Kansas State

Jacob Pullen hopes 'great journey' comes to an end with Sixers

Jacob Pullen hopes 'great journey' comes to an end with Sixers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s a very real likelihood that Jacob Pullen’s opportunity with the 76ers is over.

That’s the harsh reality of trying to make it in the NBA.

But if there’s anybody who understands the harsh realities of life, it’s the undersized journeyman from Kansas State, who parlayed his prodigious college scoring and prolific outside shooting into a lucrative and successful career overseas — only to feel the pull to give the NBA one more shot.

That is how Pullen found himself back in Sixers camp, five years after playing for them in the summer league, trying to force his way onto a roster packed with lottery picks.

“It’s just a great feeling, a dream come true,” Pullen said, sitting in front of a locker room inside the Sprint Center in Kansas City, where he once led the Wildcats against Kansas in the Big 12 title game.

“I just looked at this as a great opportunity,” he said. “They got a lot of great guys, a lot of great younger guys. I just felt like I had a chance to come in and help them. We’ll just see what happens when it comes down to the chopping block.”

Even if he’s chopped, Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged the impact Pullen has made in camp.

“When you study his background internationally, and listen to him, he’s an adult. And he has a grit about him that’s very endearing, you know?” Brown said. “He loves basketball, he’s tough, he’s had an experience that I think is very impressive. And like a lot of young guys we’ve had, he’s just trying to find a chance, to get an opportunity.”

The Sixers have plenty of backcourt weapons, though. They drafted Markelle Fultz first overall, signed arguably the league’s best three-point shooter in JJ Reddick, and are loaded with versatile perimeter players such as T.J. McConnell, James Blackmon Jr. and Jerryd Bayless.

Still, the soft-spoken Pullen has managed to at the very least raise eyebrows.

“He's been an A-plus teammate, A-plus worker, no back down,” Brown said. “I think all those things have made him a really professional addition to our roster.”

Most of those traits Pullen picked up playing overseas.

After going undrafted in 2011, he played a season in Italy, bounced through the Israeli league and back to Italy, then starred for FC Barcelona in Spain. He had a stint with the Flying Leopards in China, returned to Spain and Italy, played for a club in Croatia and spent last year with a Russian team based northwest of Moscow. Pullen even picked up Georgian citizenship along the way, allowing him to play for the country in European tournaments.

“It's been a great journey,” he said. “I saw a lot of culture, I grew up a lot. I spent a lot of time over there, embraced it, learned a lot of different languages. Now I just want to stay home, enjoy the States for a while.”

A big reason for that is his soon-to-be 3-year-old daughter, who lives with her mom in Chicago. Pullen has made enough money overseas that he’s able to fly her out to see him on the road, but living overseas would make those kinds of trips impossible.

That money stashed away is also why Pullen said he’s open to signing a two-way contract or playing in the development league. He doesn’t necessarily need an NBA paycheck to get by, at least for now, and he’d be willing to pay for pennies on the dollar if it means an opportunity to fulfill his dream.

“I had other teams that were interested,” Pullen said before he recorded three points and two assists in 10 minutes of action during Friday's preseason finale. “I just felt like Philly was the best opportunity — not to wish injuries or anything, but if something happens over the course of a season, I’ll be able to step in.”

NCAA Tournament First Four: Kansas State outlasts Wake Forest in 11-seed game

NCAA Tournament First Four: Kansas State outlasts Wake Forest in 11-seed game

Printable bracket with game times

East Region | Midwest Region | West Region | South Region

DAYTON, Ohio -- After finally making it into the NCAA Tournament with its offensive balance, Kansas State showcased its array of scorers in the First Four.

Kamau Stokes scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half of a wide-open game on Tuesday night, and the Wildcats' versatility was the difference as they pulled away to a 95-88 victory over Wake Forest.

Eleventh-seeded K-State (21-13) got its first NCAA Tournament win in five years and a trip to play No. 6 Cincinnati on Friday in Sacramento as part of the South Regional. The Bearcats are known for their tight defense.

"It's a good matchup for us," said Wesley Iwundu , who had 24 points. "You know they're a tough team, but we're down for any challenge. We're the underdogs now but we like being the underdogs."

In a matchup of two versatile offenses, the Wildcats had the most options and hot shooters. Four players finished in double figures -- their season norm -- as the Wildcats shot a season-high 66 percent from the field against a team they had never faced.

"Now you're playing somebody new and maybe you can get some of the little looks that you haven't gotten in probably like the last six weeks," coach Bruce Weber said.

Stokes missed three of his four shots in the first half, but found his touch right away after the break, hitting a pair of quick 3s.

"I think he just needed to shake off his jitters in the first NCAA Tournament game," Iwundu said. "But in the second half, he got back to doing what he does best, hitting some big shots."

Wake Forest (19-14 ) couldn't keep up during its first NCAA Tournament game in seven years. The Demon Deacons scored 90 points nine times during the season, but couldn't match the Wildcats.

"We came close and then we let them build another lead," said John Collins, who had 26 points and nine rebounds. "So I think it was kind of a trend."

It was a breakthrough season for the Demon Deacons in coach Danny Manning's third season. He led Kansas to the 1988 national championship -- Danny and The Miracles, as they're known -- by beating K-State along the way. And now he had the Demon Deacons back in the tournament for the first time in seven years.

"For us, it's been a long, eventful season," Manning said.

Big picture
Kansas State: The Wildcats repeatedly made clutch shots to hold onto the lead down the stretch. After falling behind by 10 points, Wake Forest got the lead within three points 11 times, but K-State always matched it. The Demon Deacons overcame double-digit deficits to win their last three regular-season games, but couldn't do it in the tournament.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons shot only 36 percent from the field in the first half and had more turnovers (nine) than field goals (eight), forcing them to play from behind.

Where's the defense?
Both teams went through long stretches without missing a shot in the second half. Kansas State made its first five shots and six of seven, while Wake Forest made seven in a row over one stretch. Many of the shots were wide-open.

Getting to the line
The teams combined for 51 fouls and 68 free throws, with things working out almost evenly. Kansas State went 27 of 36 from the line, while Wake Forest was 29 of 32. K-State's 27 points off free throws were a season high.

Up next
Kansas State: The Wildcats will try to win two NCAA Tournament games for the first time since 2010, when they lost to Butler in a regional final.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons return the bulk of one of the youngest teams in the tournament, including three sophomore starters and one junior.