Here are some random thoughts about ISU basketball, past and present:
* When I think of the great teams in recent Cyclone history, there are a few that immediately come to mind. One thing that these teams have in common is that they each had at least one player who was not only outstanding, but turned out to be "NBA good."
Under Johnny Orr, Jeff Grayer and Jeff Hornacek were two of ISU's best ever, of course. Then came Victor Alexander and Sam "it isn't me" Mack. When Tim Floyd coached the team that included Fred Hoiberg and Loren Meyer, he led the Cyclones to a 23-win season. Next, it was Dedric Willoughby and Kelvin Cato who led the Cyclones to great years. Finally, Hilton Coliseum was the home for the likes of Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley and a pair of Big 12 championship teams, including the 32-5 squad of 2000 that, in my opinion, was the best team in ISU history.
So, if Coach Wayne Morgan is going to get the Cyclone program back on the right track, who does he have right now who could possibly be "NBA good?" Or is that person yet to be recruited? Iowa State fans hope that Will Blalock is potentially that key piece in the puzzle. Coach Morgan has fueled the speculation with comments comparing Blalock to Allen Iverson. Yeah…that's right…Allen Iverson.
If Blalock truly DOES have that type of talent, then the Cyclones have a great chance to become very good again…and soon. On the other hand, that's an awful lot to live up to for a freshman who has yet to play a minute of college basketball. The weight of those kinds of expectations can bring a player down pretty quickly if he's not successful right out of the gates. Here's hoping that Blalock gets his first season in Ames off to a quick start.
* Speaking of "NBA good," have you noticed that Hoiberg has started a couple of games this season for the Timberwolves? Minnesota is 5-5 right now, but should certainly finish well above .500 this year. Hoiberg is averaging 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game in 26 minutes of PT per night. He's also shooting an amazing 64% from 3-point land (16 of 25) and 50% from the floor.
This is Hoiberg's ninth season in the NBA. "The Mayor" averaged a career-high 9.1 points per game three seasons ago in Chicago. His career totals include 2,050 points and 1,022 rebounds. He's one of the true class acts in the NBA and on everyone's short list for "favorite Cyclones of all time." It would be awesome if he could win an NBA title before he's finished playing.
* On the other hand, Jamaal Tinsley has only played in three games for Indiana so far this year. The Pacers are 8-2 and leading the Central Division. I'm not sure how Tinsley found his way into new Coach Rick Carlisle's doghouse, but I hope he can find his way out somehow. In limited action (13 minutes per game), Tinsley is averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 assists.
If it doesn't work out for Tinsley in Indiana, I hope that he can find his way into someone's lineup. Although he seemed to play at a few different speeds (not interested, interested and incredible), when he was playing well, Tinsley was as much fun to watch as any college point guard I've seen play.
In the 2000 NCAA Tournament, Iowa State could start its offense at the free-throw line if Tinsley wanted to. He had the ball on a string and dominated games—without being a big-time scorer—from the point guard position. I'm sure that guys like Earl Watson of UCLA still have nightmares about that Cyclone team.
* Marcus Fizer is on the injured list for Chicago after having difficulty with the knee he had surgery on last winter. I think Fizer has the potential to be a pretty good scoring power forward for someone, but he's going to need to stay healthy and get more consistent playing time. In his first three seasons, he's averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds per game, despite playing only 23 minutes per game.
The timing of his injury last season was very unfortunate, as he was just starting to play a little more and really put up some bigger numbers. When he gets healthy, the Bulls should get a good boost off the bench from Fizer.
* Here's something I'll bet you didn't know… Kelvin Cato is having his best season as a pro this year (although it's early). The 6-11 center is averaging 7.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals per game for the first-place Rockets. Cato is playing 29 minutes per game for Houston.
And here's the odd stat of the day: Cato and Hoiberg have scored the same amount of points in their NBA careers…2,050. Cato is in his seventh season, Hoiberg is in his ninth.
One of the most entertaining things I've ever seen in a collegiate practice was watching Cato during layup drills for Iowa State. I swear that his armpits were at rim level. Just ridiculous. All arms and legs…and ALL DUNKS, of course.
* I'll be watching the progress of the Hornets closely this season as Tim Floyd will finally get a chance to coach an NBA team. The rosters he was handed in Chicago were an absolute joke. Pathetic. And somehow, that gave a lot of people reason to believe that Floyd couldn't coach. I think he'll prove a lot of people wrong this season. So far, New Orleans is 7-3 and in second place…and that's without Jamal Mashburn, who is out for a couple of months with an injury.
I don't think I've ever been more impressed with watching basketball practices than I was the times I saw Floyd run them…or Larry Eustachy. You can say what you want to about either one of those guys, but one thing's for sure: They are two of the best basketball coaches on the planet.
* A former Cyclone "commit," Kirk Hinrich has been starting for Chicago lately. Hinrich scored a season-high 11 points on Saturday night in a loss to Seattle.
* And finally, it was six years ago this week (November 9, 1997) that one of my all-time favorite Cyclones passed away. Brian Pearson died of brain cancer at the age of 27. Pearson had one of the greatest prep careers of any basketball player in Iowa's history and never lost a game at Palmer High School after his freshman year. After winning three state championships, the sharp-shooting guard played for Johnny Orr at Iowa State and became a crowd favorite.
After his playing days were done at ISU, he spent one season as a graduate assistant for the Cyclones, one year on the basketball staff at Wayne State and two seasons as an assistant at Morningside College in Sioux City. One of his former players at Morningside told me recently that Pearson would have been a fantastic head coach for a college basketball program. I have no doubts about that.
Brian's younger brother, Mark Pearson, is currently the Director of Basketball Operations for the women's program at the University of Maryland. Mark worked as a graduate assistant and manager for the ISU men's program from 1993 to 1997 and graduated from Iowa State in 1996. The Terrapins are coached by Brenda Frese, who served as an assistant coach for Bill Fennelly at ISU from 1996 to 1999.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)