Archive for April, 2009

Even Cael’s brother surprised he left ISU

April 29, 2009

Not even his closest confidant believed Cael Sanderson would say good-bye to Iowa State.

“As he made his decision, I would talk to him and think he was staying,” said Cody Sanderson, Cael’s older brother, his top assistant with the Cyclones and . “Then I’d talk to him and think he was leaving. He was wavering. I thought in the end that he’d end up sticking around.”


Sanderson is on the job at Penn State, hoping multi-million dollar facilities, a recruiting base that’s second to none and his good name will turn the program into one of wrestling’s elite.

Cody Sanderson is still in Ames, still working out with his now-former wrestlers. Monday he drilled with ISU’s 141-pounder Nick Gallick for the better part of an hour.

ISU’s other full-time assistant, Casey Cunningham, was doing the same thing.

Both men will be joining Cael in State College, Pa., before too long. Odds are, just long enough to touch base with his brother’s successor on what exactly he’s inheriting.

Assuming the cast stays the same, this is a team ready-made that can win it all next season.

That’s what Sanderson is waving at in his rearview mirror. It wasn’t easy for Cody either.

He and his brother’s careers are one in the same. Where Cael goes, Cody falls in line. The Sandersons will be wearing blue, not red, for the forseeable future.

“It took some time but I’m getting more used to the idea,” Cody said. “The whole process has been a little emotional. There’s exciement about going out to Penn State, but I’m going to be sad to leave. I love it here. I’m going to miss the guys on the team and I’m going to miss Ames.”

Cyler Sanderson is a senior-to-be for the Cyclones.

As news of his decision went public, Cael told his group of seniors at ISU it would behoove (my word, not his) them to finish their careers in Ames. Cyler still isn’t sure he wants to be here without his older brothers.

A transfer to Penn State is an option, Cody said.

“He’s waiting right now. He wants to see who the new coach is. That’s going to be a big deal for him.

“Right now he’s thinking and hoping the new coach gets named soon so he can picture it. That’s what I think a lot of these guys are doing. They don’t really have a vision of what is going to happen… I’m sorry that all these guys are in this position.”

Associate Athletic Director David Harris was in the wrestling room Monday afternoon to update the team on the search.

Cody was not a part of that discussion, but said he “would love to see a Cyclone get this job.”

He was teammates at ISU with current Ohio State assistant Joe Heskett and remains a good friend. The decision-makers could do a lot worse, Cody said.

“Joe would do a fine job. I know he’s going to work hard. He loves Iowa State and has a passion for this place. From what I have heard he has contacted some very good candidates for assistant coaches. Whether it is him or somebody else, I think they can pick it up and keep running and get this team to a national championship.”

It could have Cael doing that, if not next season, soon.

Iowa State had a four-man recruiting class coming in that was as good as anybody’s.

“I have no doubt that if he’d stayed here he would have won a national championship. I think next year,” Cody said. “But we’ll never know.”

We know the paycheck will be bigger, but was it the right move professionally?

“I hope it is and it seems like it will be,” Cody said. “We have our work cut out for us. Nothing is going to be given to us. We have to go in and build a team and recruit. We have to be able to convince people that if they come to Penn State they can be champions and can reach their goals.”

“Time will tell if it is a good professional move. It might be a bit before everyone else agrees with us.”


Going back to Cali

April 28, 2009

Iowa State’s non-conference men’s basketball schedule got even more challenging Monday with the announcment that the Cyclones will play at the University of California-Berkeley in the third annual Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.

ISU is 2-0 all-time in the series, beating Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., two seasons ago and at Hilton Coliseum last year.  Texas is the only other Big 12 team with a perfect mark.

Cal comes to Ames during the 2010-11 season for the return game.

The Golden Bears were an NCAA Tournament team last year, going 22-11 overall and 11-7 in league games. They fell to Maryland 84-71 in an opening-round game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Iowa State’s backcourt will have its hands full with Cal guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, each of whom were first-team all-Pac-10 picks.

