MANHATTAN — Go ahead and stare at the ground. Gawk if you like. Jacob Pullen doesn't mind.
Kansas State's junior guard wants you to notice his shoes.
Before every game he plays, Pullen goes through a long, intricate process to decide what kicks to wear. Style, color, design, they're all important. The goal is to make a fashion statement.
"I need to know what jersey we're wearing," Pullen said. "If we're wearing white jerseys, I'm wearing black shoes. If we're wearing dark jerseys, I'm wearing white shoes. I learned a long time ago you can't wear the same color. They blend in. I can't have that. I want my shoes to stand out."
Few elite college basketball players put so much thought into the shoes they wear. Because of apparel contracts and uniformity, a majority of them wear only what their coaches supply. But that would never fly with Pullen.
The Wildcats' leading scorer collects athletic shoes — mostly basketball — as a hobby. He owns more than 100 pairs, and is always looking to add more. He spends much of his free time scouring the Internet to find deals and release dates, and watches NBA games to check out the latest styles.
"If they look good to me, I try to get them," Pullen said. "If they feel comfortable to me, then I'll wear them in a game."
Those select pairs are special. Not only does he think they make a statement about him, on many nights he thinks they affect the way he plays.
Sometimes he goes with a pair of retro Air Jordans, of which he owns dozens. Other times he goes with the hard-to-get shoes Kobe Bryant wore on Christmas Day, of which he owns two pairs. On occasion he sports shoes that were never officially released.
As long as Nike makes them — he refuses to wear any other brand — he will give them a chance.
That is, until he plays a poor first half. He always keeps a backup pair handy just in case he needs a change.
"If I feel like I'm not playing good in a pair of shoes, I'll switch them," said Pullen, who has been nicknamed "Switcheroo" by his teammates. "If I haven't made enough shots, if we're losing or I feel like we're playing bad, I'll switch shoes. I've done it a few times this year."
With an on-campus apartment filled with shoes, he always has another pair handy. Scattered across his entry way, living room, bedroom and kitchen, they come in every design and color imaginable. Most are modeled after his favorite NBA players. Some were featured in movies.
A few have ripped because of extensive wear. Others are five years old and still look new. Some have been deemed priceless and are only for viewing. Pullen can tell you about all of them.
Staring down at the massive collection last week, roommate Jamar Samuels guessed Pullen owned more shoes than the average K-State sorority.
"As soon as you walk in the house, you see shoes," Samuels said. "They're everywhere. Just look at them. I would say he has at least 130 pairs of shoes."
"I don't have that many here," Pullen interjected. "It's only about 80. The rest are at my mom's house."
"That's still pretty high," Samuels said.
"Yeah," Pullen laughed. "It is."
Wearing that many would be a bit extreme, but certain shoes never leave the apartment. Even fewer are used in games.
Hide a pair of his favorites as a prank, and Pullen will have a hissy fit.
"We tried that once in the gym, and I swear he almost cried," Samuels said. "It was kind of funny, but we don't tease him much about it. That's just who he is. Jacob Pullen loves shoes."
Pullen has been collecting them since his junior year of high school, when his feet stopped growing and he permanently became a size 12. He doesn't want his mother to read this, but back then he occasionally ditched class and went shoe shopping.
One special pair he bought during those outings — the black and white Air Jordan 11 retros, which he fought lines to get — are so important that he has never removed them from their box. Like a vintage comic book, he figures they will lose their value if taken out of their protective cover.
"They meant so much to me," Pullen said. "I took them home and put them right into the closet of my sister's room so none of my cousins or anybody could find them. As soon as I saw them I knew they were going to be worth a lot of money someday."
Today, a mint-condition pair can fetch more than $400 online.
Pullen doesn't have plans to sell them anytime soon, though.
He wouldn't be a good shoe collector if he did.