Jacob Pullen doesn’t spend much time at his alma mater now that he is a respected professional basketball player who gets paid handsomely to drain three-pointers and win games with teams in foreign countries, but he made sure to make the trek back to Bramlage Coliseum for Kansas State’s battle against Texas this weekend.
He wanted to get an up-close look at the Wildcats now that Jerome Tang has led them into the top 10 in just Tang’s first season as head coach.
Many of Pullen’s old friends, including Curtis Kelly, who is currently working as a graduate student manager on Tang’s staff, had told Pullen that the Wildcats were back to winning games the same way they used to when Pullen was dominating games in a purple uniform and setting the school’s all-time scoring record. The Octagon of Doom was back, too. If he returned to the Little Apple for a game, they told him, he would not be disappointed.
Turns out, they were right.
“This is beautiful man,” Pullen said during an interview at halftime. “This is like it was when we played. That’s the best thing about it. Kansas State has a real sixth-man advantage again. When you can sellout Bramlage like this and the crowd has an impact like this it is really hard to beat us in this gym.”
Very warm welcome for Jacob Pullen pic.twitter.com/OFgGbZ5Ack
— Kellis Robinett (@KellisRobinett) February 4, 2023
Pullen remembers how loud Bramlage Coliseum used to get when Frank Martin was coaching and the Wildcats had memorable victories over Texas and Kansas when each team was ranked No. 1. He would have put The Octagon of Doom up against any other college basketball arena in the country on those nights.
It was disappointing for him to see that atmosphere slip away during stretches of the Bruce Weber era. But he’s glad it’s back.
“That’s what made me want to come back and see a game so bad,” Pullen said, “just the way that Tang has brought the energy back and brought life back into this gym so fast. A lot of people didn’t expect it, but I remember saying something when I played at The Basketball Tournament last summer about how special he could be. And he has proven me right.”
“It’s not just about coaching, it’s everything. It’s his interactions with the fans, the players and his staff. He is an amazing guy. I think we really got a steal right now. It’s his first year and he’s got his team ranked in the top 10. That is amazing.”
K-State was unable to beat Texas with a legendary player watching from a front-row seat, but the 69-66 loss on Saturday did little to dampen Pullen’s mood.
He was happy to talk to the team before the game and spend time with old friends this weekend, such as Kelly, whom he thinks is a rising star in the coaching world. Pullen is not worried about the Wildcats. He thinks they will bounce back.
“What impresses me most is how unselfish they are,” Pullen said. “They make the extra pass. In basketball today there aren’t a lot of teams that make the extra pass and play together. For these guys to come together this year and play so unselfish and so together is amazing. That is the reason that they are ranked. Their defense is good, too. But the way they share the ball on offense is fun to watch. They feed off who is playing good and that determines who is going to get the shots.”
K-State played a video tribute for Pullen in the first half and then plastered his face on the video board as he waved to fans as the crowd greeted him with a thunderous ovation.
That was not a surprise. Everywhere he goes in Manhattan, people show him love.
K-State guard Markquis Nowell said it was a thrill simply having Pullen in the crowd.
“We love it when Jacob Pullen comes back,” Nowell said. “He’s like my big brother. I’ve only known him since last year when I came to K-State, but the knowledge and wisdom he gave us before the game was great. It was also cool to see the fans embrace him and showing him love. He should have his jersey retired.”
Many K-State fans would agree on that last point.
It’s not unusual to see someone bring a homemade sign to a game at Bramlage that reads: “Put Jacob Pullen in the rafters.”
Pullen played his final game in a K-State uniform more than a decade ago. It is long past time for K-State athletic director Gene Taylor to organize his return to campus for that special ceremony.
When could it happen? Pullen, who currently plays pro ball in Kuwait, has an answer.
“We are going to try to get that done soon,” Pullen said. “I had a meeting with Gene Taylor earlier today, and it is really about my schedule and plan. I am sure that when I retire we are going to get it done. I just need to make sure I can get my guys here. I need to make sure Frank Martin, Dalonte Hill, Denis Clemente, Michael Beasley and everybody else in this town who helped me set the scoring record are here with me. They all need to be there.”