It’s going to be difficult non-league slate with home games against Iowa, Northern Iowa,  Hawaii, Houston and Bradley, road dates at Cal and Drake and a four-team tournament outside Chicago involving BCS partners Notre Dame and Northwestern.

Coach Greg McDermott will have his most competitive team yet and will be anxious to put his guys to the test. These games likely will be resume builders for the postseason, somewhere ISU hasn’t been since Wayne Morgan’s second team went to the round of 32 in 2005.

Here’s the full Big 12/Pac-10 series schedule: 

Nov. 29
Nebraska at USC

Dec. 3
Washington at Texas Tech

USC at Texas

Baylor at Arizona State

Dec. 4
Colorado at Oregon State

Dec. 5
Oregon at Missouri

Iowa State at California

Washington State at Kansas State

Dec. 6
Kansas at UCLA

Arizona at Oklahoma

Dec. 16
Oklahoma State at Stanford

Dec. 22
Texas A&M at Washington

Brackins’ return could be a turning point

April 25, 2009

Few people have the perspective on Iowa State men’s basketball of Gary Thompson.

That’s why the Roland Rocket was grinning from ear to ear Friday as Cyclone star Craig Brackins sent Cyclone Nation into a tizzy in announcing he was returning for at least one more season.

Brackins’ choice to come back is monumental on so many levels. Thompson knows it.

Future recruiting efforts will be buoyed. Next year should involve postseason play of some kind. The program’s profile will get a leg up. Fans have reason to believe this team isn’t starting from stratch yet again.

Most importantly, Thompson says, Coach Greg McDermott and his staff finally can look ahead to the coming season with confidence in their roster.

“It’s great because it’s the first time this staff has been able to get some continuity and carry it over from one year to the next,” Thompson said. “They were dealt a short deck with all the kids that left that first year and that just perpetuated itself.”

Before McDermott got his name on the door, guards Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock jumped to the NBA. A half-dozen of his inherited players and recruits followed.

The following year it was Mike Taylor, Dodie Dunson & Co.

Last spring Wesley Johnson stunned us all by leaving the program and transferring to Syracuse.

Brackins showed loyalty to his coach and teammates when he could easily have left behind a team that’s gone 29-32 in his two seasons. Could you have blamed him?

With the 6-10 big man in the fold, ISU is no longer a candidate for last place. If newcomers can have an impact, and returning players continue improving, this can be a good team.  

“You are going to see fans who are more optimistic about the season,” Thompson said. “If (Brackins) doesn’t come back you are on the negative side and think we are starting all over. It’s a great situation for everybody.”

McDermott, in particular.

We may look back on this day years from now as a turning point. Had Brackins bolted, ISU likely has another losing season, which would be four and counting for McDermott.

Not good, even with the difficult situation he walked in to and other programs seeing quick results after making coaching changes.

Thompson knows.

Brackins back — even for one season — changes everything for Iowa State basketball.

Arlen finds a home, KXnO regroups, Colvin sings

April 22, 2009

Former Iowa State women’s basketball player Ashley Arlen will continue her basketball career at Division II Wayne State, located in Wayne, Neb.

Really? A step down in competition?

So the plot thickens with Arlen, who would likely have started considering those ahead of her in the rotation were all senior.

Arlen, who averaged 3.5 points and 3.1 rebounds last season as a true freshman, will be able to play right away at Wayne State and have three seasons of eligibility. Here are comments from WSU coach Chris Kielsmeier:

“Ashley has a rare combination of being able to score in the paint and on the perimeter. She is a very physical player that provides our program with much-needed size. Ashley…will have an immediate impact on our program.”


Des Moines sports talk radio station KXnO has undergone a massive restructuring of its lineup since firing two of its four local hosts in the wake of a profanity-laced exchange that mistakenly made it on-air during a commercial break.

Beneficiaries of this are new afternoon (2 to 4 p.m.) hosts Keith Murphy and Andy Fales, who form the entertaining pair that carry WHO-TV’s Sunday night show “SoundOff.”

Murphy and Fales picked apart Cael Sanderson’s stunning decision to take the Penn State wrestling job and on Tuesday poured over Iowa State’s run of horrible luck and embarrassing incidents over the last decade — coming up with a David Letterman-style Top 10.

