Former Kansas State basketball players are bullish on Wildcats and new coach Jerome Tang

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Hear Jacob Pullen talk about playing for Purple & Black in The Basketball Tournament

Despite Purple & Black’s early exit, Jacob Pullen had no regrets about coming to Wichita to play in The Basketball Tournament.

Topeka Capital-Journal

WICHITA — Purple & Black’s early exit Saturday from The Basketball Tournament left the Kansas State alumni team’s future in limbo, but their players and coaches agree on one thing.

They believe their alma mater’s basketball program is in good hands.

Jacob Pullen, K-State’s all-time leading scorer, said after Purple & Black’s second-round loss to the North Texas Bleed Green alumni that he has high hopes for new coach Jerome Tang and the Wildcats going forward.

“I respect every coach that’s been at K-State,” Pullen said. “I look at every one of them and what they’ve done. Every one of them over the past 25 years have left marks — some good, some bad.

“Before Frank (Martin) got there, it was a tough stretch, and then Frank turned it around, Bruce (Weber) kept it going and got Big 12 championships (and) Elite Eights, stuff like that, that keep a program going. Now Tang’s in a position to just continue that success.”

More: Kansas State’s Purple & Black alumni team wears down in 87-62 TBT loss to Bleed Green

Tang, who took over when Weber was forced out in March, has reenergized the K-State fan base while rebuilding the roster almost from scratch. That enthusiasm extends to the former players as well.

“I’m excited to see what coach Tang does and him keeping that core group of Ish (Ismael Massoud) and Markquis (Nowell) as the returners and as the older guys to mesh with the guys he brought in,” said former K-State center Jordan Henriquez, Purple & Black’s coach and general manager, who played for the Wildcats from 2009-13. “I hope they have a lot of success.”

Ditto for power forward Thomas Gipson, who played for both Martin and Weber from 2011-15.

“I’m cool with Tang,” Gipson said. “I don’t have any problem with that. Like both (Pullen and Henriquez) said, just win. At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.

“Tang knows me (and) I know Tang. I played against him, so it’s all love. I’ll be in Manhattan soon.”

Before going to K-State, Tang spent 19 years as an assistant and associated head coach under Scott Drew at Baylor and helped lead the Bears to a national championship in 2021. Pullen, Henriquez and Gipson all saw him on the opposing bench during their college careers.

More: Jacob Pullen’s 3-pointer sends Purple & Black past Lone Star Legends in TBT opener

Tang made an immediate impression on Pullen with a simple goodwill gesture.

“He sent me a package the other day,” Pullen said. “He didn’t have to do it, but he did it because he heard me complaining that I had no K-State gear. So I’m definitely on board with coach Tang.

“Him having two guys (Nowell and Massoud) and putting together a roster, I’m interested to see how he does (and) how successful he will be. I’m going to be patient with him, but I think this could be the guy of the future for us that could lead K-State back to Final Fours and championships, I really do.”

Henriquez got to know fellow New Yorkers Nowell and Massoud, the only holdovers from last year’s K-State team, when former Wildcat assistant Shane Southwell recruited them as transfers last year. Nowell and Massoud were on the Purple & Black bench Saturday, supporting the team during their 87-62 loss to Bleed Green.

“Just being able to stay connected with them and stay connected with the program, that’s the least I can do,” said Henriquez, who worked for the Los Angeles Lakers organization last year. “I got the same care package that Jake got, and I appreciate that from coach Tang and his staff because it’s been a while since I wore that purple.”

Pullen pointed to Tang’s success in helping resurrect the Baylor program as evidence that he can do the same as a head coach in Manhattan.

More: Michael Beasley leads star-studded Kansas State alumni team in The Basketball Tournament

“I remember him being there when Scott Drew called me to come to Baylor, so I think that he could really do a good job at Kansas State,” Pullen said. “I just hope that everybody gives him the support that he needs and don’t try to measure him up to other coaches and other teams.

“I just hope that he has success, because I think that he could really turn that place around and get the energy back going to where (Bramlage Coliseum is) the Octagon of Doom again. And I’ll be there. I hope that I can get some time to see a game.”

Pullen has had a successful pro career since completing his K-State career in 2011, mostly playing overseas and most recently in Slovenia. Gipson is still playing professionally in Mexico.

Whether they try to make another TBT run as Purple & Black remains to be seen. All Pullen knows is they need more players than the seven they had suited up Saturday while playing their second game in less than 24 hours.

“If we’re going to do it, it’s hard to get everything to align at times so early because of guys’ schedules and guy playing professional ball and stuff,” Pullen said. “You never know what happens with family and things they’ve planned, and sometimes guys just check out after a 10-month season and don’t want anything to do with it.

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“So it’s hard to plan for this, but if we can pre-plan for it and try to get guys to commit early, that would be great. If we can get a good 10- to 11-man roster with some good K-State guys, I think we have a really good chance. If we could line up Mike (Beasley) and Barry (Brown) and all those guys — Wes (Iwundu) — guys that we could have used this year, I think we would have a better chance.”

But when it was all said and done, Pullen added, he had no regrets about rejoining Purple & Black for the first time since 2017. The fact that they came away empty-handed in their quest for TBT’s $1 million winner-take-all prize was irrelevant.

“Win or lose, it was an enjoyable thing,” he said. “It’s always fun to come to the state of Kansas and play basketball, and especially with these guys, being back around them.

“You can’t really beat that. The money would have been great, a great way to celebrate, but I’m going to make a decent buck this year and I won’t lose sleep over the money.”

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