Good guard play wins championships … Kansas State hopes.
"I would put them right up with the best," said Texas Tech coach Pat Knight when asked where the Wildcat combo of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen rank in the Big 12. "Other combos got more press before the year, but look at where their team stands."
Kansas State hasn't won every night, but it has won 21 out of 31 games heading into the Big 12 Championships in Oklahoma City.
"They've been great," said KSU coach Frank Martin. "Their willingness to grow and understand what I want them to do offensively is the reason why we've grown as a team. They want to win."
While it would have been understandable for Pullen, a returning starter, to have a dash of resentment of Clemente, who has established himself as the team leader after transferring from the University of Miami, it hasn't happened.
"We don't have selfish guys who are worried about individual numbers," Martin said. "They're only concerned about winning. If they're not, they're not going to play for us. They've been receptive to coaching and receptive to co-existing with the other guys on the team to make it be the best team it can be."
Clemente has been K-State's primary point guard, but in games like Texas when he struck for 44 points, it was Pullen who played at the point, while Clemente became the shooter.
"It doesn't matter to me," said Pullen, who admits that he considers the point to be his better position. "We just want to get the ball to the guy who is hot. I know when I'm hot, Denis will find me; when he's hot, I want to get the ball to him. We both play with a lot of freedom."
Freedom, and success, as the two - 6-foot-1 sophomore Pullen and 6-0 junior Clemente, have proven to be interchangeable parts within a most productive offense.
"It's about putting the best five players on the floor," Martin said.
Clemente has been in twin figures 21 times, and Pullen 20. The two have both been in double-figures 14 times with the Wildcats being 13-1 in those games.
Pullen has topped the 20-point figure six times, and Clemente has scored at least 19 points eight times, which includes a 44-pointer versus Texas and a 33-point outing against Missouri.
Clemente has been the team's leading scorer 12 times and Pullen nine. The duo has also combined for 5.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists and better than two steals per game.
Fancy numbers, but in particular with Clemente, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Martin says of his biggest improvement, "His willingness and desire to improve defensively. Offensively, he's always been gifted and always had the personality of a leader.
"We knew he was a good player and knew of his high level of competitiveness," Martin said. "But he has never been held accountable to play defense. He didn't have to in Puerto Rico, or in high school and he didn't have to defend at Miami (where he transferred from). But his willingness to grow defensively has allowed him to flourish as a player."