Ex-Cyclones Stinson, Blalock want to see program rebound

March 17, 2010

Former Iowa State star would like to see his team back in Big Dance

AMES — As March Madness tips off Thursday around the country, there’s excitement and disappointment with former Cyclone Curtis Stinson.

Stinson captained Iowa State’s last NCAA Tournament team in 2005, when the Cyclones beat Minnesota and fell in the second round to eventual national champion North Carolina. ISU hasn’t come close to a postseason game since.

Meanwhile, his Iowa Energy teammates are going back and forth about their alma mater’s chances in the Big Dance.

“I want to be able to talk about my team, too, when NCAA time comes around and people are doing their brackets,” Stinson said during a late-season visit to Hilton Coliseum with former running mate Will Blalock, also an NBA D-Leaguer.

Despite how things ended for both of them at ISU – turning pro early after head coach Wayne Morgan was fired and Greg McDermott was hired away from Northern Iowa – they are eager for their school to rediscover Hilton Magic and get back to the Big Dance.

Their final season was ISU’s last one over .500.

“I want to see Iowa State be successful,” Stinson said. “This is my school. I’ll always be a Cyclone no matter what happens. I want to see them win. I’m cool with some of the guys on the team. I want them to be happy and experience what we did. We had some big wins and NCAA experience.”

Morgan’s exit and the mass exodus that followed, in large part, has led to the program’s troubles.

Blalock hadn’t been back to Ames for a game since he left. He didn’t feel Morgan deserved to be let go.

“That’s why I’m still kinda bitter about the situation,” Blalock said. “If he was here I’d probably be showing a lot more support than I am.

“Being a fan of my school I’m going to support them regardless. I know they’ll turn it around sooner or later. You can’t really put too much pressure on them. They are in a rebuilding process. Hopefully next year it’ll be a lot better.”

McDermott received a vote of confidence from athletic director Jamie Pollard last week and has five years left on his contract.

ISU’s team won’t have an easy time winning next season without starters Craig Brackins, Marquis Gilstrap, Lucca Staiger and Justin Hamilton. Stinson hopes ISU’s patience pays off.

“I never want to see nobody not make it,” he said. “I know how hard it is to get that next level… Every team is a building process.”

Hamilton’s surprise transfer a killer for Cyclones

March 14, 2010

Craig Brackins’ exit from Iowa State’s basketball program hardly comes as a surprise.

Justin Hamilton’s does.

And it hurts. Bad.

The sophomore center was the Cyclones’ most improved player this season and an expected anchor of the team’s frontcourt next year and beyond. But after two seasons of teaching and bodyshaping – turning Hamilton into a player opposing teams have to include on their scouting report – he’s gone, looking for a school closer to his home state of Utah.

The smart money says he lands at BYU.

Hamilton’s decision came as a surprise to many. Here he was a few days earlier when asked about next season, where the uncertainly lied with Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap:

“We have to just see what happens. I’m sure everything will work out,” he said. “We’ll have a great team next year… We are going to have a lot of unknowns. We are going to have to have a lot of guys improve over the summer.”

Now, days after coach Greg McDermott and athletic director Jamie Pollard professed their excitement over next year’s team, the roster is yet again in tatters.

Here was Pollard last Monday:

“There’s a group of individuals that are coming back that have played in the toughest conference in the country hands down… and been in games,” he said. “I look at that nucleus and stay that isn’t starting over.”

Hamilton was at the center of that nucleus. Not anymore.

Four-fifths of the lineup that started ISU’s 2009-10 season opener (Brackins, Hamilton, Gilstrap and Lucca Staiger) is history.

So who’s left?

Diante Garrett will be a senior. So will reserve forward LaRon Dendy.

Charles Boozer and Jamie Vanderbeken are coming back off injury.

Chris Colvin says he’s coming back. Should we believe him?

Scott Christopherson has already left one school to come to ISU. He isn’t going anywhere.

