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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Coaches deliver messages, but players still choose to receive

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They got a good deal on some clothes at a department store.

That's the gist of it.

How much of a good deal is unclear, as is the type of clothes. But what you and I call a hookup, the NCAA calls an impermissible benefit.

Thus, Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly didn't travel with Kansas State to the Sprint Center on Tuesday, and they didn't participate in the 63-59 loss to UNLV, either. Both have been suspended by the NCAA -- Pullen for a total of three games, Kelly for a yet-to-be-determined period of time.

So if you didn't think KSU's season could get any worse after a 57-44 loss last weekend to a Florida team that subsequently lost to Jacksonville, obviously, it's time to think again. And please, whatever you do, don't ask coach Frank Martin about any of it.

"I'm not speaking about anybody who isn't here," Martin said to the assembled media before adding, "I do not want you to refer [to] anybody that was not dressed in uniform here today."

I did not have any questions about Will Spradling or Jordan Henriquez-Roberts.

So I just sat quietly.

I had already spent a few minutes listening to Martin yell at his team through the walls of the dressing room and a few seconds watching him kinda yell at reporters who asked anything even loosely related to Pullen and Kelly, and I didn't see any point in trying to create a Coors Light commercial because this wasn't Martin being difficult just to be difficult like Bob Knight used to be difficult just to be difficult. Truth is, Martin is one of the easiest coaches to deal with, at least that's what my experiences tell me.

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So where some saw a bully, I saw something else. What I saw was a man who planned to have a leader emerge by now to replace the departed Denis Clemente simply frustrated by the fact that he has instead got a three-loss team (with no real leader) suddenly missing its top two scorers.

You'd be pissed, too.

But what could Martin have done to avoid it?

That's the question I kept pondering throughout the game Tuesday night while I watched the Wildcats lose despite outrebounding UNLV by a 43-26 margin -- mostly because they couldn't pass the ball (only six assists), take care of the ball (23 turnovers) or make free throws (they missed 12 of 26).

Far as I know, this isn't a "booster" problem or "agent" problem as much as it's a "take advantage of this hookup at a local store" problem, and good luck trying to convince young people to not do that.

In fact, good luck trying to convince anybody to not do that. I mean, I'm offered extra benefits -- not those kind of extra benefits! -- all the time, and I'm just a stupid sports writer who also happens to talk on the radio for a living. So you can imagine what it's like for a famous college kid in a college town.

Frank Martin can scream and yell all he wants (and he often does), but in the end, the players must choose right over wrong. (Getty Images)  
Frank Martin can scream and yell all he wants (and he often does), but in the end, the players must choose right over wrong. (Getty Images)  
"Every time we break on Friday, we talk about the weekend coming up, and we tell them to be smart and to make good decisions," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "All coaches do it. But you're not with them, and it's tough. They're 18 and 19 years old. They don't have much money to spend, and then somebody offers them something. I'm not saying it's right. It's just hard.

"But that's why we tell our players that it's not the alumni's responsibility [to follow the rules], it's the players' responsibility to follow the rules. All coaches give the same talk."

Some players listen.

Others don't.

Most probably just don't get caught not listening.

But, either way, student-athletes are susceptible to punishment when the NCAA catches them breaking rules. So Pullen and Kelly weren't in uniform against UNLV, Martin was in no mood to talk about either of them afterward, and it's unclear where this team will go from here -- even if Jamar Samuels seemed optimistic.

"Frank is always going to make us go forward," he said. And perhaps that's true. But the guy who drives this team -- i.e., Pullen -- isn't currently a part of this team, and so that forward movement is probably delayed until at least after the New Year.

That's the result of a shopping spree gone bad. Pullen and Kelly might be dressing sharp these days. But their basketball team isn't playing similarly.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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