Losing seasons were foreign to Larry Eustachy, until last season's 12-19 disappointment he had never experienced one as a head coach. Given his pedigree – four-time conference coach of the year winner, 2000 national coach of the year, and owner of conference titles from three different leagues – and the outstanding recruiting class he brings into the fold, Cyclone Nation ™ expects Eustachy and his program to rebound. Eustachy discusses the upcoming season with editor-in-chief Steve Deace in this Q&A.
CN: You opened last season by discussing the future. Did you know in advance it was going to be a rebuilding year?
LE: The measuring stick seems to be wins and losses, but I thought last year was very productive despite losing a lot of close games. We made progress with some young guys and found out what needed to be fixed. We talked about rebuilding and transition periods and it takes time under the new recruiting rules to put a team together. We hope to improve on last season and be a program that consistently makes an NCAA Tournament appearance.
CN: What lessons did last season's young team learn that will prepare them for this season?
LE: They learned what it takes to win on the road. They know there's some things only time can help, like getting older and stronger. But I'm not too much into lessons, that sounds like something you'd say about a four year-old.
CN: There were two main story lines during the offseason. One of them involved the transfer of Shane Power. How much will his departure impact this team?
LE: Zero. He's not in our program so he's not going to affect us one way or another. I've said all along we want players and coaches that want to be here. So, if we have players here that don't want to be at Iowa State we're better off without them.
CN: The other main story line is the outstanding recruiting class entering this fall. Many of the "analysts" have your class rated in the top 10. Is your Doctor Doom character buying into the hype?
LE: We have a very good class, but not all of them showed up. I'm not going Doctor Doom. I'd call it realism. Tim Floyd had a class here ranked just behind Duke a few years ago and only a few of those players panned out. I do like the new players and the progress of the returning ones. Combine that and there's some optimism. The problem is we go against older, talented, and deeper teams in our league. That will be challenge. If we were playing in the old Big Sky conference I'd like our chances, but we're not and that's a problem.
CN: Give us a brief rundown on all of the new kids in town, starting with Tim Barnes.
LE: He's arguably the key to the team. We lacked point guard play last year and hopefully he can step in and be a real factor. That's saying something with the first round draft choices this league has like Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford, and Hollis Price at his position. He's very receptive to coaching, but he came in only weighing 165 pounds and his ankle is a little fragile from a past injury.
LE: You're looking like two different guys there. Vroman has come in and become one of our leaders right away with his leadership by example. Chris has really struggled for a lot of reasons. He has a bulging disc in his back and been back forth between here and Chicago for personal reasons. Time will tell about both of them.
CN: Then there's Adam Haluska, who was named by Gatorade the player of the year in the state of Iowa. Will you have to rely on him quicker than you had originally planned because of attrition?
LE: I've always planned on relying on him sooner rather than later. He's really not a freshman because he's been around our program for three years as a recruit and he's got the body of a junior. He's highly skilled and has to have an impact freshman year for us to be successful.
CN: I know you can't talk about specifics, but is there a chance you could be adding a player next semester?
LE: Yeah, there's always that chance. We have two scholarships available and could be adding two players.
CN: Despite its youth last season's team really demonstrated some toughness and character last season. No player on your team better embodies that than Jake Sullivan. What are your expectations for him this season?
LE: He falls into the category of a lot of our players who had a super summer, but nobody topped his. He went over to Europe and led the Big 12 team in scoring. He's lost 23 pounds from last season and can jump and dunk and do some things he couldn't do last year. He's exactly what you want. He's extremely reliable.
CN: Is it accurate to say the addition of Barnes and the maturation of Ricky Morgan at point guard will allow Sullivan to concentrate more on his natural two-guard position this season?
LE: Well, Jake has to be a play-making guard if he wants to make a career out of basketball. So he should welcome the opportunity to play some point. It will take time to figure out how much we can depend on Ricky and how good Tim is. Jake will play some point for us, and we need to find a way to get him more good shots. He's done his part by working on his body this summer. We've got to do our part by getting him the most shots because he's our best scorer. I think we'll have a few more weapons available so that should free Jake up.
CN: Speaking of Morgan, he's one player you could really see develop as last season progressed.
LE: He made a lot of progress, but he didn't have a great summer so we'll see how he does. He needs to take this program more seriously if he's going to be a factor here.
CN: Jared Homan is another player who got better as last season progressed.
LE: He had a great summer. He's up to 250 pounds and nobody's tougher on our team. He wants to take more of a leadership role. He went from understanding he could play with some of best players in country to having a lot of confidence. He'll be more of a threat offensively and has really worked on his outside shooting.
CN: What's the latest on Adam Schaper?
LE: He echoes the Sullivans and Homans as far as working hard over the summer. He's put on 12 pounds and is stronger than he's ever been. He was held back for healthy reasons last season, so it's a shame we couldn't redshirt him. We may petition the NCAA for a 5th year when he's a senior.
CN: Are Omar Bynum and Marcus Jefferson ready to assume bigger roles this season?
LE: We need them to because they're a big part of this team. Omar is a senior and really has to improve his quality of basketball to help us win. Marcus is the same way and I think he will. They're both more focused. Omar has really grown up after some off-the-court troubles this summer. Marcus is in his third year here now and has a better understanding of what is expected of him.
CN: Before last season you had never experienced a losing record as a head coach. Was your patience tested even more than you thought it would be last season?
LE: Not at all. I understand what we had and what we were trying to do. These guys tried harder than any team I've ever had. At times, it was actually more rewarding than our championship years. We tried all the way to the very end. I don't know if our fans appreciated it, but I did. You don't want to let your ego get in the way of understanding things happen for a reason.
CN: Is this team capable or reversing that record and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament?
LE: I just want us to play together as a group and play the best quality of basketball that's possible. At times, that won't be good enough. At others it will be and we'll beat some teams we're not supposed to beat. Consistency is all I ask of these guys.
CN: I was at a Greater Des Moines Cyclone Club luncheon recently and several members expressed a desire to play schools like Minnesota and Indiana in the non-conference on a regular basis. Considering how tough the Big 12 is right now, are you wary of upgrading your schedule?
LE: I think it's a valid question and I'm very sensitive to the fans because they pay everybody's salaries. I think if you look in the past there's never been extremely strong schedules here. Just open the book and go back 10 years. The league beats itself up enough, particularly with a team like this coming off a tough season with a lot of new players. I'd love to play Indiana, UCLA, and North Carolina but they will not play us. We can go there, but they won't come here. We're a victim of Hilton Magic, I guess. Minnesota will not play us, maybe they will after Jake leaves. We had to beg for the Boston College game. Tell the fans to go and get those games and I'll sign them up. I'll even give them a $500 finder's fee for every top 25 team they sign.
CN: Finally, inquiring minds want to know what Larry Eustachy listens to while he's driving coast-to-coast to recruit or meet his team for away games.
LE: (Laughing) I certainly don't listen to sports talk radio shows. All they ever seem to be is frustrated people wanting to fire the coach. I actually don't listen to much, instead I do a lot of thinking and talk into my tape recorder in my RV and watch film. Right now, we're hooking up a satellite dish in the RV so I can watch some games on the road.