Plenty of Reason for Hope

Two seasons removed from back-to-back Big 12 championship seasons, yet just seven months past a year of bumps and bruises, Iowa State would just as soon look ahead to this winter. Focusing on what looks to be a very promising future was the tone of the Cyclones' annual media day Tuesday afternoon at Hilton Coliseum.

ISU has good reason for hope, as it brings back leading scorer and outside gunner Jake Sullivan to go along with an outstanding class of newcomers that includes second-team JUCO All-Americans Tim Barnes and Jackson Vroman and true freshman Adam Haluska.

While the impending season took center stage on Tuesday, Eustachy also feels that his team has learned the lessons from yesteryear.

"We really don't want to look back, we want to look forward," said the Cyclone coach who has compiled a record of 84-45 over four seasons. "But you can also learn from the past, whether it's a championship year or a team that really struggled to win games but tried very hard. The measuring stick is always going to be wins and losses for the media, fans, my mom and my wife.

"We can learn, but don't like to look back whether it's a championship year resting on your laurels or looking back on a year in which you struggled from a win standpoint. You move ahead, but can learn from the past. We look back a little bit to learn. I don't know what the future lies for this team. We can't take a major blow with an injury. We're that limited right now."

Sullivan is at the center of ISU's hopes of a return to glory. Thanks to an intense off-season workout regimen the junior, who averaged 16 points a game while shooting 47.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc last season, has taken his game to another level in time for year three.

He proved that he'd be a force to reckon with by leading a traveling Big 12 select team in scoring last summer.

"He's a better offensive weapon," Eustachy said. "When he got here he was a catch-and-shoot guy, but he's worked hard to take it at guys, legally get separation between them and shoot a fall away. He's handling it much better. He's playing with a lot more confidence.

"That European trip did wonders for him, to go with all of those great players and leave there the leading scorer. He's just a better athlete now and can dunk the ball. He's really a changed body. He's one year older and is coming into his own. He has a tremendous urgency to become the best player he can become and has had a better summer than anyone I've ever coached. Hopefully he'll stay healthy."

Eustachy figures to have a lot more weapons at his disposal, which should make Sullivan's life a lot easier. While Jared Homan, Ricky Morgan, Omar Bynum and Marcus Jefferson all have one more year of experience, ISU should be deeper in both the backcourt and frontcourt with Barnes and Vroman coming on board.

The Cyclone backcourt gets a much-needed upgrade with the addition of Barnes, who has already established himself as the favorite to start at the point guard spot that Morgan occupied as a true freshman. However, the battle will continue on throughout the preseason. Barnes and Sullivan give ISU the makings of the strong starting backcourt it thrived with during back-to-back championship seasons.

"Barnes is much quicker and faster with the ball and is a better shooter," Eustachy said. "He's just more of an overall skilled player and older than Ricky. Ricky is two years out of high school and Tim is three. He has that on Ricky, but Ricky has the experience of being in this program. It's a good battle and they're both competing. There's nothing saying that we can't play them together."

Meanwhile, Vroman gives ISU an inside-outside threat with his ability to play three different positions. The Snow (Utah) JUCO transfer figures to be the Cyclones' starting power forward on opening night, with Homan and Jefferson occupying the final two first-team spots.

"I've seen very few that have been relentless in the first eight days I've coached him," Eustachy said. "He really rebounds out of his area like few people. He's competitive, feisty and is not afraid to fight. He's got a terrific mental makeup.

"He can play three, four and five. Most importantly, he brings a real toughness to this team that we've lacked and a real leadership that only him and somebody like Jake Sullivan have. He's one of our natural leaders right off the bat and that's something you don't see very often."

ISU opens the 2002-03 season with an exhibition game against the Illinois All-Stars at Hilton Coliseum on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.

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