When Iowa State hosts the Cal State Fullerton Titans this Sunday afternoon, it will be much more than the typical non-conference game. That's because Steven Fennelly will return home to Ames for the first time in months as part of the opposing bench to coach against his father Bill, his older brother Billy and his alma mater Cyclones.
At media day earlier this year Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly became emotional when asked about the future date coaching against his son, saying he wasn't looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm very proud of him that he got a job and is working for a great person," Fennelly. "Both of my boys are amazing people, and to see them turn out to be the kind of young men they turned out to be is really exciting and a proud moment for me. It will be hard."
In an interview with AllCyclones.com on Friday, Steven discussed his return to Hilton Coliseum and his transition from graduate assistant and video coordinator on the Iowa State bench to assistant coach with the Titans, a job he accepted in May.
"I think I was spoiled a little bit growing up around Iowa State with 10,000 plus fans at every home game," Steven said. "Basketball isn't as big here but we are working on changing the culture. Being a grad student you are there but not as hands-on with the day-to-day activities and here I'm on the road most of the time starting with summer camps and recruiting. I love it. I love being able to get out, talking to other coaches and building those relationships. Those are things I always wanted to do growing up watching my Dad do those things and now that I'm the person on the phone calling recruits, going to their home, meeting their parents as well as writing up scouting reports and drawing up plays. It's been a great blessing and I'm very honored and privileged to have been given this opportunity."
Leaving home to help new Titans coach Daron Park fill out the staff wasn't easy for Steven, but the natural next step in the process.
"I always wanted to go into coaching and I probably could have stayed on at Iowa State with another position, but I felt this was the best for me, Steven said. "My brother [Billy] did the same thing when he left Iowa State to go to Maryland and then to Northwestern. He told me the best thing I could do was to go out and build some experience. I wanted to go out and learn under someone else to get my feet wet and who knows what the future holds. I could see myself one day back at Iowa State."
It wasn't until after Steven was hired that the schedule became final and he found out he would be making a return trip home sooner than expected. Not for pleasure on a break, but for work. There it was on the calendar, the Dec. 8 game at Iowa State.
"I didn't know we were playing Iowa State until after I was hired," Steven said. "We really needed a game, and they really needed a game so we made it work. I think it was quick, I got the job and a few days later it was on the schedule.
"Everyone asks if I'm excited, and I am. But I have mixed emotions and it's going to be weird. I was on the Iowa State bench for six years and now I'm on the other side of the court. To come into Hilton not wearing the Cyclone colors is going to be weird. It's funny because my Mom she wanted to wear both our school colors and Iowa States."
Cal State Fullerton has struggled thus far this season, coming into Sunday's game 1-6 and losers of their last 3 games by an average of 12 points per contest.
"Whenever you get a new coach and new staff it's going to be a process," Steven said. "We are trying to change the culture here. We have a great group and our kids are working hard. We are 1-6 but we've played a tough schedule and our record might not show it, but I think we are improving every day."
Part of Steven's job as assistant coach is scouting the other team, and one thing popped stood out to him while watching film on the Cyclones.
"They are good," Steven said. "The thing with Iowa State is they don't beat themselves, they play as a team and everyone can shoot it. You look at the scouting report to try and find someone who you can play off of a little bit but 1 through 5 they can all shoot it pretty well. We are going to have our hands full but it will be a great experience and great chance for our kids to go play in one of the best atmospheres in college basketball."
When the two teams take the court Sunday afternoon, the day will be fixed with emotions. How will Steven handle it when he meets his father on the court before the game?
"I am excited to shake his hand; it feels like I hadn't seen him in forever," Steven said. "I'm getting the chills just thinking about it. I moved out to California during the middle of April and I haven't been back home since. It will be fun; I'm sure I will give him a big hug and then probably go hang out with him after the game. Not just my Dad though, but my brother and all the staff. I'd known those guys a long time and I'm excited."
"I'm not able to come home for Christmas so this trip couldn't have worked out any better, I get to come home and see my family and I'm really looking forward to that."
Said Bill Fennelly at media days: "It will be fun to see him, we don't see him a lot anymore. I hope we beat them and then I'll take him to dinner."