Three is a Crowd

When Wayne Morgan came to Iowa State as an assistant coach in 2002, he was not expected to take control of a Big 12 program. He came to Ames to bring in some of the top talent in the country as Larry Eustachy's primary recruiter. That was the one area Iowa State was lacking after back-to-back Big 12 titles in 2000 and 2001. Talent was the theme and Morgan was the man to find it.

Wayne hit the trail and found two east-coast guards with a lot of game. Two guards that were going to save the program. Two guards that landed him the head job. Two guards that three years later took that job away.


Wayne Morgan, Curtis Stinson, and Will Blalock are going to be synonymous with each other in the Cyclone history book.  Morgan brought the duo into the program under Eustachy's reign. Recruiting was his sole job. Often times Morgan didn't even sit on the bench during games in 2002-2003 because he was canvassing the country wooing the likes of Stinson and Blalock. His perseverance paid off. Blalock and Stinson both made early commitments to the Cyclones. The fan base was ecstatic. Not only did the Cyclones have two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year in Eustachy, but now they had a legitimate connection to an east coast pipeline they never had before in Morgan. The program was back on its way to the top. Throw into the mix a top JUCO player from Jamaica (Damion Staple) who signed with Iowa State and the Cyclones looked like their stay at the bottom half of the conference was only temporary.


Then Larrygate happened and the program went into shambles. We all know the details. Haluska transferred, Barnes was in academic trouble, Vroman was still fighting with the college life. But, most importantly, the three prized recruits (Stinson, Blalock, Staple) no longer wanted to come to Ames. The future looked bleak. Heck, not even bleak, there was no future. With the botched coaching search that followed, ISU's basketball program looked like it was going the way of the two dollar bill. One by one, Dana Altman, Steve McClain, Ray Lopes, Jeff Lebo all turned down the once prestigious head position. Enter Wayne Morgan.


Morgan kept the Cyclones from drowning. He took the job when no one else would. He once again courted the recruits and they pledged their oath to the Cyclones. He nabbed some bright young assistants in Fred Quartlebaum and Damon Archibald. Maybe the program would be OK. He got off to the quickest start in Cyclone coaching history, winning his first seven games. (Coincidentally the first exhibition game in the Morgan era was against the LA Stars, who were run by the same guy who co-founded D-1 scheduling.) The least heralded of the three recruits, Curtis Stinson, went on to have arguably the best freshman season in Iowa State history, winning Big 12 Freshman of the Year, leading the Cyclones to the NIT semi-finals. With three more years of the freshmen backcourt alongside Morgan's recruiting ability, Cyclone fans were not worried about drowning anymore, they headed straight to the high-dive.


In year two, the now sophomores won road games at Kansas and Texas, something that has never been duplicated in Big 12 history. A win in the NCAA tourney followed and everything was setting up for two years of Cyclone basketball back on the national map.


But the Cyclones hit their head on that high-dive. Stinson and Blalock were relied on too much and the once promising freshmen looked like they would rather be playing anywhere but Iowa State by the end of the year. The big men never came around. A general malaise fell over the program and no post-season was reached. Add that with Jamie Pollard's not settling for mediocrity or having any previous connection to Morgan and the perfect storm was created for his demise. When Stinson and Blalock announced their intentions of entering the NBA draft on Wednesday, the decision became clear. Year four of the Morgan era didn't look auspicious. Attendance would be down. The big men were still young and the future backcourt consisted of four freshmen. And as Gary Thompson and many others stated there was an evident lack of discipline within the team. The up and coming program rescued by Wayne Morgan in 2003 and led by the guards he had recruited and re-recruited, had slipped back under water. So a move had to be made before things worsened. Exit Wayne Morgan.


It was a quick three years. Is Cyclone basketball better off than when Morgan occupied the head job? Probably. But it just wasn't good enough. As Jamie Pollard said to Morgan, "We want basketball to be the marquee program at Iowa State and we don't think you can do that."


Especially without Stinson and Blalock.


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