Antwon Oliver and Bubo Palo rode out redshirts this season and don’t figure to go elsewhere before ever playing a game.

Signed for next year is Brewster (N.H.) Academy wing Melvin Ejim and Marshalltown Community College guard DeMarcus Phillips. Oregon prep center Jordan Railey has verbally committed.

That’s 10 scholarship players on the hook right now for next season – assuming no one else decides to pick up and leave.

Three spots are open.

McDermott and his staff are recruiting the junior college ranks heavily, and they need to.  Immediate help is imperative for a team that went 15-17 overall, 4-12 in the Big 12, and now has lost its top two scorers and three best rebounders.

“We’ve got to have guys who are committed to each other and are committed to the institution. If you have that, you have a chance,” McDermott said. “I like the new guys that we have coming in and hopefully we can add to that.”

Playing time will be a big selling point.

It should be an interesting couple of weeks before the start of the late signing period.

Brackins going pro, two others leaving team

March 12, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Forward Craig Brackins will forgo his final year of eligibility and Justin Hamilton and Dominique Buckley will transfer away from Iowa State, Coach Greg McDermott confirmed this afternoon.

Brackins will hire an agent, according to an ISU release.

The all-Big 12 forward stayed in town to watch ISU’s women’s team play in the Big 12 Tournament will be available to reporters at halftime of their quarterfinal game against Oklahoma State tonight.

His exit was expected. Hamilton’s is a major blow to a team that went 15-17 overall and now will be without starters Brackins, Hamilton and Marquis Gilstrap.

The sophomore center started 32 games this season, averaging 6.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. The Alpine, Utah, native said he wants to play somewhere closer to home.

“I appreciate everything the Cyclone Nation has done for me,” Hamilton said. “The fan base, my teammates and the support of the community at ISU has been incredible, but I just feel I need to be at a school closer to home where my family will have a better opportunity to watch me play. I appreciate everything Coach McDermott and the coaching staff has done for me. They have helped me improve as a player and person.”

Buckley averaged 1.4 points in 27 games this season as a reserve.

Colvin returning; McDermott will be watching

March 10, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Colvin said once again Tuesday he plans on wearing the Iowa State uniform next season.

“I’ll be back next year,” the freshman guard from Chicago said.

That’s good news for Cyclone fans. It might not be so good for the likes of  Diante Garrett, Bubo Palo and Dominique Buckley, all of whom will be fighting for playing time at the lead guard spot.

Colvin, who is shooting at a 27.7 percent clip this season, is likely to slide over to the off guard. He said shooting will be a major part of his offseason workout program.

“That’s another thing I have to work on,” Colvin said. “I’ll probably be between a 1 and a 2 next year. I have no problem with that.”

ISU (15-16, 4-12) has seen several players transfer away from the program during McDermott’s tenure.

Will this be a year free from departures?

“I don’t think you every know that until the season is over,” Coach Greg McDermott said. “Guys evaluate in their own mind. They know better than anybody where they stand in the pecking order. Some guys are OK to stick around and fight for their position. Some don’t want to risk being the third guy and want to go play somewhere else.”

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One benefit to Iowa State’s 8:30 p.m. start Wednesday  against Texas at the Big12 Tournament is McDermott will be able to see his son, Doug, play in a state tournament quarterfinal game against Cedar Rapids Washington at 1:45 p.m.

Ames comes in at 24-0 and is trying to become the first-ever large class school in the state of Iowa to go unbeaten and win consecutive state titles.

“I’ll be able to at least watch it online and then hope I don’t get to see them Friday either,” McDermott said. “And not because they lose, because we win a few.”

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Next year’s schedule remains a work in progress.

ISU will play Creighton next season at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, face in-state schools Northern Iowa, Iowa, and Drake and also host California as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge.

“Other than that we haven’t come close to completing it,” McDermott said.

“We got to fill a few home games. We’d like to start against a good team on the road; possibly find a BCS conference school we cold start a home-and-home with on the road.”

