The Ottumwa Courier

October 28, 2008

Cyclone basketball team turns to youngsters

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State should make a killing selling scorecards this season. Once again, the Cyclones’ roster is loaded with newcomers.

Iowa State has just one scholarship senior, Alex Thompson, and two returning starters, forward Craig Brackins and point guard Bryan Petersen, back from a team that finished 14-18 last season and failed to reach the postseason for the third straight year.

Most pundits believe Iowa State’s postseason drought will continue this season. But while coach Greg McDermott was up late one night watching a poker tournament on cable, he saw one of the players go “all in” — and the proverbial light went off in his head.

The way McDermott sees is, that’s exactly what the Cyclones will need to do if they want to escape the Big 12 cellar.

“I felt like that made great sense for our team. If we’re going to be successful this year, we’ve got to have to have everybody from our coaching staff to our support team to every individual on our team willing to invest everything they have into our program,” McDermott said on Monday at the team’s annual media day.

Even McDermott can understand why the Cyclones aren’t expected to contend for a Big 12 title for the third straight season under his watch. Iowa State didn’t do much last season, going just 4-12 in the Big 12, and it doesn’t bring much back.

Center Jiri Hubalek and forward Rahshon Clark have graduated, and rising star Wesley Johnson shocked McDermott by transferring to Syracuse. Those three, along with Brackins, formed the core of last year’s team.

In their place are a number of unproven youngsters, many of them under-the-radar recruits. The Cyclones have five freshman this season, along with junior college transfer Jamie Vanderbeken, and some of them are going to have to step in and contribute right away.

Iowa State will go with Brackins and senior Alex Thompson at the starting power forward and center spots. But there are four newcomers who will, at the very least, have to provide quality minutes off the bench.

Vanderbeken, a one-time Iowa recruit, is an early favorite to see extended playing time because he has two years of junior college ball under his belt. There will be opportunities for freshmen Clinton Mann, L.A. Pomlee and Justin Hamilton to earn minutes, though McDermott said he’d like to redshirt one of those three this season.

The same goes for the backcourt. Sophomore Lucca Staiger, who is expected to start, won’t be to practice until mid-November because of knee surgery, leaving the guard rotations up in the air. Freshman Dominque Buckley, sophomore Diante Garrett and Petersen will all share time at the point, McDermott said.

Freshman Wes Eikmeier has shown an ability to shoot from the perimeter, so he’ll also be in the mix.

The backcourt does have one thing going for it. McDermott had an entirely new starting backcourt in each of his first two seasons, but in Petersen, Garrett and Sean Haluska, the Cyclones finally have some guards who have experience in his system.

Still, each of those players have only been in the system one season — and they’ll be counted on for leadership.

“I’d like to be at a different place than we are right now in terms of having more veterans on our team, but it is what it is. I feel like we have a solid foundation of young guys, and it’s our job as a coaching staff to develop them as quickly as we can.”

About the only given for Iowa State right now is Brackins, a highly touted sophomore who the Cyclones hope will blossom into a star on both ends of the floor. Staiger is also expected to play a major role.

The Cyclones will have to monitor his health in the early going, but indications are that the inflammation Staiger experienced in his knee won’t affect him significantly.

For the rest of the team, playing time will likely be up for grabs throughout the non-conference season.

“We’ve got a lot of young people that are doing this for the first time, and there’s going to be some challenges with that,” McDermott said. “But to have a successful program at this level, you’ve got to try to eliminate egos. You have to try to eliminate as much selfish attitude that can creep up on occasion, from your group as possible. Our guys seem to have embraced this.”