Archive for October, 2008

Pollard: Standing by his man

October 28, 2008

Don’t let the last two seasons fool you, Cyclone fans.

Iowa State’s men’s basketball program will taste success under Coach Greg McDermott, whose tenure to date has been defined by defections and defeats. Many of those were unavoidable. 

Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said recently he remains convinced McDermott was the best hire he could have made in replacing Wayne Morgan.

“I firmly believe we have the right person, the person with the right values and the right leadership skills,” Pollard said. “It’ll work out. It may not happen as quickly as the average fan may want it to.”

Media day was Monday. McDermott finally has a full compliment of players. Best of all, they are his kind of players, something the veteran coach hasn’t been able to say with full confidence since he’s been at ISU.  

Don’t underestimate the importance of that, Pollard said, and how difficult a task he faced filling a roster once Curtis Stinson, Will Blalock, Farnold Degand, Tasheed Carr, Mike Evanovich and two incoming recruits split town after McDermott got his name on the door.  

If that wasn’t tough enough, more than a half-dozen players have left or were dismissed since then.

“The initial attrition was coming regardless of who we hired,” Pollard said. “Because seven kids left right off the bat resulted in other attrition down the road. I don’t anticipate that going forward.

“I view this as Coach McDermott’s first year. I knew what he inherited, the problems we had in the program and the penalities he had to deal with. This is his real first team of kids that they (coaches) had time to recruit through the normal recruiting process.”

You’ve gotta feel for McDermott, a stand-up guy who has a winning formula and doesn’t make excuses.

The facts are these: Mike Taylor was immature and had to go, Corey McIntosh could not compete in the Big 12, Cory Johnson wanted to play and wasn’t going to here, Marcus Brister should never have left the state of Texas.

The hardest to swallow was Wesley Johnson, who abruptly left school last May, claiming a disconnect between he and McDermott. His nagging foot injury last season was a big reason why ISU went 14-18 and won just four Big 12 games.

But no excuses. McDermott is 29-34 at ISU. He can do better. This year’s team is awfully young, but Pollard believes the turnaround will start taking shape this year. His guy will get it done.

“He’s a competitor. I don’t think he’s enjoyed the last two years,” Pollard said. “His pride is probably been challenged because of having two years of stuff he had to deal with that is not the kinds of things you want to be spending your time on when you’re trying to build a program.

“The nucleus is there now for him to finally move forward.”

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Brackins the key to ISU’s season

October 22, 2008

Iowa State’s basketball fortunes this season will rest greatly on the performance of power forward Craig Brackins.

He knows it. Coach Greg McDermott knows it. Cyclone fans know it.

That’s a lot of pressure for a sophomore.  

Brackins was good last season, starting every game while averaging 11.4 points and 5.0 rebounds a game. He’ll have to be better this year for this young ISU team to improve on its 14-18 overall record and 4-12 finish in Big 12 play.

“Our focus with Craig is just to help him improve,” McDermott said after practice Tuesday night. “Obviously we need to get him a lot of touches and he needs to be a big part of our offense. Beyond that he needs to be able to be a sophomore and continue to grow as a leader and as a player, which I think he’ll do.”

The 6-10, 230-pound Brackins is the team’s leading returning scorer with Jiri Hubalek out of eligibility and Wesley Johnson having transferred to Syracuse.

McDermott will undoubtedly like for Brackins to fire the majority of his shots from close range. He’s got the ability to hit from distance, but hit just 28 percent (21 of 75) last season and the 3-point line is moving back a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches.

Brackins has improved his game since ISU’s season ended with a loss to Texas A&M at the Big 12 Tournament.  He also sports a bit of a mohawk, which is kinda cool.

“His body is better,” McDermott said. “His approach to the game, his work ethic has gotten better. We’ve had five or six days of practice and he hasn’t had a bad one yet. That wasn’t the case last year.”

ISU coaches have six newcomers they are working in, plus guard Lucca Staiger, who was with the team last season but sat out the season due to NCAA penalty.

Not all of them figure to play right away. Some will have important roles. 

Exactly who is being determined right now during preseason practice. ISU’s exhibition season begins Nov. 8 and the regular season opens a week later at Hilton Coliseum against UC-Davis. 