Minnesota? Anyone else from the Big Ten?

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Northern Iowa won it second straight Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament championship Sunday and clinched yet another NCAA Tournament.

McDermott was able to catch some of the telecast and was happy for best friends and UNI coach Ben Jacobson and a handful of seniors he helped recruit before leaving the school in 2006.

“I want to see those people do well,” McDermott said. “I’m happy for them and I’m proud of them. I texted several of them (Sunday) night congratulating them and to say to make sure to enjoy it.”

The Panthers made three straight NCAA appearances during McDermott’s five seasons at UNI.Iow

More on McDermott’s return…

March 9, 2010

Sound off on Greg McDermott and his coaching performance all you want, Cyclone Nation.

But lay off his Iowa State players please, McDermott said Monday during a news conference centering on his continued employment as the team’s head coach.

Some ISU fans have been very vocal lately in their displeasure with McDermott and the program’s direction. The Cyclones — an NCAA hopeful coming into the season — have been a major disappointment at 15-16 overall and 4-12 in Big 12 play.

Direct your anger toward McDermott, he asks.

“I’m a big boy. I can handle it,” he said. “(The players) don’t deserve that. They deserve the support of every Cyclone fan out there… It’s not my right to care what other people think of the job that I am doing. They are entitled to their opinion and I respect that.”

Athletic Director Jamie Pollard gave the fourth-year coach a public vote of confidence in an e-mail to donors and ticket holders and later to assembled reporters.

McDermott said his seat never felt hot.

He and Pollard were in constant communication, even though Pollard wasn’t responding to increasing calls for a coaching change.

“The reality is my job was never in jeopardy,” McDermott said on Monday’s teleconference with league coaches. “I don’t have time to worry about what other people think and it’s none of my business what they think. I’ve had the unwavering support of the administration.”

The Cyclones have remain competitive when they could have packed it in.

They are 2-4 in their last six games, with four of the losses by five points or less. One of the wins was the 85-82 overtime shocker at No. 5 Kansas State.

Still, the wins haven’t come as regularly as expected. McDermott is 59-67 overall and 18-46 in Big 12 play.

Pollard feels McDermott still is the right man for the job.

“It’s been frustrating,” he said. “It’s been disappointing for fans, for Coach McDermott and his staff and for players. There’s a lot of things that have happened… some of which were self-inflicting, some were out of anybody’s control. At this juncture it doesn’t matter.”

Pollard: McDermott will return as coach

March 8, 2010

AMES –We’ve been waiting for weeks to hear Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard address the status of coach Greg McDermott and the state of the men’s basketball program.

Pollard finally did so Monday morning, emailing a letter to donors that, in part, pledges his support of McDermott.

He is expected to speak with reporters later today.

McDermott is 59-67 overall and 18-46 in Big 12 games in four seasons. ISU plays Texas Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

Here is Pollard’s full letter:

Dear Cyclone fans,

Nearly four years ago, we implemented several strategic decisions to elevate our athletics program within the Big 12 Conference. Our initiatives were to grow funding, enhance facilities and improve academic and competitive performance.

I am pleased to share with you that we have made significant progress:

1. We have increased annual funding for our athletics program from $28 million to $42 million. More importantly, we have achieved that level of funding while reducing our annual reliance on State support from 12% to less than 5%.

2. We have invested more than $50 million in critical facility upgrades and new construction, including the Hixson-Lied Student Success Center, the Sukup Basketball Complex, the Jack Trice Club and a golf indoor practice facility.

3. Last fall, our student-athletes recorded the highest graduation rate (79%) in Iowa State University history. That rate led the Big 12 and was 14% higher than ISU undergraduates.

4. We are in the midst of, potentially, the best competitive season in school history. Our Directors’ Cup finish for the fall (22nd nationally) is the best in ISU history and we are currently fifth in Big 12 all-sports rankings (on the heels of finishing last in seven of the prior eight years).

