Wall: Basketball Program is in Good Hands

Walking around ISU men's basketball media day, I was told something I'd never heard before inside Hilton Coliseum. Two of ISU's assistant coaches offered me their hand, which I shook, and told me that if I ever needed anything, not to hesitate but to give them a call.

In three years of covering Iowa State basketball for the Iowa State Daily, I had never heard anything remotely close to that. Not even once. The coaches in the Wayne Morgan era were nearly unapproachable – taking a direct cue from Morgan – and were definitely not there to take time out to talk to a 21 year old kid.

 

Now this isn't to say that Morgan or his assistants were bad people, it's just to demonstrate the difference – and in my opinion, improvement – from the prior regime. Morgan and his staff were all business; McDermott and his staff are all business too, but they're here for more then just basketball.

 

This is a dream job for McDermott, a Cascade native who loves Iowa and the Midwest. He isn't going to use this job as a stepping stone to a more high profile coaching spot; McDermott is here for the long haul. So are his assistants. They want to be here. They want a chance to coach with someone with the credentials and integrity of a Greg McDermott.

 

When McDermott called to offer him a job, T.J. Otzelberger had his bags packed almost before he could hang up the phone. Jeff Rutter and Ron Smith moved with their boss from Cedar Falls to Ames. Jean Prioleau left Marquette to round out the coaching staff. All of them had a couple things in common: they wanted to come to Iowa State and they wanted to work with Greg McDermott.

 

This coaching staff is committed to doing things the right way. They play defense, they move the ball on offense, they set screens. No one player is above the team. They win together or they lose together. All for one and one for all.

 

It's basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played. It's the game ISU fans have come to expect. Even though Morgan took the Cyclones to the NCAA tournament just two seasons ago, he got the axe from Athletic Director Jamie Pollard. Morgan was surly with the media and his basketball philosophy was questionable at worst and interesting at best, but those could have been worked around.

 

It was the look on the paying customer's face when they left Hilton that quickly did him in. They had a look of complete disinterest, like they didn't even care about what was going on. Which they didn't. Or they looked empty, as in they didn't even bother to come as the year wound down.

 

It was hard to see anything actually taking place on the court, as the only offensive gameplan seemed to be, get Will or Curtis the ball and get out of their way. The defensive gameplan was worse: we just have to score more then we give up, because we're not going to work on this end of the court. They were completely wrapped up in their own worlds, with nothing else entering in.

 

So out the door they went. Enter McDermott. He and his staff want to get Iowa State back to where it once was. Back to the top, back to the time when teams big and small cringed at the thought of having to take on Hilton and her Magic.

 

They want to do it right. They care about the way they do it, as much as they care about winning. They also care about a 21-year old kid who is almost as excited for this season as they are.

 

Otzelberger took time out from important phone calls to talk about Milwaukee, his hometown and a place my buddies and I had gone this summer for a baseball game. Smith talked about the MTV show "Two A Days" and how his kids got him hooked on the program, so much so that he sat down and watched nearly the entire season one Saturday morning.

 

Both coaches gave me a hard time about "Cyclone Sports Live" a sports show I'm on with Blum, Williams and McIntyre. They laughed with me about an episode they had seen on the Iowa State TV station but then stopped to compliment me on a point I made they thought was especially valid. The show goes live on Sunday but is replayed on Monday nights, the time Smith usually catches it.

 

"You've got some tough competition. You're going up against Leno and Letterman," Smith said of CSL's time slot. "You've got to do something to win the ratings battle."

 

Then he laughed. He's happy to be here. He's ready for the season to start. He's ready to get Cyclone basketball back on the right track.

 

"Let me know if we can do anything for you," Smith said. So did Otzelberger. I'm sure Rutter and Prioleau would have said the same thing but I didn't get the chance to talk to them before media day ended. I shook both their hands before going our separate ways.

 

They both meant it.

 

Iowa State basketball is in good hands.


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