“We’re experimenting with a lot of different combinations to figure out which is most effetive together,” McDermott said. “We’re playing for real in three weeks and you have to begin that evaluation process as quickly as you can.”

The Cyclones will be leaning on Brackins early and often this year. Can he put together an all-Big 12 year? That’s what it’ll take for ISU to be playing past the conference tournament.

Injury update on ISU DBs

October 16, 2008

Kennard Banks is getting better. Chris Brown is not.

Banks returned to the field last week at Baylor, six weeks after breaking a bone in his right arm.  He wore a cast and apparently has trouble both with finishing tackles and catching passes that could be interceptions. So why are ISU coaches putting the diminuative cornerback out there?

“Everything he is as a football player compensates for (the cast),” Coach Gene Chizik said. “His want to, his aggressiveness… we just feel like him being out there is huge for our defense.”

Brown, a safety, has missed the last two games and playing very sparringly while still trying to recover from knee surgery performed last spring.

The senior has had a tough time getting backto full strength and speed.

Brown is credited with two tackles and a fumble recovery. He had 43 tackles, four pass break-ups and a sack last season, his best as a Cyclone.

Chizik didn’t sound optimistic Brown would be much a contributer the rest of the way.

“Bless his heart, he’s just a phenomenal kid and he wants to play so bad,” Chizik said. “That situation from the spring just hasn’t been able to unfold the way the would like and the way we would like it. He’s still a step slow. and there’s a little bit of apprehension on his part with the knee. Because of that we don’t feel comfortable with him playing a lot and he doesn’t either.”

Harris back on ISU’s track

October 14, 2008

Former Iowa State and Olympic track star Danny Harris has returned to Ames and will be a volunteer assistant coach will the Cyclones’ tracksters while taking finishing his degree.

Harris starts taking classes next semester.

ISU coach Corey Ihmels had an opening for a sprints coach and Harris, who won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics and ended Edwin Moses’ 122-race winning streak in the 400-meter hurdles, more than fit the bill.

“Hopefully it’ll be a win-win for everyone,” he said.

Harris has fought addiction problems for years and lived in a recovery shelter in Los Angeles in 2007. He’s now clean and sober and looking to get himself back in the track game.

Ihmels and Iowa State wanted to help out one of its own. Once Harris graduates, probably in the spring of ’09, he will be able to coach full time at the college level.

“We decided it would be an opportunity for us to bring him back and for him to finish his degree,” Ihmels said. “He’s got his life moving in the right direction. We felt it was the right thing for us to do and for him to begin his career in coaching if that’s what he wants to do.”

All the best, Mr. Harris. Good luck to you.

Not surprised by Bates’ transfer

October 10, 2008

I’m on holiday this week, soaking up some sun in San Diego and eating fish tacos like there’s no tomorrow.

Got a call from the desk this afternoon as i was making my way up Interstate 5 to Ocean Beach: Phillip Bates has quit the team.

I wasn’t the least bit shocked. Believe it or not, I saw this one coming.

Austen Arnaud is the guy at quarterback for Iowa State. Not Bates. Wasn’t gonna happen.

Even folks without my trained eye (ahem) could see that. Arnaud has better size, arm strength, passing touch and decision-making ability.

Maybe we hadn’t seen enough of Bates to know that for sure, but we’ve seen enough of Arnaud to know it wouldn’t be easy to beat him out.  Bates is very talented, yes, but an every down Big 12 quarterback he is not. Even he had to recognize that to some degree.

The questions to be answered now are these: 1) Did Bates simply not want to be at Iowa State if he was not going to play quarterback? 2) Was there thought given on his end to move to another position and remain with the team? Coaches have repeatedly said he would not play another position. 3) Were they keeping him at QB or were they speaking on Bates’ stubborn behalf not to move? 4) Is it just a coincidence the Omaha native was in Lincoln two weekends ago to watch a former prep teammate and the rest of the Huskers play Virginia Tech? 5) Where will Bates end up? 6) What position will he play?

Bates’ timing is curious, coming days after he didn’t play a down in ISU’s 35-33 loss to Kansas last weekend.

The Jerome Tiller era now begins. Coaches had hoped to redshirt the talented freshman from San Antonio and keep two years’ time between he and Arnaud, who is just a sophomore.