Unfortunately, one of the key elements in that competitive success – men’s basketball – has not experienced the same level of on-court success as many of our other programs. The competitive performance of our men’s basketball program has been both disappointing and frustrating.

Some fans have suggested that we make a change in the leadership of our men’s basketball program. It is important to understand that many factors are considered when deciding who gets the privilege and honor to be an Iowa State head coach. Certainly, competitive success is an important measure. However, so are the personal character and integrity of our coaches and the performance of our student-athletes in the classroom and in public.

Although we have not yet won games at the level we all desire, Coach McDermott and his staff have exhibited exemplary character and integrity and our men’s basketball student-athletes have performed admirably in many areas. As a result, I remain fully committed and supportive of Coach McDermott and his staff. Our department will continue to provide the necessary resources for our men’s basketball program to be competitive in this league and nationally so that we can achieve the goals we have outlined for our department.

As investors in our athletics program – through season ticket purchases and/or donations to the Cyclone Club – we felt it was important to communicate directly to you about our men’s basketball program.

Thank you for continuing to support us. As true Cyclones, we know that we can count upon your help as we try to reach our goals.
Go Cyclones!

Sincerely,

Jamie Pollard
Director of Athletics

Finally, Cyclones and McDermott catch a break

March 7, 2010

A group of reporters were sitting inside Hilton Coliseum the other night asking which game, if any, could be considered the signature win in Greg McDermott’s four seasons as Iowa State’s head coach.

The list of candidates was not terribly impressive. It’s better now.

McDermott has a no-brainer after Saturday’s 85-82 victory at No. 5 Kansas State, the Cyclones’ first win over a ranked opponent since Feb. 5, 2006, a span of 21 games.

It was the coach’s first win over a ranked opponent in 20 tries, including nine this season, most of any team in the Big 12 Conference.

Here was McDermott’s post-game address to his players inside the locker room, courtesy of cyclones.com

ISU (15-16, 4-12) started fast, led 42-33 at halftime and were tough and colllected in the closing minutes of regulation and overtime — which were played without star forward Craig Brackins, who had fouled out with 2 1/2 minutes to play.

K-State tried to make it a numbers game. Brackins and LaRon Dendy each fouled out, while Justin Hamilton and Scott Christopherson made it through despite each having four fouls with 6 minutes still to play in regulation.

Diante Garrett scored five of his eigth in the extra session.

Finally, the bounce of the ball went the Cyclones’ way. After Tuesday’s disheartening overtime loss to Missouri at the buzzer, they needed a pick me up.

“My hat’s off to Greg McDermott,” K-State coach Frank Martin told reporters after his Wildcats likely dropped out of contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. “As disappointed as I am in our guys, I’m extremely happy for him, happy for those kids. With all the close losses they’ve had this year, [McDermott] continues to get those kids to play as hard as he does. I’m real happy for Greg.”

Now it’s on to Kansas City, Mo., and the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center.

ISU faces Texas (23-8, 9-7), which has lost eight of its 14 games after a 17-0 start propelled them to No. 1 in the rankings two days before coming to Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 13.

The Longhorns won that game 90-83, quickly erasing ISU’s halftime lead and pulling away late.

Here’s the schedule for the Big 12 Tournament (Cyclone fans will have to stay up late to watch):

Wednesday’s opening-round games

11:30 a.m. — No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Texas Tech

2 p.m. — No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Nebraska

6 p.m. — No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

8:30 p.m. — No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Iowa State

Thursday’s quarterfinals

11:30 a.m. — No. 1 Kansas vs. Colorado-Texas Tech winner

2 p.m. — No. 4 Texas A&M vs. Missouri-Nebraska winner

6 p.m. — No. 2 Kansas State vs. Oklahoma-Oklahoma St. winner

8:30 p.m. — No. 3 Baylor vs. Texas-Iowa State winner

Sick Lacey will sit out Saturday’s Senior Day festivities

March 4, 2010

AMES – There will be one very notable absence Saturday when Iowa State’s senior class plays it final regular season game at Hilton Coliseum.

