K-State's Pullen loves shoes, beards and hoops

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He has a scraggly black beard because he hasn't shaved since August, motors around the "other" Manhattan in a Ford Taurus and once apparently said he would like to trade places with embattled Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas.

Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen wasn't highly recruited out of high school, despite playing for Chicago's famed Proviso East -- which produced the likes of NBA stars Doc Rivers, Michael Finley, Shannon Brown and one-time Utah Jazz guard Dee Brown.

But just look at him now.

The 6-foot junior guard has catapulted himself into college basketball stardom, his latest attention-grabbing feat the 34-point outburst he laid on BYU last Saturday -- coupled with some lockdown defense on Cougar star Jimmer Fredette -- that propelled the second-seeded Wildcats into this week's West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City.

"Making the Sweet 16 is the best moment of my career," Pullen said in Oklahoma City on Saturday after the 84-72 win over BYU. "All the other accolades can wait."

Too late.

They have already started.

Pullen, or Pulz, as teammates call him, earned all-Big 12 first-team honors earlier this month after averaging 18.8 points and 3.5 assists per game in the regular season. He was named a third-team All-American by The Sporting News and recently became only the seventh player in school history to eclipse the 1,400 career points.

"He's just a phenomenal player, one of the best I've ever played against," said BYU guard Jackson Emery. "He knew when to go for the kill. Great shooters feeling a lot of confidence know when to go for the dagger."

Against the Cougars, Pullen wasn't dominating early. But after a hard fall when it momentarily appeared he would have to leave the game, he instead stepped on the gas. He scored 14 points in the final seven minutes of the first half as the Wildcats went on a 28-8 run to spoil the Cougars' Sweet 16 dreams.

"I just couldn't sit there and watch us play," he said. "Unless something was broken and I couldn't walk, I would have gotten back up and tried to play."

Coach Frank Martin said it is that kind of toughness that sets Pullen apart.

"Off the charts, off the charts," Martin said of Pullen's performance. "That is what I preach. I preach team basketball. I preach you play both ends. It's not about catering to a good offensive player and [ignoring] the defensive side. Our guys, I think they do that, and Jacob showed that today firsthand."

Much like BYU's Fredette, Pullen did not have a lot of major college scholarship offers out of high school, despite starting at Proviso East for three years and being ranked as one of the top 20 high school point guards in the country.

But Martin persuaded him to try the "Little Apple" in Manhattan, Kan., and he's developed into one of the premier players in college basketball.

"I watched all the NCAA tournaments since I was a kid," Pullen said. "For me to be in this position, it's an amazing thing."

So, what's up with the beard?

The growth on Pullen's cheeks and chin has been there since before the season started, and as much as he says he would like to take it off, he can't.

The beard has become an unofficial rallying symbol for Kansas State fans. Students wear T-shirts that say "Fear the Beard" on them, and before the Wildcats played Texas in January, officials passed out fake beards to fans at the Bramlage Coliseum.

"The guys won't let me shave it," he said.

Although KSU's media guide notes that Pullen is a decent cook, his greatest love outside of basketball is collecting shoes. He has at least 130 pairs of sneakers, according to the Wichita Eagle , and they line every nook and cranny of his apartment near campus.

"Jacob Pullen loves shoes," said his teammate, Jamar Samuels.

And he also loves to shine in the NCAA Tournament. The BYU Cougars can attest to that.


The Jacob Pullen file

Hometown » Chicago

Position » Guard

Height » 6-0

Weight » 200

Class » Junior

Date of birth » Nov. 10, 1989

Major » Criminology

Basketball highlights » Scored a career-high 34 points in Saturday's 84-72 second-round win over BYU. ... Selected to the Big 12 All-Tournament team in 2010 after averaging 19.3 ppg. ... Selected to the All-Big 12 first team and the All-Big 12 defensive team. ... Became the seventh player in school history to eclipse 1,400 career points. ... One of two players on team to start all 34 games as a sophomore, averaging 13.9 ppg. ... Averaged 9.7 points on 40.1 percent shooting as a freshman. ... Three-year starter at Proviso East High in Maywood, Ill.