Updating the Cyclones in the NBA

One of the best kept secrets in the Big 12 Conference is just how many former Cyclones are currently on NBA rosters. Here's an update on how they fared this past season.

Head male cheerleader.

Paul Shirley used those three words to describe his role on last season's Phoenix Suns team, unafraid to admit he spent most of his time on the bench.

"My role was to stay ready in case of injuries," Shirley said. "But injuries never really took a toll on us, which was a good thing."

A very good thing indeed. The Suns' run-and-gun offense averaged a scorching 110 points per game – almost seven points more than the next closest team.

"It was very different than anything I've seen, really, since high school," he said. "It was fun, it takes thinking out of the game and causes it to be more reactionary, which is the way I think it should be."

Phoenix harbored the best record in the league heading into the NBA playoffs, only to be knocked off by eventual champion San Antonio in the Western Conference finals. Shirley averaged 1.3 points in nine games.

While the rest of the Suns will be looking ahead to next season, Shirley's future is uncertain because Phoenix chose not to renew his contract for next season.

"Right now I'm just twisting in the wind, waiting to find out what's next," Shirley said.

At the moment, Shirley is back home in Kansas City training and waiting for the next step, which could include playing in the NBA's summer league, he said.

Shirley is one of six former Cyclones to play in the NBA last season. While his story is one of uncertainty, the others range from the tragic to the controversial.

Fred Hoiberg had the most up-and-down of seasons. After a number one seed in the Western conference playoffs in 2003-04, Hoiberg's Minnesota Timberwolves looked poised to do the same damage in 2004-05. But the team chemistry wasn't there, and the Wolves weren't winning. Head coach Flip Saunders was fired midway through the season and Minnesota failed to make the playoffs.

However, Hoiberg had another solid year, averaging 5.8 points and nearly 17 minutes per game. He also managed to lead the entire league in three-point percentage, hitting 48.3 percent of his treys, a franchise record.

But after the season, things took a downturn. Hoiberg was born with an abnormally shaped valve in his heart which caused an aneurysm, or enlargement, of his aortic root. This meant he would have to undergo heart surgery.

Thankfully, the Cyclone (and Timberwolf) nation can rest easy for the time being as it was announced Tuesday morning that his surgery was a success.

When and if Hoiberg will return to the court is uncertain.

Jamaal Tinsley, a 2001 Cyclone senior and now an Indiana Pacer, was in the middle of one of the biggest black eyes in NBA history – the Nov. 19 brawl at Detroit. With three of his star teammates suspended for much of the season, Tinsley had to step up his play to stop the bleeding.

That he did, averaging 18 points per game in the months of December and January. But a foot injury in February kept him out until the playoffs where the Pacers fell to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Former Cyclone Kelvin Cato started much of the season for the Orlando Magic, his third team in his eight-year career. In almost 25 minutes per game, Cato averaged seven points, the second highest average of his career.

Marcus Fizer, the highest Cyclone draft pick ever, underwent off-season knee surgery before getting signed by the Milwaukee Bucks in November. As a reserve, Fizer averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in 54 games.

Then there's Jackson Vroman, the baby of the Cyclone NBA family. He was originally drafted by Chicago, then traded to Phoenix on draft day where he played 10 games before being dealt to New Orleans for the remainder of the season.

 Vroman averaged 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in his rookie campaign. ISU director of basketball operations Dave Edwards was at Iowa State for both of Vroman's seasons and followed him in his first NBA season.

"I was really pleased, he did the best that you could ask for," Edwards said. "He handled the adversity of being moved around and stepped up when he was afforded the opportunities."

Edwards said Vroman's attitude will lead to future success.

"He's a 6'11" guy who never takes a possession off, those are few and far between," Edwards said. "A term that a lot of NBA scouts like to throw around is '10-year pro' and players like that are very rare. I believe Jackson has the ability to be a 10-year pro."

Vroman and the other Cyclones have all traveled down a different NBA road some rocky, some not so rocky, but they would all agree with Shirley when he said, "it sure beats the hell out of digging ditches for a living."

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