High Expectations Push Iowa State

Fresh off a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance last season, a new-look Iowa State team has expectations that are as high as ever before

Fred Hoiberg’s office sits on the second floor of the Sukup Basketball Complex with windows aligned on the far wall overlooking a basketball court a steep drop below.

The fifth-year coach can look out from those windows and, not far away on one of the nearby walls, see the cardinal and gold banners that fill it. Hanging from those walls are two banners with the year ‘2014’ printed across them. A gold one on one side of the basket pays tribute to the Big 12 Championship from a season ago while a cardinal one on the other side pays homage to the Sweet 16 appearance.

Yet from that office, it is not what Hoiberg can see on that wall that gives him hope, but rather what he can hear. There, he sits and listens. Day after day he hears the ball connecting with the court down below.

“It’s fun to sit up in my office and hear the ball bouncing,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a group that comes out and spends as much time on the court as our guys do, you’re a leg up, because the guys love being in the gym.”

There will always be the memories from last season, which Hoiberg began his Media Day news conference marveling. The 14 straight wins to begin the season marked the best start in school history; the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City was the first since 2000; and the team’s third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance took the Cyclones to Madison Square Garden and their fourth Sweet 16 in program history.

Now, six months removed from the bright spotlight of New York City, the players emerge from the locker room at the practice facility on this Wednesday afternoon in their white home uniforms to begin a new chapter.

“As soon as we could get in the gym and get those reps up, we were doing it,” Naz Long said. “We’re putting in the constant grind, because we want to hold the trophy up. Anything less than doing something like that is just not what we want. It’s not success.”

This team is not shy about the expectations it holds for itself. Gone are Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, who together racked up the accolades last season. The Cyclones still have Georges Niang — albeit a slimmed down version — to couple with the more experienced Long, Dustin Hogue, Monte Morris and company.

Then there are the newcomers. Transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones has drawn comparisons to Kane, but insists he’ll be his own player. Jameel McKay will sit out until Dec. 20, but will be the first true rim protector in Hoiberg’s five seasons at the helm. Abdel Nader, after sitting out last season, is expected to become an offensive force.

Iowa State will be a new-look team, but the expectations are still there. The Cyclones are a pre-season top-15 team most everywhere, and they feel they belong.

“Of course that’s fair. We demand that of ourselves,” Niang is quick to say. “We feel like we can be even better than we were last year. If you take a look at this group we’re extremely talented 1 to 15. We have a lot of talented guys in this locker room and guys who are willing to put their own agendas aside to win. I think that’s what separates good teams from great teams.”

There it is again, the talk of all those expectations.

That particular talk is not rare. Hoiberg says the team talks about those expectations nearly everyday. When Hoiberg sees something go wrong, he might send a gentle reminder to his players.

“We’re going to be competing for ninth, not first,” Hoiberg will tell his team.

“The program is in a spot right now where we can have those type of expectations,” Hoiberg said. “Now it’s living up to them.”

Hoiberg stands near midcourt now, 90 minutes after his fifth media day began. “It blows me away that this is my fifth one of these,” he says. It seems like just yesterday, he says, that he was introducing himself across town at the Jacobson Building.

He had his plan then, and now this year’s team is attempting to execute it.

“It’s year five already and it’s something where I talked to our staff about getting guys in here who could help us compete for a championship,” Hoiberg said. “We accomplished that in one phase last year by winning the conference championship. We still haven’t won a league championship and we still obviously haven’t won a national championship. Those are the things we’re trying to achieve.”

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