ISU hoops… what if?

Hypotheticals have never really interested me, but let’s think for a minute what might have been with Iowa State’s basketball team.

Humor me here, folks.

The Cyclones are 14-14 overall, 3-10 in the Big 12 heading into Saturday’s game at Texas A&M.

Where would ISU be sitting right now with Wesley Johnson playing the small forward spot? It’s a question I’ve had posed to me numerous times this year.

Is the former standout — who currently sitting out the season at Syracuse waiting to be eligible — the difference between ISU’s season ending after the conference tourney in a few weeks or earning an NIT berth? 

Is an NCAA bid out of the question? I don’t think it is.

A handful of players still keep in contact with Johnson, exchanging text messages and the like. Guard Diante Garrett says he’s caught glimpses of the 6-7 forward on the Orange bench during TV broadcasts. 

But Garrett and his teammates aren’t sitting around lamenting Johnson’s loss in the midst of a disappointing season.

“I just left that in the past. I don’t think about it that much,” Garrett said.

“You can if you want to, but what’s the point,” said guard Bryan Petersen. “Yeah, he was a really talented player and I’m not going to sit here and say he wouldn’t have helped if he was on our team. He probably would have. But you can’t do that. He’s not here and he’s not coming back.”

The talented forward curiously skipping town last May, claiming he and coach Greg McDermott had a falling out. McDermott was surprised to hear of this, to say the least.

I don’t think there’s any question this team would be markedly better with Johnson wearing cardinal and gold (or whatever colors they are).

How much better? That’s up for debate.

I believe he probably gives ISU a half-dozen more victories, which has the program right on the cusp of a postseason berth that it hasn’t had since making the NCAA Tournament during the 2004-05 season.

The Cyclones don’t have an athletic wing player like Johnson, who can score from inside and out, defend and rebound the ball amongst the trees.

They will next season in Marquis Gilstrap, a transfer from Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College.

That doesn’t help the here and now. Johnson would have been a junior.

His absence has been helpful for players like Garrett, Craig Brackins, Lucca Staiger and Charles Boozer. Boozer has seen the floor far more than he would have if Johnson were here, and done good things.

Garrett and Brackins, both just sophomores, accepted leadership roles as two of the most experienced players on a team made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores.

“It’s given some of these young guys a chance to step up,” Petersen said.

McDermott’s endured some difficult losses in his three seasons as head coach. He saw his top returning player leave the program in consecutive years and may have it happen again if Brackins decides to forgo his final two years of eligibility in favor of the NBA.

And we’ll again be left to wonder, what if?


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