show that Pullen has taken his game to another level, and it was already pretty high.
"It's shown a lot of character inside that young man,'' Martin said. "It's shows a lot why he's going to go down as one of the greatest K-Staters of all time.''
No doubt about it, Pullen is among them. He's playing in his third NCAA Tournament. He's been a two-time All-Big 12 player. He's as hot right now as any player in the country. He returned to the court from a 100-plus degree fever and led K- State to an opening win over Utah State.
It's K-State's party, but Pullen is the decorator.
Since he learned that becoming a great player isn't just about talent, Pullen has taken off. He spends hours looking at tape, trying to figure out the tendencies of his opponents. He's become one of the best defensive guards in the country, which makes his matchup today against Wisconsin junior Jordan Taylor compelling.
The kid who showed up at K-State thinking the basketball world owed him something long ago found out that you get only what you give.
"He came here thinking the NBA Draft order was going to be Mike Beasley, Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen,'' Martin said. "But that's what they all think when they come in as freshmen. And as time started going on that year, he started to realize that it wasn't going to be as easy as he thought it might be.''
When Beasley and Walker left for the NBA after the 2007-08 season, Pullen was expected to do more. And as a sophomore, teaming with Denis Clemente in the backcourt, he helped lead the Wildcats to 22 wins and the NIT. Last season, he was the leading scorer on an Elite Eight team and the script is still being written this season.
"What I found out my freshman year,'' Pullen said, "was that I didn't understand the game as well as I thought I did. Yeah, it was a challenge at times with Frank. But I've dealt with coaches in my career who tend to scream and really be enthused and energized about their job. Frank was hard on me because he wanted more out of me. It was a matter of just growing up and understanding how much I could get out of basketball.''
He's gotten about everything there is to get. You can't, after all, get blood out of a basketball.