LE: Program on Solid Foundation

In an exclusive interview with Cyclone Nation, Iowa State head men's basketball coach Larry Eustachy gives a spring update on his program in which he reflects on the 2002-03 season, and looks ahead to the off-season and prospects for next winter.

CN: Let's start with some final reflections on the 2002-03 basketball season. What particularly impressed you about this team as you look back?

Eustachy: I don't think more things could happen within a program in a year than what happened to our team, as far as adversity. When you couple that with the lack of success early in league, lesser men would have buckled. I really thought we were playing hard. A coach I respect the most in the league gave us the highest compliment that we were the most improved team in the league from start to finish. I don't think you can compliment a group of players better than that.

You don't do that without working and coming to practice every day willing to get better. The most important one is to listen and chance. A lot of players had to change in order to impact winning. From that standpoint, it was as rewarding a time we've had. The measuring stick is always wins and losses, and going to the NCAA Tournament. But what I thought our guys accomplished was monumental. The last month of the season I felt we really played some good basketball.

CN: Does the one-point loss to Iowa in the season finale still leave a sour taste in your mouth?

Eustachy: The last game was unfortunate, because we'd come back so hard and had to lose on a bang-bang type of situation with 15 seconds to go. But it was a great game. Even though we lose to Iowa, I thought it was great for the state. We had people outside the arena trying to buy tickets, which hadn't happened in a long time. I wouldn't change a thing, except for the score.

CN: Looking ahead to next season, the number of players returning to the mix has to make optimistic.

Eustachy: Barring a lot of adversity, we have the strength of our team back. We've signed some guys and we will be a better team. We'll be the best team we've had in three years. What that correlates to I can't tell. We haven't finished our non-conference schedule. Everybody says the conference will be down, but that's not true. It will be stronger from top to bottom. So whether we win more games or not remains to be seen, but we'll be better. We're looking to get up into the upper half of the league and NCAA Tournament.

But I thought Texas Tech was better this year than they were last year. They won more games in the NIT Tournament, but they didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament. That's a good example of what can happen in this league – even though you're better you may not move up. My goal as a coach here is to consecutively be in the NCAA Tournament more than any other teams have.

CN: What shape is the basketball program in heading into the summer months?

Eustachy: It really has a solid base, because of the people I'm now surrounded by. That starts with Steve Barnes as my associate head coach on down through the managers. We've got as solid a core of guys as I've ever had. We have what it takes to be successful. That's the base of our program.

This doesn't change overnight, particularly with the new rules where you can only sign five guys in one year and a total of eight in two years. It's not easy, but from a long-term standpoint I feel really good about where we're headed.

CN: One of the strengths of your team appears to be in the low-post, where Jackson Vroman and Jared Homan make up a solid foundation. Talk about the development of this tandem.

Eustachy: This team was much better in the low post, because Steve Barnes took the low post players and got them better. We've seen some short-term things, but now the biggest thing is going to be long term. The only way Jackson could have gotten as good as he got at the end was he was cooperated. First of all, everything was new and he quickly learned to cooperate.

Homan really came into his own and I thought he became very cooperative, listened more and understood what it toook to play at this level. Jackson really became a leader for him and he followed that lead, which was about as big as anything.

CN: How would you evaluate the development of Adam Haluska?

Eustachy: Haluska was probably the most prepared for the step up, as far as seeing practices and all that. But mentally he was the youngest. He really hit the wall at the end, which is really see happen to a lot of players. But make no mistake about it, Adam had a great year. He was one of five freshmen on the All-Freshman Team. He had always tasted success all the time and very little adversity. He faced more adversity than he did success this year, and I think it's great for him as a player and person. He's got great character.

CN: Has Tim Barnes turned the corner?

Eustachy: He got the kitchen sink thrown at him from the start. If it wasn't Hollis Price it was Kirk Hinrich. If it wasn't Kirk Hinrich, it was Travis Ford. It was one after the other and that can knock a guy down. But he hung in there and the competition leveled off a little bit. The turning point was when he went to Kansas and knew that he could play with those guys on their court. He gained a lot of confidence.

CN: Your ‘Ultimate Competitor' award definitely would have gone to Jake Sullivan, who battled through numerous injuries to lead this team into the NIT. Talk about his play.

Eustachy: Jake Sullivan was an unbelievable warrior throughout this year. He played with a dislocated ligament in his foot most of the second half of the year. It actually became shredded into three shreds, but he played until the end. He's now had successful surgery and will be out for a long time. He had bone spurs in the other foot that he's going to have taken out. And he had a shoulder that almost had a tear in it.

That guy was really beat up and just kept coming back. Sometimes as fans and coaches, we don't realize how difficult a year he had and nobody had a better year than him. Now with him being healthy, it's really going to help.

CN: What is the status of Andrew Skoglund and Adam Schaper for next season?

Eustachy: They're doing fine, working out and will be a part of this group next year. There's a possibility for Skogs to redshirt, depending on who we sign. It's premature to say who's going to fit where until we actually get out there with the team we're going to have.

CN: Any parting comments?

Eustachy: Players are made in the summer and we'll have big summers planned for all of them. We'll have a lot of guys in Ames and in summer school.

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