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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
K-State lacks leadership

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

The big news out of Kansas City on Tuesday night had nothing to do with the Chiefs. The Kansas State-UNLV game was overshadowed by news that broke right before the contest.

Two Wildcats seniors -- preseason All-American Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly -- were suspended by the NCAA for what was reported to be an impermissible benefit of clothing from a local department store.

Their absence was a factor as Kansas State fell to UNLV. It clearly affected the team's chemistry. That, coupled with struggle city from the foul line and turnovers proved costly to the Wildcats.

The NCAA ruled Pullen must sit out three games, the UNLV loss plus the next two. Kelly's suspension was not announced but it was expected to be longer than three contests. This was a major dilemma for coach Frank Martin, whose team was coming off a loss at Florida; the team scored 44 points against the Gators before this devastating news hit.

My friends, I have said it many times: For young men, it is all about making good decisions. In this case, these two seniors -- and I have to emphasize that they have been through compliance sessions -- should know right from wrong.

So many athletes on the collegiate level think they can get away with anything. Instead they damage their program, their families and their own reputations.

It was absolute immaturity in the handling of this situation by two experienced players. You expect more from seniors and from team leaders.

Kansas State clearly lacks leadership, on and off the court. Martin said before the game this season's Wildcat team has more talented than last season's club, which reached the Elite Eight. What is missing is leadership, which Denis Clemente provided a season ago.

Pullen may have been a preseason All-America, but he has not acted like one so far this season. The way he has handled himself has been disappointing. I am talking about a very talented player but he has to take charge and do the right thing, on and off the court. He is competitive and has mental toughness when wearing that uniform. What he did with the uniform off is inexcusible.

It is still early enough in the season for him to shape up. He is the team's catalyst and he will be back for the Big 12 schedule. In the one-night scenario, Kansas State still had a chance to win despite having the school's fourth-leading career scorer out of the game.

Kansas State lacked rhythm. Defense was the great equalizer that kept the Wildcats in the game. UNLV's balance and free-throw shooting were keys to winning.

The Runnin' Rebels had to take advantage of Kansas State being short-handed. Lon Kruger's team did just that.

It was close down the stretch and you know Pullen would have wanted the ball in his hands to make things happen. His poor decision left him away from the action. He let down his teammates for sure.

You have to wonder about the Wildcats who saw added playing time but simply could not take advantage of their opportunities. I think Martin was content with his team's effort but not with the execution on the foul line and passing the ball. The turnovers really hurt.

Give Kansas State credit for playing hard and defending. Whenever you play good defense you have a chance to pick up a victory. UNLV deserves credit for executing effectively in its offensive sets down the stretch while also converting several key free throws.

I am sure Martin doesn't want to make excuses for this loss. Pullen and Kelly will have to learn from their poor judgment moving forward. It is a long season, and they will have the opportunity to gain from this experience.

On Tuesday night, they contributed to a Kansas State setback.