Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hoiberg!!! Hoiberg???

Fred Hoiberg is Ames, Iowa’s All-American boy, its beloved hero who’s never done wrong. He’s a former “Mr. Basketball” winner and State Champion at Ames High who decided to be loyal to his hometown and play his college ball at ISU. He’s the kind of good-looking, hard working, high character, Midwestern kid that most parents dream their boys will be one day. Everyone, it seems, loves Fred Hoiberg…until now.

Just one day after Coach Greg McDermott announced his resignation to accept the Creighton job, ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard made his move. And it’s a move that, surprisingly, is drawing the ire of many Cyclone fans. After all, this is “THE MAYOR” we’re talking about, right? The one every Cyclone fan loves? One look at the message boards on CycloneFanatic.com tells a different story. It’s a mixed reaction, seemingly split right down the middle, 50/50. Some think Pollard moved too quickly. Some are disappointed he didn’t hire former Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie, a guy with a great track record on the court, but some serious character flaws off it. Some can’t believe Iowa State would hire a guy with no coaching experience. Others are elated that one of the Cyclones’ beloved is coming home to lead the program. It’s a move that has some people saying, “Hoiberg!!!” and others saying “Hoiberg???”

I stand somewhere in the middle. When I found out yesterday that Coach McDermott was leaving, I was ecstatic. It could not have been a more perfect scenario. A good guy lands on his feet at a good place, and we get rid of a coach that was clearly not working out for our program. And it was really the only possible way a change could be made based on the financial situation at Iowa State. There was finally a reason to be excited about Iowa State basketball again. The slate was being wiped clean. The Hoiberg announcement kind of hit me out of left field. At first, I was really excited to hear that we have such a great guy coming back to Ames to lead our beloved Cyclones. He’s got a great reputation across the country and some NBA ties that should help on the recruiting trail. But at the same time, his critics are right—he doesn’t have any coaching experience at the collegiate level. Outside of being an All Big 8 player at Iowa State, he doesn’t have any collegiate experience period. So there are certainly some question marks about this hasty hire by Jamie Pollard--question marks that will be answered pretty quickly by the players he retains and recruits, and the results on the court next season.

This isn’t a slam-dunk hire by Pollard. I think it’s a decision he felt would be much more warmly received. And, I must say, I’m a little surprised myself at the reactions on the message boards to Ames’ All-American boy. All in all, if you look at the state of the basketball program today vs. one week ago, I think there is plenty of reason for Cyclone fans to be optimistic. Let’s face it; there was no hope with Coach McDermott. At least Hoiberg restores some flair and optimism for the future of Hilton Magic and ISU basketball. But starting soon, Fred Hoiberg is no longer “The Mayor.” Soon, he becomes Coach Hoiberg, Coach of the Iowa State Cyclones. And that’s a whole new ballgame.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Grayer Brings Some Magic Back To ISU Basketball Program

It was a day I’ll never forget. I was in the sixth grade and all the other kids were in school while I went with my mom to get my braces tightened. For those of you who have ever had braces, you know that getting them tightened is no picnic. But missing out on class to do so helped alleviate the pain a little bit. That, and knowing whenever I had to get this done, Mom would always take me to the old Donutland on Lincolnway in Ames afterwards. And it was on one of those occasions that it happened: My hero at the time, Jeff Grayer, walked in the door while we were sitting, eating donuts. I had a quick conversation with Mom, and knowing I didn’t have much time, grabbed a pen and the first piece of paper we could find in her purse and ran to the counter where he was ordering and asked him for his autograph. I was the happiest kid in Ames, Iowa that day and I still have the memento—one of my strongest reminders of what Hilton Magic used to be like.

