Kansas State University

Jacob Pullen: Kansas State's man in charge

MANHATTAN — From the moment Kansas State basketball practice began in October, Jacob Pullen has taken considerable pride in his newfound leadership duties.

The junior guard talks about them all the time and believes he has become an extension of coach Frank Martin on the court.

When teammates make obvious mistakes, he scolds them with Martin-like intensity. When errors are less noticeable, he keeps track and reports to coaches later. He also recommends punishment.

"We're starting to run more and more after practice," said sophomore forward Jamar Samuels, who lives with Pullen. "If you don't do what he says, he's marking you down for a suicide at the end of practice. He's going by Frank and saying, 'He didn't do such and such.' Boom, you've been marked down for a suicide."

It takes a special type of player to lead with that approach. If handled incorrectly, the yelling could easily make a person seem bossy. The punishments could make others view him as a snitch.

Pullen doesn't worry. Teammates say he long ago earned their respect.

How can they argue with the guy who's averaging a team-high 19.2 points? He's scored 20 or more points in five of his last six games. He's led K-State to a 9-1 start and No. 17 ranking, the program's highest in more than 20 years.

And if that weren't enough, he's also the guy who, as a freshman, received arguably the toughest tough love Martin has given to any K-State player since his arrival in Manhattan. Each of his mistakes were loudly critiqued and all of his turnovers were admonished.

"That was tough on him," senior Chris Merriewether said. "But he got through it."

This season's freshmen are experiencing the same growing pains. Even though they weren't around to see his development, Merriewether said the rookies admire Pullen all the same.

"He does everything the right way," he said. "I was here when he was a freshman. He used to get yelled at more than anybody out here. I've been able to see him grow. I've seen it from Day 1, and he's turned into the biggest leader on this team."

Becoming more vocal was easy for Pullen. He says he was the most talkative player on his high school team in Maywood, Ill. But choosing the time to speak up was difficult.

As a KSU freshman, he said he chose to "coast" through the season and followed the lead of others. K-State advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament that year, so his attitude seemed fine.

But as a sophomore, when the Wildcats suffered through a midseason funk, he realized he had to become more involved. That team rallied to post a winning record in Big 12 play but fell short of the NCAA Tournament. As a junior, he decided there would be no hesitation.

"I'm just embracing it," he said. "I'm trying to be a coach on the floor. You can't always hear Frank. I've got to be able to deliver that message for what we want to do on the court, just in case we don't have any timeouts and I got to call something."

His teammates are always listening. On top of providing constructive criticism, he tries to be there for support. When he asks for teammates to run after practice, he says he volunteers to stay and run with them.

He also tries to keep the Wildcats together off the court. He has said that the team has regular — and mandatory — outings to the Manhattan movie theater and mall. And following a recent win over Washington State, Samuels said Pullen invited the entire squad to their house to watch a replay.

"Jake had a girl over there who was cooking burgers and fries for everybody," Samuels said. "It was fun."

Martin is impressed, not only because Pullen is helping the Wildcats achieve on the court, but that he's doing it at such a young age. Pullen, who turned 20 in early November, is younger than most junior.

"He's been able to perform and lift the spirits of so many people in the locker room," Martin said. "You don't find so many 20-year-olds who can do that.

"He's consistent in his approach. There aren't ups and downs like he had two years ago. This year, so far, he's been very consistent with his approach and with the message that he sends every day."

Whether that message is cold or pleasant, Samuels insists it is respected. There is no arguing with Pullen this year.

"No way," Samuels said. "He's our leader."