Cyclone Basketball Turns to Youth
By Josh Christensen, Reporter and Rob Gray, Correspondent
AMES, Iowa Iowa State men's basketball coach Fred Hoiberg recited the big numbers not to sound an alarm, but to highlight precisely what his team had lost.
"It's a little rocky at first when you have as much to be replaced as we do," Hoiberg said during Thursday's annual media day at the Sukup Practice Facility. "Losing over 52 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists a game, 278 of our 346 3s there's a lot of new faces that need to come in and make contributions."
A few older ones, too.
Gone from last year's 23-win team that nearly reached the NCAA tournament's Sweet Sixteen: sharpshooter Tyrus McGee, defensive stopper Chris Babb, slick point guard Korie Lucious and explosive scorer Will Clyburn.
"I think they're all going to be tough to replace," said ISU's undersized but highly-productive senior forward Melvin Ejim, who at 6-6 led the Big 12 in rebounding last season. "They all brought so many different things to our team, different dynamics."
Nonetheless, league coaches tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth this season a notable upgrade over back-to-back eighth-place
projections ISU vastly surpassed by finishing third and fourth, respectively.
"I guess they respect us a little more," Ejim said.
"To be honest with you, I think they picked the top three teams Kansas, (Oklahoma) State and Baylor and then threw the rest of us in a hat," said Hoiberg, whose team has seven newcomers, led by former Marshall standout DeAndre Kane. "So I don't know. Is it too high? It's still too early for me (to say)."
Six practices into the 2013-14 campaign and Hoiberg is certain of one thing: he likes his team's moxie and effort.
Going into his fourth season on the job, he's even more convinced about something else: Ejim's impact on the program's resurgence can't be overstated.
"He does everything right," Hoiberg said of the preseason all-Big 12 fist team pick. "He's setting himself up for big things in the future."
Ejim and versatile sophomore forward Georges Niang are the only returning players who averaged more than five points last season. Ejim pitched in 11.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. Niang struck for 12.1 points and 4.6 boards.
Sprinkle in Kane, consensus top-100 freshmen guards Monte Morris and Matt Thomas, along with talented junior college transfers in Dustin Hogue, K.J. Bluford and Daniel Edozie, and optimism if not experience runs high.
"We have some special pieces here," Niang said. "We have some guys that can really shoot the ball and some guys that can really get to the rim."
Kane can do both. And that's just for starters.
Hoiberg said the 6-4, 195-pound senior is one of two players nationally to average 15 or more points in the past three seasons.
But Kane is looking to pad more than his stat line.
"Numbers are nothing if you ain't winning," said Kane, who will play point, two guard and occasionally match up with small forwards.
The Cyclones have produced numbers and wins in recent years and don't expect a drop off.
"That was one of the things my and coach Fred's goals, to turn this program around, and we've been able to do it," said Ejim, who committed to ISU when Greg McDermott was still the coach. "Now, we're just trying to keep it going uphill. Continue doing what we've been doing."