There haven’t been many happy days in Cyclone basketball country lately, but the hiring of Jeff Grayer as an Assistant to Coach McDermott offers a ray of sunshine in the middle of the storm clouds that have been hovering over Hilton Coliseum the last few months. Grayer is ISU’s all-time scoring leader and is one of my two favorite Cyclone players ever along with the late Barry Stevens. Grayer brings some recruiting connections and credibility, but perhaps most important, he brings back good memories of Iowa State basketball to a fan base that is in desperate need of them. Now, if only he could still suit up!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thoughts on ISU Spring Game

After a tumultuous basketball season, a gorgeous spring day and football were exactly what the doctor ordered for weary Cyclone fans. A good crowd was on hand in Ames Saturday as the Cyclones scrimmaged in front of roughly 10,000 people, including my 8-year-old son and myself. Other than the football-like September weather, and not visiting campus to be tortured by the men’s basketball team, here were the things I liked best about the spring game:

1. I loved the pace—This was the pace we were all expecting to see from the offense last year. It looks like the extra bowl practices last year and year #2 of this new offense is really starting to click. Arnaud is finally getting it, and so are the receivers. This offense has the ability to be dynamic and exciting. Last year, we saw a lot of growing pains. I think this year will be much different.
2. Jerome Tiller—Mark my words: There will be a QB controversy some time this year. Tiller looked sensational, running and throwing. He’s got more zip on his throws than Arnaud does, is more mobile, and I thought he moved the offense much more fluidly than Arnaud did in the scrimmage.
3. The backup running backs—There appears to be some good depth behind Alexander Robinson this year. Freshman Jeff Woody of SE Polk is a change-of-pace back who can get some tough yards. Red shirt freshman James White was very impressive, showing a little Daren Sproles-like ability. White is listed at 5’8”, but he looks like he’s closer to 4 feet tall out on the field. White showed some elusiveness and broke a nice 50-yard run.
4. The crowd—The entire lower section on the east side of the stadium was full. You could sense that ISU fans were clamoring for something positive to think about amid all the troubles with the basketball program. Undoubtedly, the demise of the basketball team should help football even more as people shift some of their support away from hoops over to the gridiron.
5. David Sims—The senior had some HUGE hits and should be set up for a spectacular senior campaign. Sims was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last Year in the Big 12.
6. Kelechi Osemele—The junior offensive lineman LOOKS like a future NFL player. My son and I were sitting in the front row, and he certainly passes the eye test—all 6’5, 327 lbs. He was a 2nd team All Big 12 performer last year as a sophomore.
7. WR depth—There are 5 legitimate receivers on this team. Sedrick Johnson was one of the highest rated recruits ever at Iowa State. He’s a junior now—look for him to finally put it all together. Darius Darks set the ISU freshman receiving record. He’s also a junior now. Darius Reynolds was off to a great start before a season ending injury in the fourth game last year. He’s also a junior. Jake Williams had 400 yards and 5 scores last year. He’s a senior. And the receiver I was most impressed with in the spring game was freshman Donnie Jennert, a 6’6 red shirt from Florida. He’s a big target and caught nearly everything that was thrown to him.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The End of the 2009-2010 Basketball Season Leaves Plenty of Promise for The Next

Hard to believe the high school basketball season ended nearly a month ago with Ames High hoisting the 4A trophy for the second straight year. If you love high school hoops as much as I do, the start of the 2010-11 season is less than 8 months away. Let the countdown begin.

As a resident of the Ballard school district and a graduate of Colo-Nesco, I am fortunate to be able to root directly for two of the areas premier basketball players and teams. One player happens to be the reigning Ames Tribune Mid Iowa Girls Player of the Year: Taylor Greenfield of Ballard. The other happens to be the reigning Ames Tribune Mid Iowa Boys Player of the Year: Brandon Eley of Colo-Nesco. So I get the best of both worlds. Greenfield was selected to the 2010 team as part of the Ames Tribune special that was published on April 9, 2010. The following is an excerpt from that article:

{Greenfield averaged 19.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals this season to be named The Tribune’s Mid-Iowa girls basketball player of the year. She also ranked second on the team with 2.7 assists per game.

“There’s not anything on the basketball floor that she can’t do,” Ballard coach Merle Olberding said. “Anywhere we put her, it’s a tough matchup for our opponent.”
That versatility has led to Greenfield being recruited by some of the biggest names in women’s basketball.

