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It won't steal much of the spotlight from the Final Four, but on Saturday morning, Kansas State made one of the more curious hires so far this spring.
Less than a week after Frank Martin left for a big payday at South Carolina, which also freed him from some of his struggles with the K-State administration, the Wildcats will give recently fired Illinois coach Bruce Weber a shot.
Weber's name sort of came out of nowhere for the Kansas State job, and early on, it doesn't appear to be the popular choice among Wildcat fans. A wide range of names had been thrown out for the vacancy, ranging from controversial former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to Colorado coach/rising star Tad Boyle to former K-State stars Steven Henson (Oklahoma assistant) and Tim Jankovich (Illinois State head coach).
One prominent alum whose initial reaction was far from stellar is former star guard Jacob Pullen — the most successful player Martin had during his five-year tenure in Manhattan. He took his frustrations to Twitter.
Pullen helped lead K-State to three NCAA tournament appearances, 95 total wins and an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 in his four seasons — the program's first voyage that deep in the NCAA tourney since 1988.
His mini-rant began as follows:
OK, this first bit clearly comes from a bit of deep-rooted bitterness.
Pullen was a bit raw as a combo guard at Proviso East High in Chicago's near-west suburbs, coming from the same program that had produced star guards for years — most recently Dee Brown at Illinois at the time.
But he wasn't recruited to follow in Brown's shoes by Weber at Illinois. Instead, Weber landed high-profile point guard prospect Demetri McCamey — another Chicago product — as the centerpiece of his 2007 recruiting class. A year earlier, he'd recruited big man Brian Carlwell — a teammate of Pullen's at Proviso East.
At the time, it was completely understandable why Weber went for McCamey instead. In hindsight, Pullen had a far more decorated and successful college career after taking a chance as an afterthought of sorts in a K-State recruiting class that was led by stars in Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
Pullen is now collecting a nice paycheck while playing professionally in Italy, and he likely will for years. He got the absolute most out of a college career that started with minimal expectations. But, clearly, the feeling of being snubbed in the recruiting game doesn't go away easy.
After retweeting some NSFW shots fired back at him by Illinois fans, Pullen continued:
Well, right or wrong, this is a feeling shared by many when it comes to Weber's coaching chops.
In his second season at Illinois, he took a group of players recruited to Champaign by Bill Self to the national title game, highlighted by the aforementioned backcourt that was comprised of future NBAers Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head.
Let's not get it twisted: You can't just throw any coach into a situation like that and expect to go on a deep tournament run. Someone has to push all of the right buttons, so completely disregarding what Weber did in the 2004-05 season is irresponsible.
But what defined Weber's tenure at Illinois was the fact that the success just couldn't be sustained. As his time wore on there, the caliber of his recruiting classes consistently got better. But his team's on-court success followed an opposite curve. Several of those high-profile pulls from the Chicagoland area — most notably 2010 McDonald's All-American Jereme Richmond — didn't pan out.
As for Pullen, he finally cooled with one last post:
Will Weber work out at Kansas State? It's so tough to project.
What made Martin great at K-State after a couple of high-profile recruits got things rolling was his ability to essentially win with less. He pulled some under-the-radar prospects from talent-rich recruiting areas — such as Miami and Dallas — got them to buy into his tough love ways, and simply won.
It's easy to forget that Weber won with less, too, at one point, at Southern Illinois. In his final two seasons at the helm, he guided the Salukis to 52 wins, two Missouri Valley titles, two NCAA tourney berths and a trip to the Sweet 16.
Overall, it's not a hire that will make anyone's jaw drop, but at the same time, it's not the worst hire K-State could have made. The program's success in the decade before Martin's arrival was minimal, and what he did certainly raised some expectations. But at the end of the day, Kansas State is still not an easy place to recruit to — especially without a firm talent pipeline nearby — and win.
Weber received a $3.9 million buyout from Illinois, but clearly had no intentions of taking some time to regroup before taking another shot in the profession. The one he's getting is challenging, but with Kansas State having now boosted its national profile, the pressure will be on right from the word go.