K-State guard Pullen a student of basketball
It's one thing for a player to be called another coach on the floor.
It's quite another when that player acts like a coach off the floor, too.
Kansas State's Jacob Pullen does just that, spending hours watching video in his apartment with teammates. He's been known to spot some key nuance in upcoming opponents even before his coaches.
``It's all about being smarter than the other team,'' Pullen said. ``That's how you win games.''
This week, while Kansas State fans make plans for the trip to Salt Lake City and their first Round of 16 appearance since 1988, the junior guard is poring over reports from Xavier, the opponent in the West Regional on Thursday night.
Even though the second-seeded Wildcats (28-7) beat Xavier 71-56 at home last Dec. 8, Pullen isn't lightening the load. He's still watching, trying to grab every little scrap of information, glean every little detail.
It's what he loves to do, and one reason he'll probably wind up one day with a team of his own to coach.
``I just try to figure out what they do,'' Pullen said. ``I ask the coaching staff who I'll be primarily matched up with, who's their best player. I watch their good games, their bad games. I try to figure out what they do. Why'd they have a bad game? Why'd they have a good game? What are they comfortable with and how can I take it away?''
Pullen's preparation paid off big time last week in the 84-72 victory over BYU that propelled the Wildcats into their first Round of 16 in 22 years. Watching film, he noticed that Jimmer Fredette liked to use a crossover dribble, with his hands down low, in certain situations. He mentioned this to an assistant coach, who watched it himself and noticed Pullen was absolutely right.
So Pullen made plans. And sure enough, after waiting for his chance, Pullen flicked the ball away from Fredette's hands and the Wildcats were off and running.
It also helped that Pullen scored a career-high 34 points. But because of Pullen's defense, Fredette finished with 21 points, only 4 of 13 from the floor. In a first-round victory over Florida, he had 37.
``Fredette tried to crossover and Jake put a hand down there and picked him,'' teammate Curtis Kelly said with a big grin. ``Jake likes to study players, find out what they like and don't like, and he uses that to his advantage. He studies guys and he looks at tape. He's going to take away what you like to do and try to push you into what you don't like to do.''
Pullen is often joined in film study by fellow guard Denis Clemente.
``Good players are not only trying to make themselves the best, but they're trying to gain every possible advantage,'' Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. ``The way you do that is by studying your opponent. And Jake understands that. He and Denis do that better than anybody on our team. That's something Jake learned as a freshman.''
When Pullen arrived in Manhattan from his home in Chicago, he'd never even seen a scouting report, let alone studied one. Poor preparation and sloppy defense got him benched several times that first year, even though he was a good enough threat on offense to score 20 points in a victory over the Kansas team that would go on to win the national championship.
``My freshman year my defense wasn't good,'' Pullen said. ``Frank got after me every day in practice, every day during games. I felt like we lost the (NCAA) tournament because I couldn't guard the guard they gave me. It really haunted me for a while.''
Now, he's devoted himself to preparation and defense to such a degree, he's much prouder of the clampdown he put on Fredette than the 34 points he scored.
``Defense, that's what wins games. Offensively, I just made shots,'' he said. ``My teammates got the ball to me and that was the best thing about that.''
Pullen's work habits do not go unnoticed by teammates.
``It's amazing how he can look at the scouting report,'' Kelly said. ``He can read, watch the film and he memorizes it. He memorizes which way they like to go, what is their favorite go-to move, and he's always there. I call him a predator because he's always in attack mode.''