Greenfield said she is most interested in Iowa State, Stanford and Duke, and she wants to schedule visits to Texas, Tennessee and Connecticut, the two-time defending national champion.}

Eley was selected for the second consecutive year as part of the Ames Tribune special that was published on Sunday, April 11, 2010. The following is an excerpt from that article:

{ “He lives for the game; he loves it, and that’s probably what makes him a good player,” Colo-Nesco coach Pat Wynja said.

Eley averaged 19 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, leading the conference in each category. His 4.4 steals were second-best in the conference, and his 1.64 blocks per game were just behind teammate Michael Warren.}

The Royal boys finished 20-3, losing a stunner to Grandview Park Baptist in the second round of tourney action. The Ballard girls finished 23-2, losing in the State Tournament semi-finals to eventual champion Sioux City Bishop Heelan. Colo-Nesco returns 5 of their top 7 players next season, including 4 starters. Ballard returns all but 2 players next year, and 7 of their 8 leading scorers from 09-10.

With all of the issues surrounding the basketball programs at Iowa and Iowa State (can it get any worse?), it would be easy for a central Iowan to be discouraged about the prospects of the 2010-2011 hoops season. But as a fan of two great high school programs with plenty of promise, I can’t wait.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Allure of The Underdog

I'm a lifelong Duke fan. Well, almost. I started rooting for Duke back in the Johnny Dawkins days of the mid 1980's, becoming a die-hard Dukie when they knocked off the presumably unbeatable Runnin Rebels of UNLV to win their first title in 1991. My home in Zearing where I grew up may still bear the marks in the ceiling where I nearly jumped through it after Christian Laettner's miracle shot against Kentucky in 1992.

But tonight? Tonight, I was a Butler fan. There's nothing I love more than a great underdog story. Hoosiers, The Rookie, The Blind Side--all some of my favorite all-time movies. And Butler definitely fit the mold. It really was David against Goliath. Duke, with all its tradition and Final 4 appearances and titles. Butler, having never even been there before. The game itself had all the makings of a storybook ending. A remarkable game, back and forth, with the underdog having the chance to win on a miracle shot at the buzzer. That shot was supposed to go in. Can you imagine if it would have? It may have been the most remarkable moment in college basketball history. I wanted that shot to go in, I truly did--Duke fan and all. It just goes to show: We all love an underdog. Congrats to Butler on an AMAZING season.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"The Hug": Cool? Or Creepy?

In case you missed it Saturday night, The Final 4 produced one of the most unforgettable and uncomfortable moments in sports I’ve ever seen. It happened late in the Duke/West Virginia game, with Duke leading by double digits and West Virginia trying to mount a comeback. Mountaineers star Da’Sean Butler drove to the basket and had his knee buckle (turns out it was an ACL tear) on a questionable no-foul call against Duke. The minutes that followed were some of the most agonizing since Lawrence Taylor snapped Joe Theismann’s leg in two twenty-five years ago on Monday Night Football.

It’s never pleasant to watch someone in pain, and you knew the way Butler was acting, he was enduring a lot of it. Knowing he was a senior and that we were witnessing his final collegiate moments made it all the worse. And then, Coach Bob Huggins, “Huggy Bear” as he’s nicknamed, came to his side in a scene that will never be forgotten. It was a scene that will become as big a part of Huggins’ legacy as his 600-plus career coaching victories. It was a scene that has been dubbed by most people as “touching.” I can certainly understand that view, but watching it live, I actually felt it was a little creepy. Huggins was a little too close for comfort, a little too motherly—like a mom caressing a child. This is a 22-year old man who is set to make millions of dollars playing in the NBA next year. I just wanted to shout through the TV screen to leave the man alone and let the team doctors get him off the court. At one point, I thought Huggins was actually going to kiss Butler on the lips! One has to wonder if Butler wanted him that close or if he wanted to just be left alone and escorted off the court as quickly as possible.

One can’t deny that it was a touching gesture from coach to player—as long as it was genuine and not for show. Clark Kellogg, CBS Analyst, described it as a “powerful” scene. Re-watching the clip, I can certainly see how some people thought it was a really cool thing Huggins did. So…cool? Or creepy? I’ll let you be the judge.