Check it out:


More on Cael, or at least who may succeed him. 

Paul Clark of is reporting the Boise State’s Greg Randall is a serious candidate to replace Cael Sanderson as Iowa State’s wrestling coach.

Randall is one of the great high school wrestlers in state history, a three-time all-American at Iowa and the leader of a surging program in Boise, Idaho.  He’s also a relatively lackluster name compared to some of those on fans’ wish lists. Of course, AD Jamie Pollard isn’t one who allows outside pressures to affect who he hires.


Watching my Cubs beat up on Cincinnati Tuesday night, I stumbled upon ISU basketball recruit Chris Colvin and some teammates (including some kid with the last name Jordan, whoever that is) singing the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley Field.

Colvin’s Whitney Young team won Illinois’ Class 4A state boys basketball championship last month.

Let’s hope he plays basketball better than he carries a tune.

Thoughts/observations/predictions out of ISU’s spring game

April 20, 2009

What I think I saw at Saturday’s spring game and what it means for the future of Iowa State football team this coming season:

— Austen Arnaud has had a rough go at spring games. He recovered to post some decent numbers, but had two interceptions, a third that was nullified by a sack, and had a hard time converting on third down. Arnaud was 7 of 21 last year with 3 INTs.

— To be fair, receivers dropped more than a few of what looked like catchable balls.

— The quarterback showed who is likely to be his top target this season. Sophomore Sedrick Johnson caught nine balls for 100 yards and at 6-4, 200 pounds will be a you-know-what in the red zone on the fade route.

— Backup quarterback Jerome Tiller may not be starting material right now, but if he can look that good from here on out, ISU coaches will have some tough decisions to make.   

— Junior college transfer David Sims spent a lot of time with the first-team defense. He apparently is one of the fastest players on the team and, barring some unforeseen developments, should claim a starting spot at safety.

— It’s anyone’s guess where offensive lineman Ben Lamaak will line up this season. Lamaak played left tackle Saturday, but could be at guard or center just as easily depending on the lineup around him. 

— I don’t think Coach Paul Rhoads is placating his tailback trio when he says all of them will play this season. They all can play and should play with the variety of situational skills each possess.

— Looking for a dark horse to contribute next year? Redshirt freshman WR Lonzie Range could be your man.

— Wallace Franklin? Uhh, didn’t know you were still on the team.

— Don’t go to the concession stand or loaf it to fridge when the offense is on the field. Possessions will be quick with the new up-tempo spread offense. Huddles are nowhere to be found and those not being signaled plays from the sideline are wearing wrist bands describing the play calls.

— Over/under on delay of game penalties this season: Three

Stay or go? Clock is ticking for Brackins

April 15, 2009

What do you do if you are Craig Brackins?

The NBA clearly is within reach for Iowa State’s sophomore forward after his first-team all-Big 12 Conference season. He’s got measurables (6-10, 230 lbs.) and skills that NBA teams seek: he scores from inside and out, he rebounds aggressively, he handles the ball decently well, he can pass out of double teams, he blocks shots, he defends… though defense is optional in the NBA.

Mock drafts have Brackins all over the board in what is being described as one of the weakest drafts in memory. Here’s one:

The prevailing feeling is that Brackins would be a first-round draft pick this year, which means a lot of guaranteed money over a three-year contract. 

If Brackins were the 25th overall pick, as projects, he would earn $867,200 in his rookie season and about $2.8 million total, according to 2008’s rookie draft pick salary scale.

That would be hard for anyone to pass up, let alone a 20-something high on his earning potential.

So as the Johnny Flynns, Cole Aldrichs and Chase Budingers tell the world what they are gonna do, why haven’t we heard anything from Brackins?

Underclassmen have until April 26 to make themselves available for the draft. Most have made their intentions known by now, save for players like Willie Warren and Stephen Curry.

That can only lead us to one conclusion… Brackins is conflicted.

— He can return to the Cyclones, build on his 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game from last season, try and help ISU climb the Big 12 standings with a roster that appears improved and hopefully enhance his draft stock for 2010. 

