But, this is Morgan's team now. And while it might not be full of his own recruits, this is a team that is capable of some immediate success. Of course, there are some big question marks. In addition to the new recruits, some of the concerns surround the returning players. For example:
Can Jake Sullivan stay healthy?
Will Tim Barnes be eligible to play in the first semester?
Will Jackson Vroman be eligible?
Can Marcus Jefferson play at a high level with some consistency?
Will Jared Homan continue to improve?
Here are some of my thoughts regarding the five veteran performers that ISU hopes to have on the floor this winter…
Jake Sullivan: I love watching this guy play the game. He is obviously very passionate about his performance and his team's success. While he might not have the greatest size or speed when compared to other shooting guards in the Big 12, Sullivan refuses to back down from a challenge. Every great team has a guy who can KILL you from three-point land and few are in Sullivan's league in this area. Last season, he became more of a threat taking the ball off the dribble, which was nice to see.
One of the things that he would greatly benefit from is a point guard AND a small forward who are effective at penetrating to the lane and kicking it back out. The past two seasons, the Cyclones simply haven't had the offensive skills to keep Big 12 defenses off balance very often in the half-court game. Here's hoping that Barnes, Jefferson and Will Blalock can provide those valuable skills regularly this season.
Tim Barnes: Regardless of how good Blalock is, it will be important for ISU to have Barnes eligible to play as soon as possible. You simply can't replace the experience of playing a full season at point guard in a tremendous conference. Even if Barnes comes off the bench for a while, he will be extremely valuable for the Cyclones.
Although he started off the Big 12 schedule pretty slowly last season, Barnes appeared to really "get it" during the final stretch of games. When he's "right," Barnes can be as dangerous as a shooter as he is off the dribble. At times last season, he looked confused and seemed to be trying for a single-season dribble record.
His numbers were good last year…11 points, 5 assists and 3.6 rebounds. His turnovers must come down and his decision-making must improve, but I think he has the potential to be a very good point guard this season. First, he must get himself eligible to participate.
Marcus Jefferson: What a difficult winter last season must have been for Jefferson. I'm pretty sure that he will be eligible from the start of the season this year. It would only be fair. (I hope the NCAA sees it that way.)
If and when Jefferson is able to play for ISU, I would love to see the same player who I watched against Colorado and Missouri in Ames last year. At times during those games, it seemed like there were two or three Jeffersons on the floor. He was hustling after every loose ball and creating opportunities for ISU with his energy.
Jefferson isn't going to "wow" anyone with his downtown shooting ability or high-flying dunks on people's heads. However, his midrange game is good enough for him to become sort of a "silent assassin." He's probably capable of averaging around 10 to 12 points with five rebounds per game.
Jackson Vroman: Hopefully, this guy gets his academic act together and is able to play in the second semester this season. Anything more than that might be considered a minor miracle, if the reports I've heard are accurate.
While there are a handful of offensive skills that Vroman doesn't have—and won't have this season—there are so many things that he does well for ISU that it would be a big boost to get him back on the floor. He didn't average 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds by accident last winter.
I really like his energy and tenacity on the offensive glass. And who wouldn't? Every good team has a guy or two with Vroman's mentality. With his effort, he's able to snare a handful of rebounds that his positioning failed to earn.
As his junior year progressed in 2002-03, I think he was becoming more fluid, controlled, comfortable and confident when he received the ball within eight feet of the hoop in the half-court offense. This helped opened up a few things for Sullivan and Barnes occasionally.
Jared Homan: As a sophomore, the big kid from Remsen averaged 7.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. He also blocked 58 shots. Homan accomplished these numbers while playing 26 minutes per game.
I'm not sure his minutes will increase dramatically as a junior, but I am hoping that his skill level from 10 to 17 feet is improved over his first two seasons. And it would be GREAT if he developed a dangerous low-post game…even if it's just one move to his left shoulder and a move that plays off of that.
Regardless, I look for Homan to continue to lead by example and play as hard as he can during the 2003-04 season. His physical play at both ends of the floor provides a spark more often than not for the Cyclones and the ISU fans.
When you look at these five players—Sullivan, Barnes, Jefferson, Vroman and Homan—it's not a bad lineup. Then, you add to that mix a couple of guys like Blalock and Damion Staple and you have the makings of a pretty good team.
If everyone can get healthy and academically eligible, I think this team has a chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Now, wouldn't that be something for Wayne Morgan to get excited about?
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)