Charlotte Pullen remembers crying all the way through Iowa as she and her husband Jerome drove back to the Chicago area after dropping their son Jacob off at Kansas State for the first time.
Manhattan, Kan. was nearly a 10-hour drive from their home in Maywood, Ill., and to Charlotte, it felt even longer. She was willing to let her baby go off to college -- Jacob being the youngest of four children -- but there were limits to that permission. Kansas State was just too far for her.
"Why can't he go to Loyola, DePaul, Dayton, Xavier, somewhere local?" Charlotte remembered saying. "Jacob said, ‘No, this is where I want to be.'"
Four years later, Charlotte has come to terms with her son being so far away. It's helped that Jacob has loved every minute of being at Kansas State, and even more comforting has been the fact that because her son has developed into one of the nation's top guards and plays for the No. 5-ranked team, she can turn on her television whenever Kansas State is playing and find nearly every one of his games. It isn't the same as seeing him in person, but it gets her by.
On Saturday, Kansas State coach Frank Martin and the Wildcats' program will thank Charlotte for giving them her son for four years. Instead of Charlotte and Jerome having to make that 10-hour drive to see Jacob play, he will be coming to them. Kansas State will face Loyola at the Gentile Center in Chicago on Saturday as a homecoming game for Jacob.
"It's great for me to come home for this game,'" Jacob said. "It's an opportunity for a lot of family members to see me play. They've seen me play on TV and seen me play in high school. This is an opportunity to come to a game. My grandma hasn't come to a game. My aunts and uncles haven't been to a game."
The day couldn't arrive soon enough when Charlotte spoke about it early in the week.
"It is very exciting," said Charlotte, who is hosting a dinner for the team, family and friends in a Loyola banquet room after the game. "We're really excited about it. I've been nagging Coach Martin to bring him home. ‘We're going to work on that, Mrs. Pullen,' he would say. He did."
Jacob will have a large contingent of family and friends in the crowd on Saturday. Charlotte has secured 100-plus tickets herself and has heard from many more friends who are also expected to attend.
As expected, most of Jacob's fans will be wearing Kansas State purple come Saturday. Charlotte, though, will have a mixture of that purple and Loyola's maroon and gold. Aside from being Jacob's mother, she's an employee of Loyola. She's worked in its IT department for 15 years.
"I'm going to wear a Kansas State jersey and a Loyola hat," Charlotte said, laughing. "I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me. ... In my heart, I would like to think that the Loyola coaches thought enough of me. But it's not like any team talked to me. I work in the IT department. It's not like they said fix my computer and set up our basketball schedule."
Charlotte's employment with Loyola did assist in the scheduling, Ramblers coach Jim Whitesell said, and that was just fine by him. If Whitesell can get a top-5 team into his building to play, he'll do whatever it takes.
"They wanted to bring Jacob back to Chicago," Whitesell said. "That was their motivation a little bit. Anytime we can get a Big 12, Big Ten, SEC team to Loyola, we're going to try to do it."
A year ago, Loyola traveled to Kansas State, and the Wildcats ran away with a 92-54 win in their first game in what would be an Elite 8 season. Jacob had a so-so game for his standards with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals, but he shot 3-for-11 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
Whitesell doesn't expect the Ramblers will get off so easy this time. As Whitesell explained, Jacob is a preseason All-American for a reason.
"Pullen is such a great open-court player," Whitesell said. "One of my favorite players growing up was Gus Williams, who played for the SuperSonics and Warriors. He reminds me so much of his game. He can beat you off the dribble, and he's such a good passer. He's a small guard who can play both spots. He's just fantastic.
"When you play against an All-American guy and play against [Butler's] Shelvin Mack last week, they're going to make some tough shots. You just hope to make them hard shots. He's going to make four out of five or all five. He's that good."
Saturday will be the third time Loyola senior guard Geoff McCammon will play Jacob. They faced each other last year and then twice in high school. McCammon starred at Conant, and Jacob continued Proviso East's guard tradition.
"Back then he was a skinnier version of what he is now -- a really good shooter who is ultra quick," McCammon said. "We don't want him to get too comfortable within the offense and get into a rhythm because that's when he's at his best and the most dangerous. It is going to be a challenge, but one that we are looking forward to because he is such a great player."
What Jacob has turned into as a college player has come to the surprise of many. While he was an all-state guard as a senior in high school, he was often over-shadowed by the other star players in his class. Derrick Rose, Evan Turner and his cousin Demetri McCamey also happened to be the same year.
His mother even admitted her son's rise was more than she could have ever dreamed.
"The phrase I like to use is it's kind of surreal," Charlotte said. "Let me first say, I'm his mom, so I think he's the best college player that ever lived, blah, blah, blah. For it to come to fruition and all the accolades he gets, it's kind of surreal. For him to get to this level has been exciting. You kind of pinch yourself. Is that really my kid on the cover of SI?
"I think he made a really good decision in going to Kansas State. I don't think it would have been the same anywhere else."
That said, even with Manhattan, Kan. being 10 hours away.