— He can give himself some options by declaring for the draft and going through workouts and evaluations with NBA teams, but NOT hire representation and preserve college eligibility by the June deadline to pull his name out.

— Or he can jump in with both feet and not look back, put his name in and hire an agent, ending his ISU career right there. 

What will he do? What should he do? 

Honestly, after having been asked this question more times than I can count over the last several months, I would be just as conflicted.

Best of luck, Craig.

Cyclone women’s hoops takes a hit

April 14, 2009

Iowa State’s women’s basketball team took a big blow Monday with the news that freshmen Ashley Arlen and Alexis Yackley are leaving the team.

Arlen’s decision is the most impactful, and truth be told, odd.

This has all the indications of a blindside.  

The 6-1 forward played in 34 games last season and averaged 3.5 points and 3.1 rebounds. With the graduations of post players Nicky Wieben, Amanda Nisleit, Jocelyn Anderson and Toccara Ross, Arlen would have played an important role next season with ISU coming off an Elite Eight run in the NCAA Tournament.

A talented freshman class is on the way, with 6-6 center Anna Prins, 6-2 Amanda Zimmerman and 6-1 Chelsea Poppens coming in, but Arlen was the only forward remaining with significant experience and had the inside track to a starting spot.

Six-foot junior Genesis Lightbourne is the only other returning frontcourt player.

Here’s what Arlen said Monday, through an athletic department press release:

“I’ve met some great people and have learned a lot in the last year, but I don’t think this is the right fit for me at this time. I have not made any future plans at this point. I want to thank coach (Bill) Fennelly and the coaching staff for giving me the chance to play basketball at Iowa State. I will never forget my teammates and the memories we made last season.”

The Cascade native has some skills and seemingly had a promising future. Is she leaving ISU and the Big 12 to earn more playing time at a lower-level Division I school?

Does she miss playing basketball in eastern Iowa?

Would any of us be surprised if she ended up a Hawkeye?

Yackley, who hails from Onida, S.D., averaged two points and shot 28.6 percent from the field in 25 games last season. It would have been nice to see her progress next season and beyond, but Yackley’s absence won’t stunt the Cyclones’ growth too badly. 

That’s three members of ISU’s class of 2008 class gone after last week’s news that guard Claire Rockall was returning to Ireland to continue her basketball career.

Fennelly now has three scholarships available for next season. Will he fill any of them?

Stay tuned.

Coaching change costing Cyclones — update

April 13, 2009

An update/clarification for those of you who read my piece in Saturday’s Gazette detailing Iowa State’s continuing payments to members of former head football coach Gene Chizik’s assistant coaching staff:

Iowa State could end up paying less than the estimated $800,000-plus to its assistant coaches who worked under Gene Chizik if those who are out of work find jobs.

Where ISU will really take a hit is with its coordinators — Robert McFarland (offense) and Wayne Bolt (defense) — the only coaches on staff working under two-year contracts.

McFarland will earn the rest of his annual $283,250 through June 30. He’ll earn that same amount if he does not find work between July 1 and June 30, 2010, or earn the difference in pay between a new job and his ISU salary.

Odds are good McFarland won’t be pulling in that much at his next stop, which means Athletic Director Jamie Pollard will be cutting checks to the highest paid of Chizik’s coaches until then.

Bolt has joined Chizik at Auburn in some sort of administrative role earning $90,000 a year.  That eases the burden some, but ISU will owe him his monthly pay until June 30 and difference in salary ($147,500) for the following contract year.

The other coaches under Chizik still out of work are Mike Pelton (defensive line), Tony Petersen (quarterbacks), Shawn Raney (defensive backs) and Ken Sheppard (strength and conditioning).

Those four are earning their monthly paychecks for another 2 1/2 months.

If they find work that pays them as much or more between now and then — which probably is unlikely — ISU is off the hook for that money.

Five members of Chizik’s staff have found work with two of them (Jay Boulware and Scott Fountain) earning an annual salary higher than the one they earned at ISU.

