Cyclones Excited About Present, Future

After a tumultuous offseason of turmoil and turnover, it's clear the Iowa State men's basketball program and head coach Wayne Morgan are focused on what's ahead instead of the events of the last seven months. After some shuffling at the top, the Cyclones are all smiles once again as they prepare for the 2003-04 season.

That should be good news for a program which saw nothing but negatives in the spring, with the events that led to the departure of Larry Eustachy and transfer of Adam Haluska.

"During the past 12 months there have been some issues and controversy, but we have moved forward in this program," said Morgan, who takes over as a Division I head coach for the second time. "We're looking ahead. We feel the future is very bright. We feel the future has many positives, and we feel we will get nothing but better and better as time goes on."

Morgan introduced his 2003-04 Iowa State team at Tuesday afternoon's media day at Hilton Coliseum in Ames.

At least in the short term, ISU's chances of returning to the Big 12's upper echelon are good. The trio of Jake Sullivan, Marcus Jefferson and Jared Homan have emerged as the leaders on a squad that will depend greatly on a pair of freshman guards (Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson) and JUCO power forward Damion Staple.

Although the Cyclones are without senior Tim Barnes for the first semester and Jackson Vroman for an indefinite period of time following a recent arrest on an O.W.I. charge, Morgan still expressed optimism with his cast of players.

Improvement on last season's 17-14 record and 5-11 finish in conference play could be a good barometer.

"I think the goal you set every year is you want to win the Big 12 Championship, and that's what we're going to fight for," Morgan said. "Where we lie within the framework of that goal, I'm not sure. I am not clairvoyant and I do not have a crystal ball, so I don't make predictions on numbers of victories or where we'll finish.

"What I have to try to do is make this team the very best I possibly can, and maximize their potential as a team. Then I have to hopeful that maximizing that potential gets us to the goals that we set."

Much of the optimism is tempered on the play of Sullivan, a senior shooting guard that will go down as one of the most prolific scorers in school history. He led the team in scoring with 17 points per game last season and hit nearly 42 percent of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

Even more importantly, Sullivan is healthy after two foot surgeries that sidelined him for a prolonged time this offseason.

"(His attitude) could not be any better," Morgan said. "He has been a tremendous aspect to this program. He has been wonderful to coach. He is a guy that you have to scale back and rev down, not push or rev up. He had two surgeries this spring and a week later was in the hospital. Instead or rehabbing an hour a day, he was going four and a half hours a day. That threw his whole body off. That's Jake. He shoots a thousand shots a day. He comes in here at 6 o'clock in the morning and 10 o'clock at night."

With Vroman's status up in the air, ISU will expect more from Homan inside. At least from his appearances, the 6-foot-9 junior is up for the challenge, as Morgan considers him the most improved player on the team.

"He has brought a lot into our program," the ISU coach said. "He has run hard and tried to bring the other guys around. He has cut any baby fat that he had. He has been focused on everything he's doing and on basketball when he's here. During one of our defensive drills yesterday, he got hit in the nose really hard and it drew blood. He wiped it and kept playing. That's a tremendous example for our young players to see. I was tremendously impressed with that and how he handled it.

"He does every drill as hard as he can. His low-post game has improved and he has worked on his range as a shooter. He's doing things that he could not do before, so he's worked at the game and tried to be dedicated. That has improved this team."

Much of the talk on media day had to do with Blalock and Stinson, the backcourt of the future in Ames, that will see extended action as first-year players in the Big 12.

"I expect to use all of my freshmen," Morgan said. "All of them are talented. They will have different roles. They all can contribute in us winning basketball games. They have to work hard and will have to make the adjustment to the style of play. They will have to work hard, make an adjustment to the style of play, to how much more physical it will be and to the speed of the game.

"But in the case of our freshmen, in one respect, and in particular with Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson, they have played a thousand games. It's not like being a true freshman. They have a lot of basketball experience."

That accelerated development will have to show early for the Cyclones, who will play the first semester without Barnes, the starting point guard from a year ago.

Blalock and Stinson will get their first test in the season-opener against Mercer on Nov. 28.

Media Day Notes

Some key absentees from Tuesday's event included Vroman and Barnes. Morgan indicated that Vroman's status has not changed and that he is suspended indefinitely. Barnes, meanwhile, has not been practicing with the team and his main focus, according to Morgan, has been academics.

Assistant coach Damon Archibald was unavailable Tuesday because of some "pressing personal matters," according to Morgan.

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