A Q&A with Damon Archibald

Iowa State's men's basketball team may be taking a week off from competition during Finals week, but Wayne Morgan's squad is still looking to address many areas during that stretch. Assistant coach Damon Archibald gave an ISU progress report during a question-and-answer session with CycloneNation.com.

CN: With the team in the middle of a week off for Finals, why don't you assess where you think this group is at this point?

Archibald: We think the team is exactly where we thought they'd be. When you look at us going to Northern Iowa and Iowa, and playing Virginia at home, you've got to wonder what your record would be with such a young team. Those are three very challenging games. As those games approached, we thought we'd probably go 1-and-2 in that situation and would have been ecstatic with 2-and-1. The team is pretty much where we thought it'd be.

The progress of our new guys has really picked up over the last week or 10 days, so we're very excited about that, as far as the learning curve in Coach Morgan's system.

CN: The big news of the week had Curtis Stinson winning the Big 12 player of the week award. How is Curtis' game different at this point than it was at the end of last season?

Archibald: First of all, he's cut down on his turnovers from last year. That's taken his game up a notch or two. He has done an incredible job of working on his jump shot over the summer, and he's become a much higher scoring threat. Excluding the first game where he had the first-game jitters, he's shooting 50 percent from the three right now. That's pretty impressive to do over the course of five games. Those two things are the biggest differences.

CN: Stinson's fellow guard court mate Will Blalock is perhaps the most improved player on the roster. Assess his play through the opening stanza of the regular season.

Archibald: Will's an enigma. He goes out there and he can do things that I've never seen anybody do in college basketball with the ball. He's incredibly unselfish and is one of the most liked players on our team. Everybody gets along with him and looks to him for leadership.

Here's a great example of that: he goes to Iowa and completely takes over the game in the last eight minutes of that ballgame. Then, the next game we're beating Howard pretty handily and he takes four shots. That's a completely unselfish player who puts the team first. He has really made strides this year with his mid-range game and finishing in traffic.

CN: We saw this week that Jared Homan was the number one center on CBSSportsline.com's position rankings. How has Jared taken his game to an entirely different level?

Archibald: Playing hard is a talent. It's just like jumping high, having a high basketball I.Q., having a good jump shot, or being a good ball handler. Playing hard is a challenge, and Jared has the ability to play hard for prolonged periods of time. That's a challenge, and he's been able to sustain that through the last five or six games. That's well deserved.

CN: It's pretty clear that Stinson, Blalock, and Homan are on their way to banner seasons in your lineup. But is it a concern that you haven't developed that fourth scoring option yet that you can depend on on a night-to-night basis?

Archibald: No question. There are a lot of guys that have stepped to the plate and have positioned themselves. We're not just looking for a fourth guy; we're looking for a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh guy to step up. The gap between the big three and the rest of our team is too great. We've got to shorten the gap between those two groups. Our players are responding to that challenge.

CN: Who are some of those players you have issued challenges to?

Archibald: Tasheed Carr has played himself into the starting lineup and had an outstanding game against Howard. The thing about Tasheed is that he's used to being the point guard and the guy that's the primary ball handler and making all the plays. Now he's asked to do less, and that's extremely hard to do. Imagine being used to putting the whole car together, and now just being asked to put on one part in an assembly line.

He's had to adjust to that and it was difficult for him to do. When he was playing, it was obvious to everyone he tries to do too much. He'll take the extra dribble and get into traffic and get himself in trouble, because he's trying to make a play. He doesn't need to do that. The big three guys need to do that, and he just needs to be a role player and pick his spots.

CN: How much has Reggie George exceeded your expectations, with the playing time he's contributed thus far?

Archibald: We're tickled to death with what Reggie's doing offensively. He had a career high the other night. We're looking for Reggie to get more rebounds. There was one time that he got three rebounds in about 45 seconds in the Howard game. That's what we need from him. He's 6-foot-10 and a shot blocker and strong finisher. We need him to get rebounds, and that's the challenge we have for him in these upcoming games.

CN: Would you like to start getting more offensive production from John Neal in the future?

Archibald: At the start of the season we thought, as did everyone else, that John was a logical fourth guy with that threesome. He is just struggling with his jump shot. He got a couple of threes the last game and kind of celebrates getting the monkey off his back.

He's always been super defensively, but one of the things he's supposed to be is that outside assassin. He hasn't been much of an assassin this year. But I'm not worried about John. His jump shot will come along and he'll hit big shots down the road for us.

CN: What type of grade would you assess this class of Iowa State newcomers, in terms of what they've contributed to date?

Archibald: I would give it an A-minus or B-plus. Two of our new guys are starting right now. Anthony Davis is usually the first guy off the bench. I definitely fell that we've upgraded with our bench. Rahshon Clark is Mr. Excitement and everybody has fallen in love with him in Ames. Everybody who's watching Cyclone basketball feels that we can put any number of 10 different players in and not have much of a drop off on the floor.

CN: Do you anticipate any of those newcomers to take that next step and play 25 to 30 minutes a night consistently?

Archibald: I think they're all capable of that step, and are going to take that step. You could also throw John Neal into that mix, where you put any of those guys in and one of them might have it that night, and the other might not. Whoever has it will play 25 to 35 minutes that game. The person that maybe doesn't have it plays less. We have the luxury of a deep bench where we can put a number of different guys in and ride the hot hand.

CN: So it's safe to say that the lineup you guys are using right now is far from permanent?

Archibald: It's not etched in stone. Coach Morgan feels that, looking long term with our season, starting these five guys is most beneficial for us right now.

CN: What are some areas of concern that you'd like to see addressed in the next few weeks?

Archibald: Number one is offensive execution and knowing our plays and what we're trying to do. Knowing when we run a play where we need the ball to go in that specific alignment. That's something that the young kids or new kids have done a poor job of. It's something Coach Morgan is addressing heavily over the next 17 days.

Defensively, we're going to tighten up our schemes and get in the weight room and try to be more physical. We need to continue the progress we've made on the rebounding side of the things.

CN: It seems as if you have been able to switch defenses liberally during games. Why is that?

Archibald: We got fantastic at the end of last season. You look at the comments that (Marquette coach) Tom Crean made in the paper. He had never seen a team that was able to switch defenses as easily as we did during the course of the game. As far as defenses go, we're much further ahead than we were last year at this time. We still have to improve and tighten up our schemes, but I think we're still a couple steps ahead of where we were last year.

We're talking about Xs and Os, but the biggest thing this team has to overcome is maturity. You can talk about Xs and Os, players, personnel, and offense and defense, but the bottom line is the maturity level. The maturation process of this team will be the biggest factor in where we are down the road and the success of this team in March. People have to be patient with these kids. These kids are babies.

The greatest example is when you watch these guys on TV or in person. You watch them for three or four minutes and will say we're awesome and these guys are fantastic. Then you watch the following three minutes and might say these guys are horrible and we won't win a game. People have to understand that this is a rebuilding year and we are a young team. We're going to have some highs and lows. People have to stick with their Cyclones through this process.

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