It is said that before the young men of Sparta went to battle, they were told by their mothers, "Ḕ tā̀n ḕ epì tâs" which translates literally to "With it, or on it." In ancient Greece, a man could not leave the field of battle without tossing aside his heavy shield. Thus, losing your shield meant you had deserted your fellow soldiers, and a man was only supposed to return from battle either "with his shield" (meaning he and his men won the battle) or "on it", in which case he had died gloriously in the fight. I couldn't help but be reminded of this saying last night, as I watched a broken young man trudge wearily from his own field of battle. He had given every portion of himself to that battle, and in doing so, brought credit to both himself and his alma mater.
Jacob Pullen has come back from so many "battles" with his shield, that seeing him come back on it was bracing in its finality. Jake and his team (and make no mistake, this was his team) stood, backs to the wall, for six consecutive games, the season on the brink, and every time he came back with his shield, another foe vanquished. In all my years of watching Wildcat basketball, I've never seen such a display--not even from Richmond or Henson. Defensive stand after defensive stand, big shot after big shot, over and over he came through.
Even in his final defeat, the warrior remained. He fought through undeserved foul trouble, and little offensive help, and carried his Wildcats to the brink of yet another victory. That the victory slipped away -- through no fault of his own -- does not diminish the greatness of what he did. The 38 points he scored, and the wonderful defense he played, will go down in Kansas State University basketball history as the single greatest NCAA tournament performance of all time.
Our school may not see the like of Jacob Pullen for awhile. Great players will come along, I am certain of that. Players who give everything they have for the team will also come along--in fact, I think we already have one of those in Will Spradling. But players who combine Jake's greatness on the court, with his guts and determination are rare indeed.
This team probably was not going to win a national championship. And I am incredibly sad that Jake's career ended earlier than all of us had hoped. But the fact that our courageous leader ended his last battle on his shield instead of with it does not diminish his legacy at all. And that legacy, at least for this Wildcat fan, is this: Jacob Pullen is the greatest Wildcat basketball player I've ever seen. And his K-State career couldn't have ended any other way.