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July 15, 2011

Pullen meets his fans, departs soon

He arrived 10 minutes late, but long before he was scheduled to appear, the line for autographs had wrapped around the inside of Briggs Auto Lane car dealership and continued out of one of the building's showroom doors. At least in Manhattan, Kan., Jacob Pullen is still quite a draw.

That much was apparent.

When the Kansas State star turned Italian League professional took his reserved seat in a chair that had long been set up in the lobby, the memorabilia immediately started flowing. Magazine covers, newspaper articles, basketballs and photographs; every usual suspect was accounted for. Then, there were the oddballs. Within 10 minutes of removing the cap from his marker, the Wildcats' all-time leading scorer had signed an LSU placard, a football jersey and a middle-aged man's business card.

From there, the question needed asked: what's the strangest thing Pullen has ever been asked to sign?

"A baby," he said, flashing the same smile that has become so familiar to K-State fans over the last four years. "At the NCAAs in Oklahoma City, a mom had me sign her baby ... right on its head."

This brand of boy-band-like fanfare, at least for now, is creeping to end. This is the farewell tour. Pullen will soon depart for Europe, where he'll play the upcoming season for Pellecanestro Biella, an Italian League club. His emotions toward the move remain admittedly neutral, but as he continued to sign his name for adoring fans, he attempted to focus on the brighter side of things.

And as he spoke about the situation's high points, he did so as only Pullen can.

"I'm trying to get some shopping done over there," he said. "I think the owner of our team is one of the people who started Gucci. I'm looking to get some discounts out of that."

For now, however, there are no Italian suits or discounted shopping sprees, only grueling workouts with K-State strength coach Scott Greenawalt, with whom Pullen has been training for the last week or so. At this point, the familiarity is comfortable, even if the drills are not. After all, that gym, housed in this city, is where he feels most at home.

"I'm back here to work out and get back in shape," Pullen, who is set to depart for Italy in late August, said. "Working with Scott is still tough. It used to be for the better of the team, but now those workouts are for me. That's the only difference."

His arms still sore from one of such workouts, a session that wrapped up just minutes before he made his way to Friday's promotional appearance, Pullen signed and signed, occasionally taking breaks to reminisce with the fans who shuffled by. His voice perked up however, when he was asked to recount his feelings on the NBA, and the teams who passed on him during draft night.

In Pullen's mind, his situation is simply the product of bad timing.

"I had a lot of teams that wanted me to come in and do stuff for them in mini-camp, but I knew the lockout was coming," he said. "There was no point in me waiting around and trying that and I knew it."

Overall, however, the face behind the table was that of a man happy with his choice. Pullen was in the process of explaining how his agent advised teams at the bottom of the second round to pass on his client as to avoid the risk of being drafted but not signed, when the smile returned to his face. This time, however, the expression had nothing to do with the words he was speaking or the professional career, and subsequent payday, that now sits squarely in front of him.

"We came to Kansas State together and graduated together," a male autograph seeker said while Pullen pressed a purple sharpie to a Sports Illustrated bearing his likeness. And as the celebrated guard glanced down to scribble his name, the not-so-distant memories came rushing back.

"You should stay around for another year," Pullen responded. "I know I wish I could."



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