A Great Reason to Cheer for Cyclones

There has been an awful lot of turmoil surrounding the Iowa State men's basketball team during the last few years. After winning its second consecutive Big 12 Conference championship in 2001, the Cyclones entered the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed. Since then, many things have happened to shake the faith of ISU fans. You know the laundry list as well as I do...

#15-seed Hampton knocked off #2-seed Iowa State, 58-57, in the Big Dance in 2001.
The Cyclones fell to 12-19 overall in 2002, including a 4-12 mark in the conference.
Shane Power left the program that spring.
Players like Tommie King, Chris Alexander, Ricky Morgan and Jerome Harper have been in and out of the program without making anywhere near the impact that was expected.
ISU finished with a 17-14 overall record in 2003, including a 5-11 mark in the Big 12.
Larry Eustachy, who had led the Cyclones to a pair of conference titles, was fired for his irresponsible actions off the court.
Adam Haluska left the program.
A handful of players have been in trouble with the law for a variety of reasons.

It seems that there has been a bit of a black cloud over the ISU basketball program for a while now. The hope is that new coach Wayne Morgan will be able to bring in some talented athletes who can stay out of trouble (and in the program), win some games…and generally, bring back "Hilton Magic" and everything that people love to associate with ISU basketball.

A tall order, no doubt. I certainly hope Morgan is up to the task.

But, there is one person who I will be cheering for this season more than any other associated with Cyclone basketball. And that's the guy who has stuck with the Iowa State program through all of this. He's been a leader on the court, where he will be a four-year starter. He's been a leader off the court, where he has received Academic All-Big 12 honors, stays out of trouble, and has avoided slinging arrows and making excuses.

He's Jake Sullivan. And he's a Cyclone through and through.

Four years ago, when Sullivan committed to Coach Eustachy and Iowa State, the Cyclones were one of the top programs in the country…if not the best TEAM in the country in 2000. After Sullivan starred in some camps that summer, schools like North Carolina came after the sharpshooter from Oakdale, Minnesota, but Sullivan remained true to his commitment to ISU.

As a freshman, Sullivan started in a three-guard lineup that included Jamaal Tinsley and Kantrail Horton, as Iowa State surprised EVERYONE by repeating as Big 12 champions. Sullivan averaged 11.4 points per game and was named the Big 12's top freshman.

During his sophomore season, Sullivan was asked to play point guard—not his natural position—and he did a pretty good job of it, sacrificing some of his individual skills and strengths for the good of the team. He averaged 16 points per game and was a third-team All-Big 12 selection.

Last year, Sullivan continued his improvement at both ends of the floor, averaging 17 points per game.

He has been asked to play out of position. He has been asked to play hurt. He has been asked to put on a good face when his friends have left the program. He has been asked to greatly improve his ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble. He has been asked to greatly improve at the defensive end of the floor. And he has been asked to be a leader during some of the most difficult times in the history of ISU basketball.

In my book, he has done all these things. In fact, he has excelled at most. And I haven't heard him complaining. I haven't heard him moaning about "respect" or any other meaningless crap that today's athletes like to drone on and on about.

After his career is over, the young man who was born in Dubuque and lived in Emmetsburg until he started kindergarten will have much to look back on and be proud of.

Sullivan will finish his career as Iowa State's all-time greatest three-point shooter, all-time greatest free-throw shooter and he will finish somewhere on the Cyclones' Top 10 all-time scoring list. He'll also have a Big 12 championship that nobody can take away.

Not bad, huh?

In today's sports world, it seems that we're always looking for somebody to root for who works hard, plays hard, stays out of trouble, provides good leadership, does well in the classroom and represents his school well on and off the court.

Well, look no further this winter than #0 in Ames. His name is Jake Sullivan. And he's one of the all-time Cyclone greats.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)

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