New salary figures for Jeff Koonz (Texas) and Jay Rodgers (Denver Broncos) were not available, but the two likely are drawing a lesser amount, and thus, a check from ISU. Koonz made $82,400 and Rodgers made $92,700 with the Cyclones. 

The bottom line: ISU can reduce its costs if the unemployed find jobs before the current contract year, Koonz and Rodgers got raises, Bolt gets a bump in pay or a higher paying job somewhere else, and McFarland finds work by next July.

Yes, Chizik’s contract stipulated he give back $750,000 to Iowa State for breaking his contract and the difference between that and what ISU could ultimately pay in salary to its former coaches appears to be a fraction of that, according to figures estimated by athletic officials.

That may be found money in some people’s minds, but it doesn’t mean ISU wants to give that and some of its reserves away to coaches who no longer are working in Ames. 

New head coach Paul Rhoads and his assistant coaches are drawing paychecks, too.

This isn’t going to bleed ISU’s budget dry, but don’t think the money won’t be missed.

No quick fix for Cyclones’ need for speed

April 8, 2009

Speed kills, right?

Well, Coach Paul Rhoads’ players better improve theirs or they’ll be getting killed on the scoreboard this fall. Iowa State’s new head coach was refreshingly blunt when asked about his team’s speed — or lack thereof — last week, calling it “quite honestly, average.”

The Cyclones aren’t going to turn into track stars overnight or even in an offseason.

Rhoads and ISU’s coaching staff will be on the lookout for speed guys to add to the team from here on out. What he’s looking for in the short term, under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight, is for his guys to improve everything else in the way they move.

They’ve got another week-and-a-half of spring practice before the April 18 spring game.

By the time Rhoads sees them again come late July/early August, he’s confident ISU’s players will show mobility that is greatly improved.

“Going into August we’ll be a different football team than we are right now,” Rhoads said. “That’s when we’ll see the gains in quickness and body control, more so than in speed. The speed part has got to be recruited and added to your team that way. But the quickness, the change of direction, the body control… we can control and we can add to and working hard to every day.”

Upgrades are needed most on the defensive side of the ball, where the Cyclones allowed nearly 36 points a game and were dominated by Big 12 Conference opponents. 

The linebacking core is slow and the safeties also could stand to move a little bit better, though Rhoads wants to see quickness gains at every position.

“The better they run, the better they fit,” he said. “It’s needed everywhere and we’ve got to develop it to a completely different level from where it exists now with our football team.”

Is there really a competition to be ISU’s QB?

April 4, 2009

Iowa State went 2-10 a year ago, a mark that shouldn’t give any player much confidence that his spot atop the depth chart is safe.

Does that include the “franchise” quarterback who started every game as a sophomore, threw for 2,792 yards, set a school record for completions (247), and is the face of the program in his own hometown?

Paul Rhoads says so, though not very convincingly.

Iowa State’s new head coach said this week that talented redshirt freshman Jerome Tiller is doing his best to push incumbent Austen Arnaud for the right to be the No. 1 quarterback.  Tiller, a highly-touted recruit from San Antonio, turned heads last season on the scout team with his big arm and athletic ability.

That said, it’s hard to imagine him beating out Arnaud, no matter how open things appear as ISU implements a new offensive system.

Nice try Paul.

Here’s his response to the question of Tiller’s chances of catching and passing Arnaud on the depth chart:

“Every position is always open. The minute a player starts to get overconfident or rest with where he’s at and not look to improve, somebody’s always going to come up… Jerome is an extremely bright and football intelligent young man and he shows that every day on the practice field and every day in the meeting room. Jerome is not taking a backseat. He’s not (saying), ‘OK, it’s yours, I’ll just be the understudy and see what I can do back here.’ He’s fighting and competing every day to be the guy.”

Arnaud’s got the game and the belief from his teammates that he’s the one that should be under center.

Good luck Jerome. You’re No. 2, but you might as well be fourth-string.

“He’s got to develop his throwing accuracy. He’s got to develop his throwing motion. He’s got to master the offense and take advantage of his athletic skills and do things in the open field,” Rhoads said. “He’s working to do that and working to compete with Austen every day.”