Dressed in their white uniforms, the Iowa State men's basketball players emerged from the locker room at the Sukup Basketball Complex on Wednesday to meet the media and kickstart another season.
Just months removed from the Big 12 tournament title and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament, the expectations for Iowa State entering this 2014-15 season haven't faded. Most have the Cyclones in the top-15 to begin the season.
Here are some of the many takeaways after 90 minutes scrambling to meet with each player on this season's roster.
- First, for the housekeeping: Fred Hoiberg announced at Media Day that both Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader will serve three-game suspensions for their off-court incidents during the off-season. The suspensions will include Iowa State’s exhibition game as well as the first two regular-season games against Oakland and Georgia State.
- Much of the early focus this season will be on yet another transfer in 6-foot-6 guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who the Cyclones added last spring from UNLV. Hoiberg provided some early insight into how the fifth-year senior is performing three practices in: 12-for-15 from the field and 5-for-7 on 3-pointers.
- The 3-pointers are something Hoiberg and company would like to see more of this season from Dejean-Jones. When coaches went back and looked at all of the senior’s shots from the past two seasons, they noticed the trend of many shots coming on the 3-point line or a foot inside. Now, they’d like to see the shots come from behind it.
“When we talk about spacing the floor properly, he still has the habit of creeping in a step inside the 3-point line,” Hoiberg said of Dejean-Jones. “The percentages show shooting that 3-point shot is so much higher than shooting the long 2. So we’ve been working on that.”
- One of the most interesting players on this year’s Iowa State roster is the seventh 7-footer in program history, Georgios Tsalmpouris. The freshman from Greece shows up on the roster at 227 pounds, but Hoiberg said he’s gained as many as 20 pounds since his arrival in the United States. “I saw an article where he said he didn’t like the American food,” Hoiberg said. “I asked him what he had for dinner last night [and] he said he had three bacon cheeseburgers.”
- One thing with Tsalmpouris that remains to be seen is how much he will contribute in his first season. Tsalmpouris said Monday he is getting better by being bodied up in practice by the likes of Dustin Hogue and Jameel McKay, and his coach could see him getting impactful minutes.
“There’s no question he’s getting better every time he steps on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “He had a very productive summer playing on his national team, which is huge playing against some of the top players in the world in his age group. I love some of the things he does. The way we shoot the ball, he isn’t afraid to fire away from the 3-point line. I love that about him."
- Much has been made about Georges Niang’s new body. The junior lost 25 pounds in the off-season by eating healthy and working harder, and his roommate Naz Long marveled that Georges has abs. Yet there are questions that come with a more slim body for the 6-foot-8 forward. For one, will Niang have any issues guarding 4s and 5s?
“Have you seen this muscle, man? It hasn’t been a problem,” Niang said. “I feel like I’ve been a pretty strong kid my whole life, so I really haven’t seen any problem with me bellying up with other guys. We’ll see when it comes along, but I don’t think I’ll have any problem."
- Just as Niang can continue to guard bigger forwards, he is also up for the challenge that his slimmer body could present, which is guarding down and taking on small forwards (the three position).
“I could see that happening," Niang said. "At the end of the day I got in shape so I would be able to do stuff like that. Hopefully if that happens I’ll be up for the challenge."
- Looking for the most improved player? Don’t look further than forward Daniel Edozie, who had his coming-out in the NCAA tournament when he started against North Carolina and contributed. Hoiberg said Edozie has stood out, especially a recent stretch in practice when he swatted a ball from the 6-foot-9 McKay to the wall, hit a jumper over him and proceeded to dunk on Hogue.
“That was the best stretch of offense I’ve seen from Daniel since he’s been here,” Hoiberg said. “Then he shot an air-ball.”
- Could this year’s team be the best Hoiberg has had defensively? The fifth-year coach doesn’t disagree with that sentiment, pointing out that having a deeper bench could lead to less fatigue. Then there is Iowa State’s size — four players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller — which should allow the Cyclones to guard the perimeter and leave the rest to the rim protectors.
“This team can be somewhere [defensively] that it hasn’t in a long time,” Hogue said. “We have always out-scored other teams, but I feel if we stop teams from scoring and still score, a lot of teams aren’t going to play with us.”
- Speaking of the deep bench, Hoiberg will be tasked with sorting through playing time this season as Iowa State has 10-11 players who could truly compete for impactful minutes. Hoiberg says there must be sacrifices.
“I’m excited about that depth,” Hoiberg said. “At the same time it’s probably going to cut some minutes down, which I think allows us to play a little faster than we did a year ago. I know this, the three practices we’ve had have been unbelievably competitive, as competitive of practices as we’ve had in my five years at Iowa State because of that depth and because of the skill we have."
- Freshman Clayton Custer envisions himself being a versatile player for the Cyclones and is willing to play in any role Hoiberg sees fit. Custer arrived in the summer as a wide-eyed freshman, but said he's improved at not getting knocked off the ball.
- With the success Iowa State had last season, the team isn't afraid to talk about the large expectations it holds in both the Big 12 and beyond. There is belief by Hoiberg that the success must begin with improved play away from Hilton Coliseum.
"The big thing I talk to them about is winning on the road," Hoiberg said. "We have not done a great job and that’s one of [the parts] of winning a Big 12 Championship. That’s a mental toughness, and again, I think this group has that. But we’ll see, you don’t know for sure until you have that first true road contest. That’s what it takes."
- Sitting out last season was difficult for Nader, but when the seventh or eighth game rolled around, he said, he realized he needed to use the time to get better. Nader sees himself as a player that can play the 3 or 4.
"I think one of my biggest attributes is my versatility," Nader said. "So I can guard multiple positions [and] I can play multiple positions on offense."
- Monte Morris sat at his locker in New York City last March and said the team's loss in the Sweet 16 would act as motivation. Now a sophomore preparing for a new season, that loss hasn't slipped away.
"There were times in that game I felt like I didn't finish," Morris said of the Sweet 16. "Now when I'm in the weight room I do an extra curl just for that. When I'm out here guarding, there were times in that game I gave up a few buckets, I guard that much harder. We could have went to the Elite Eight. It still haunts me, because the fact that we were that close."
- Finally (for now), who's wondering about Hogue's toothpick? Don't worry: “Toothpick all the time,” Hogue said. “I took it out for the interview, but it’s coming back for the season.”