Nearly a decade has passed since Kansas State last retired a men’s basketball jersey at Bramlage Coliseum.
Why so long?
That’s a question more and more K-State fans are beginning to ask. It rarely stops there. Why isn’t Jacob Pullen’s jersey in the rafters? Should the Wildcats honor Michael Beasley? What about Steve Henson or Rodney McGruder?
As the debate rages on message boards and social media, there is reason to believe K-State may soon end the drought.
“That is something we are going to start looking at a little more closely,” K-State athletic director Gene Taylor said, “because it has been a while and we have a few players out there that are probably deserving. I am going to get with our staff and look at that a little more seriously over the next year.”
Walk into K-State’s basketball arena and you are quickly reminded of the star power that has worn purple over the years — Ernie Barrett, Bob Boozer, Jack Parr, Mike Evans, Lon Kruger, Chuckie Williams, Dick Knostman, Rolando Blackman, Willie Murrell and Mitch Richmond. Their names and numbers are all in the rafters.
If it was up to K-State coach Bruce Weber, the Wildcats would have already expanded the group. He is ready to have a ceremony for Pullen, the Wildcats' career leading scorer, who graduated in 2011. Even though he never coached Pullen, Weber recognizes he had an iconic career that included three trips to the NCAA Tournament, one run to the Elite Eight and several highlight plays that are still shown before every home basketball game.
“There is no doubt he is going to have his jersey retired,” Weber said. “I will be honest, I have pestered people about it. Two years ago, I really wanted to do an alumni game during the summer and honor Jake. But everyone decided we would rather do it at a game when we have 12,000 people here to celebrate his career.”
Finding a time that works for everyone seems to be the most challenging factor for these types of ceremonies. The 10 former players who can look up at their names inside Bramlage Coliseum were all done playing when they returned to campus for their jersey retirements between 2005 and 2009. Sure, they all had important jobs, but nothing the Wildcats couldn’t plan around.
Things can be different for active players, particularly ones who spend much of the year overseas like Pullen. NBA players, like Beasley and McGruder, are usually available over the All-Star break, but that only works if K-State has a home game that weekend and the players don’t have their own vacation plans.
“Part of it is the timing,” Taylor said. “Are they still playing? Does it really make sense to push them right now with everything they have going on? There is a lot that factors into it. But you definitely want them to be there.”
The fact that Beasley and Pullen haven’t been honored is a sore spot for some fans.
Some pushed for a jersey retirement at Pullen’s final home game, similar to the way K-State bid farewell to women’s basketball players Kendra Wecker and Nicole Ohlde. It didn’t happen, but that showed how strongly some felt about the honor.
“It will happen,” Weber said of honoring Pullen, “when we can do it during the season at a game when we know he can be there.”
K-State does not use any hard criteria when it comes to deciding which players to honor with jersey retirements, senior associate athletic director for communications Kenny Lannou said. Players don’t have to win a certain number of games, reach a particular round in the NCAA Tournament or win All-America honors from a certain news outlet.
Unlike the school’s Hall of Fame, which requires former players to have graduated from K-State and reached specific athletic benchmarks for inclusion, it’s up to the basketball coach, athletic director and support staff to make subjective choices on jersey retirements.
Former K-State athletes also have to wait at least 10 years before they can be considered for Hall of Fame status. There is no time frame for jersey retirements.
“When you are considering a student-athlete for a jersey retirement a lot of it comes down to when would be the appropriate time,” Lannou said. “A lot of people have brought up Michael Beasley and Jacob Pullen. We have had discussions about both of them and in those discussions most feel they are worthy of that kind of honor.”
Pullen seems like a slam dunk. Not only did he break the school’s scoring record, he was the face of K-State basketball during one of its best four-year stretches in recent memory under Frank Martin.
But what about Beasley, McGruder and Henson? Or maybe even Ed Nealy or Cartier Martin?
There is certainly an interesting debate to have with Beasley. The current NBA forward had a transcendent freshman season in which he averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds, was chosen Big 12 Player of the Year, earned consensus All-America honors and helped transform K-State basketball into the NCAA Tournament regular it is today.
Some will say his jersey belongs in the rafters like Kevin Durant at Texas and Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse. Others will argue he needed to stay at K-State for more than one year to earn that honor.
McGruder appeared in four NCAA Tournaments and helped K-State win its first conference championship since 1977. But he never won any major individual awards. Henson once held school records in 21 different statistical categories. But he’s still waiting.
“The next question would be for Rodney or Beasley, you know, guys like that,” Weber said. “We will just have to wait and see what happens. I don’t have a say on that and I don’t know what all the protocol is, but it would be great for Rodney. He is part of the winningest class in school history. He did a lot of good things, helped win the league. I hope he is given serious consideration.”
Jersey retirements are a win for more than just the players involved. They give fans an opportunity to celebrate past achievements and they create a recruiting tool for coaches.
In time, K-State wants to have more of them.
“When was the last time it happened? I can’t even tell you,” Weber said. “I hope it happens soon. It’s been too long.”