With seven games to go — starting this Saturday night at Baylor — that’s probably wishful thinking. Arnaud is bound to miss some time, even if it is just for a play or two after he gets his bell rung.

Bates will hook on somehwere else and hopefully have a good career, be it at quarterback, wingback, defensive back… wherever. He’s a good kid with awfully good football skills.

It just wasn’t gonna happen for him in a Cyclone uniform.

Could his departure been avoided? I’d sure like to know, same as all of Cyclone Nation.

Mahoney’s kickin’ $ss

October 6, 2008

What Iowa State fan thought Grant Mahoney had a chance to make history this season?

OK, good history. Anybody? The freshman kicker from Marion has been as steady as any kicker the Cyclones have had in years. 

Back in August — even up to game week for South Dakota State, according to Gene Chizik — we didn’t know who would be out there on Saturdays booting PAT and field goals. Mahoney’s been the guy, and done a great job under big-time pressure.

He’s hit on all 18 extra-point tries and 9 of his 13 field goals. Had he not missed three of four at Iowa, we’d be talking about all-Big 12 potential for the rook.

Through five games, Mahoney leads the conference in field goals made.

“I’m not sure it’s good for our team, but it’s good for him,” Chizik said.

That’s where the history part comes in. The single-season mark for field goals made in a season is 20, by Jeff Shudak in 1987.  

Mahoney is on pace to break that mark.

ISU’s record for consecutive games with a made field goal is 11, again by Shudak.

Mahoney is at five and counting.

ISU’s mark for career field goals? You guessed it, Shudak with 58 from 1987 to 1990.

If he continues like this, Mahoney could be the most prolific field-goal kicker in school history.

“He’s gonna be really good,” Chizik said. “He’s really good now and I hope he stays consistent. He’s going to have a great career here. You are going to hear a lot about him the next three years and the rest of this year.”

Some other marks that could be threatened by Mahoney, barring injury, illness, transfer, abduction, leg amputation, etc. — Career Points: 266 (Shudak); Points in a season: 97 (Adam Benike, 2002); Most extra points: 106 (Jamie Kohl, 95-98)

K-Who? ’07 game one to forget

October 2, 2008

Iowa State was coming off confidence-building wins over Kansas State and Colorado — its only league victories of the year — when it traveled to Lawrence, Kan., for the season finale.

Then, disaster. Kansas made the Cyclones look like a JV team in a 45-7 disaster. 

KU ended up in the Orange Bowl. ISU trudged home with its tail between its legs. Not the way a young, impressionable team wanted to go into the offseason.

“I’d like to forget that game,” ISU coach Gene Chizik said when the defeat was referenced this week heading into Saturday’s meeting with the 16th-ranked Jayhawks.

KU finished with a whopping 556 yards of offense. Quarterback Todd Reesing was 21 of 26 passing for 253 yards and four touchdowns.

The Cyclones totaled just 234 yards and — to add further embarrassment — was on the cover of the following week’s Sports Illustrated capturing receiver Kerry Meier scoring one of KU’s six touchdowns with linebacker Jesse Smith lagging behind.

“What went right? Nothing,” Chizik said. “Kansas outplayed us in every way, shape and form. Whatever they wanted to do, they did it. We didn’t give them a game.”

The 56-3 home loss to Texas earlier in the season was more lopsided. But this one had a deeper meaning, in part because the Cyclones were feeling they were moving up the Big 12 food chain.       

“It gave us a chance to level our minds and know that we had to keep getting better and improving in the offseason,” linebacker Fred Garrin said.

They have. Is it enough to take down Kansas this week? We shall see.

McDermott at Wrigley Field

October 1, 2008

Iowa State men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott will see his favorite baseball team in person tonight, watching the Chicago Cubs-Los Angeles Dodgers NLDS Game One from a rooftop overlooking Wrigley Field.

McDermott and assistant coach Daniyal Robinson were scheduled to board a private plane Wednesday afternoon, land in Chicago, drive to Whitney Young High School to watch a prospective recruit and from there head to The Friendly Confines.

The ISU coaches will be atop a building on Waveland Avenue, behind the left field wall.   

“We’re gonna have fun,” McDermott said this morning as he packed a briefcase in his office.

Hope he wore a heavy jacket. Temperatures will be in the low 40s to go with a steady breeze off Lake Michigan. Being that high up, the guys will feel it.