Star point guard Alison Lacey won’t be in uniform and may not even be in the building for the No. 13 Cyclones’ 2 p.m. game against Colorado. Lacey is fighting a respiratory illness that caused her to miss Wednesday’s loss at Oklahoma State and will keep her out of the lineup until next week’s Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

“She’s had trouble breathing and she’s real run down,” Coach Bill Fennelly said Thursday. “She’s better today but not anywhere where we would gamble at all to play her.”

Lacey did not travel to Stillwater, Okla., and has not done anything basketball related since ISU’s win over Kansas State last Saturday.

Doctors have ruled out mononucleosis, which Lacey battled last year.

ISU (22-6, 10-5 Big 12) has clinched a top four seed and first-round bye in the conference tournament and would secure the No. 2 seed with a victory. A loss to the Buffaloes (13-15, 3-12) could affect NCAA Tournament seeding, but that’s a risk Fennelly is willing to take.

Lacey ranks fifth in the league in scoring (17.1), is second in assists (6.5) and first in free-throw percentage (88.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2).

“There’s no reason to push it,” Fennelly said. “We have to figure out the best way for our team to have its best chance in the postseason. That is to have Aus (Lacey) as rested and ready to go as possible.”

Recruits also on edge with coaching situation

March 3, 2010

DeMarcus Phillips is donig his best to convince Marshalltown Community College teammate Will Clyburn to also accept a scholarship offer to play at Iowa State.

“I tell him that every night,” Phillips said. “He said he’s still thinking. There’s a good chance he’ll be here. I feel confident about it.”

He wouldn’t be so sure about Clyburn or himself if Coach Greg McDermott and his staff don’t return. Phillips signed a letter of intent back in November’s early period.

“I’ve heard the rumors,” Phillips said Tuesday from Hilton Coliseum before ISU’s 69-67 overtime loss to Missouri. “I’m just letting it play out and see what happens when the season is over… If they didn’t come back it would affect me in a big way.”

Phillips and Clyburn — along with 6-9 forward John Wilkins from Southeastern CC in Burlington — sat courtside Tuesday.

Clyburn said he is considering several schools at this point, among them are ISU, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Utah, St. Bonaventure and Duquesne.

He said he has no favorites, but likely would scratch the Cyclones off the list without McDermott & Co.

“I hope they (return) because that would be a big part of my decision,” said Clyburn, who would have two seasons of eligibility. “I’m very close with the coaching staff.”

Phillips is the type of shooting guard ISU desperately needs.

He’s been to several home games and has felt the hurt from seeting the team drop close game after close game.

“Iowa State is really struggling right now,” Phillips said. “The games they are losing are by four or five points. Hopefully I can get on the court and help them get over the hump. I’m pretty exciting about being here next year.”

Cyclone — and proud Canadian — Vanderbeken celebrates hockey gold

March 1, 2010

AMES — Jamie Vanderbeken hasn’t had much to feel good about these last few months.

That changed Sunday when the Belleville, Ontario, native watched Canada beat the United States, 3-2, in overtime of the men’s Olympic hockey final. Vanderbeken, who is being witheld from competition and seeking a medical redshirt for next season because of a variety of injuries, was signing the Canadian national anthem walking off the practice floor Monday morning.

“I’m so proud, especially being around all Americans who don’t know anything about hockey,” he said. “We honestly care.”

Cyclone players were lifting weights Sunday during the gold medal match, and keeping one eye on the TV. 

“When I heard it was 2-2 and they tied it up I almost cried,” Vanderbeken said.

A nation — and an ISU basketball player thousands of miles away — rejoiced when Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal past U.S.  goalie Ryan Miller.

A loss would have been difficult for Canadians to swallow.  

“There would be a lot of depressed people,” Vanderbeken said. “It’s our game. We invented it, we mastered it and we’ve got (gold) again… You (Americans) are getting there.”