Just minutes before the tip between Kansas State and UNLV at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, word came down that Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were both to be suspended. Pullen got three games, including Tuesday night’s tip, while the length of Kelly’s suspension has yet to be determined. Its the second time this season that Kelly has been suspended from the team.
The cause of the suspension revolves around the purchase of clothing at a department store. Apparently, Pullen and Kelly received clothing at a discount price from a woman that works at the store.
“These young men have worked hard to represent themselves and Kansas State in a positive manner,” KSU coach Frank Martin said in a brief statement. “Having said that, they made a mistake in judgment and have to pay a price.”
Tonight it cost them. Kansas State lost 63-59 to the Rebels in a game where the Wildcats simply could never find any kind of rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that losing the best two offensive weapons on a team that doesn’t have many of them could yield some ugly results.
And it did. K-State turned the ball over 22 times. They shot 3-12 from three and 14-26 from the line. The 40.4% they shot from the field is much better than one would assume they shot after watching that team try to execute in the half court. And despite all of that, the Wildcats only lost to a good UNLV team by four points.
That should give you an idea of the talent level of this Kansas State team.
The problem is leadership.
The problem is the example being set by the guys that are supposed to be leaders on this team.
“I don’t want to hear anything else about leadership about anyone other than the guys on the basketball court,” Martin said in a fiery press conference after the loss. “I do not want you to refer any questions again about anybody who was not dressed and in uniform here today.”
“Until this team doesn’t find that character and that leadership, we’re going to continue to flounder around.”
There is no way to sugarcoat it — Pullen and Kelly knew what they were doing was wrong. Its not that they should have known better, its that they did know better and did not care. These players are schooled time and time again about the dangers of accepting gifts. They know how serious the NCAA takes this kind of thing, even if it was as innocent as a female cashier hooking up the two of them one time because she knew who they were and wanted them to like her.
Hey, I was once a broke college student myself. I certainly wouldn’t have turned down an offer of a discount on anything, and I probably still wouldn’t today. But I also didn’t have a basketball scholarship and, potentially, a basketball career that could be put into jeopardy by accepting such an offer.
The lack of leadership was evident on the court the past two games. It was evident every time Pullen struggled to find an open look against Florida on Saturday. It was evident every time Martavious Irving or Nick Russell or Rodney McGruder dribbled into a turnover on Tuesday. It was evident when K-State had no one capable of stepping up and making a big shot.
Denis Clemente may not have been a more talented back court player than Pullen. But he was a better leader. A more natural point guard.
And if this season has proven anything, a more valuable piece to K-State last season than we originally thought.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.