Men's Basketball Insider #7

Cyclone Nation's weekly Basketball Insider continues with Gary Thompson reflecting on the life and times of long-time Iowa State football and men's basketball broadcaster Pete Taylor, and the memorable Wednesday night that was in Hilton Coliseum.

CN: I'm sure the passing of Pete Taylor has been pretty tough on you, as it has the entire Iowa State athletic department. Let's start with some of your thoughts and memories of Pete.

Thompson: Pete and I arrived on the scene at Iowa State about the same time. I got back around 1968 and I think Pete started doing Iowa State games in 1969. At first, I was doing games on radio with Jim Zabel because we didn't have an exclusive network at that time. WHO and Zabel were doing the games that didn't conflict with Iowa. I've known Pete ever since then and have just followed him on through.

I was so happy when Pete elected to join Iowa State within the athletic department working in administration. I thought that was one of the best moves we've made at Iowa State. I know fans and those who didn't know Pete personally, knew him by the radio, his voice and listening to Iowa State basketball for these past 33 years, are going to miss him on the broadcasts.

For a person that's really concerned and interested in Iowa State, I think the loss is even going to be greater in the athletic department. His background in athletics, working with the coaches on shows and Cyclone outings gave him a good pulse of what coaches were all about. That enabled him to bridge the gap moving into administration and having a great relationship with our coaches. It wasn't a combative situation, which it sometimes can be when you have problems to solve. He's really going to be missed there, because he was a sounding board for a lot of people.

The other thing that I think about Pete and the way he was liked by everybody and was a friend to everybody. You can get a lot of tension in the media business, being on radio and television. It's a business I've been in for a long time. I have worked with a lot of guys that grew up on the national scene and young guys coming along. As they have more success, they change a little bit and get to thinking they're bigger than the product they're working with.

I think that's why Pete's been liked so well, because he's been the same old guy for 33 years. That's never effected him. He just went out and did a great job and was always there for Iowa State.

CN: Last night's post-game press conference was very emotional, with Coach Larry Eustachy struggling through his segment. From the position that you're in, as a television color commentator and having worked alongside both, did you get a sense of just how close Larry Eustachy and Pete were?

Thompson: Larry and I had talked in practice on Tuesday night. We talked about being with Pete at Nebraska and how things didn't seem quite right at that time. Now we had knew he was headed for surgery in Iowa City and things had shown up that he had a stroke. We knew it was a high-risk situation. Talking with Larry that night, he was feeling it. ‘Here's my best friend and now I don't know what's going to happen or what the situation is.'

As soon as he got word on Wednesday morning that things had turned bad, Larry was in the car on his way to Iowa City. Immediately, after Pete had passed away, Bruce Van De Velde contacted me. Right away I had a call from Larry Eustachy and they were on their way back. It was a devastating thing for him and showed you his love and concern for Pete. The game wasn't as important as Pete was, in what he had meant to him.

CN: Throughout your years of covering Iowa State and college basketball in general, have you ever seen a coach and broadcaster grow as close a those two?

Thompson: Just from conversation, that relationship was very close. It's been said already, but maybe it's worth repeating. Pete was the brother that Larry never had, and Larry was the brother that Pete never had. They were close and shared things with each other, whether it was business, basketball or just friendships or conversations. They talked about movies and television shows. There was just camaraderie, a rapport and great friendship there between the two.

CN: What a fitting way for the Cyclones and their head coach to pay tribute than to put one of their best performances together in two seasons Wednesday night. It started with a moment of silence in honor of Pete, continued with a dominating showing against Missouri and had to end up being one of the more special evenings at Hilton you've ever seen.

Thompson: As we were getting prepared for that game, we have keys to victory that we give on the telecast. I told our producer, I don't care if we have to give keys or not. We're not going to have any keys for Iowa State, because there's only one key. That was emotion, with the events that had happened.

We didn't know how this team was going to come out. They may come out and be sky high or real flat. My comments were only that time will tell. I think it's a credit to Pete that the Cyclones responded because of the feelings they had for him and his closeness to the program. It was a thinking within the squad, ‘This one's for Pete.' They came out and gave a great effort against a team that had been riding high with four wins in five games. They had a big win over Oklahoma by 15 points, so it was just a great effort.

I felt it in the crowd. I made a comment on the broadcast after we made buckets on the first two possessions. That usually isn't the time you get wound up as a crowd, but they were buzzing, hollering and continuing to chatter. They were trying their best to get that team involved from the very start. That perpetuated that team and picked it up.

CN: How about doing the television broadcast with play-by-play man John Walters, who worked with Taylor at KCCI-TV in Des Moines for 10 years?

Thompson: We had our own personal problems to deal with. John Walters worked with Pete and it was real tough on him. I know he won't mind me saying this. We were standing there before the game and he was having trouble. We were out on the court for the national anthem ready to do our opening standup and tears were streaming down John's eyes. I'm trying to get an arm around him and give him some comfort.

Then we started the telecast and I came to a part with remarks about Pete. I had been the strong one up, but then I fell apart. John helped me through it. It was a tough situation for people that night who had been close and knew Pete.

CN: I watched a few of the other Big 12 highlights last night and saw it was the first time Oklahoma State had been to Colorado since the fateful plane crash in January of 2001. It reminded me of how the Cowboys dedicated their season to the memory of those lost in that tragedy. Will the memory of Pete Taylor be something that refuels ISU for the remainder of this year?

Thompson: I haven't been able to get a feel for that yet, but I'm sure that with the feelings and likeness they had for Pete Taylor there will be a rally cry among the players. ‘Let's give an all-out effort and win as many of these last games that we can for Pete. That's what Pete really enjoyed – wins by Iowa State. It was fitting (last night). Through all of the sadness, there was a ray of sunshine and light in which Pete looked down and said, ‘Hey, if I have to go this is the way I'd like to go out – with a win.'

CN: On the court last night, ISU's defensive effort stood out to me and the work it did against the likes of Arthur Johnson, Ricky Clemons and Rickey Paulding. What did you think of the work of Eustachy's team on that end?

Thompson: I was talking with Coach Eustachy on the night before and we thought we could get this game if we'll just repeat what we did down in Missouri. I thought we really played good defense against Missouri down there, contesting shots and making it tough for them. But we just kind of destroyed ourselves down there. We gave them 19 offensive rebounds and committed 19 turnovers.

We had to keep Johnson out of the paint. He will go out to 15 or 17 feet and catch the ball. But he's a lot more dangerous down in the paint with the things that can happen. I thought (Jared) Homan did an excellent job and fought him, fronted him and kept him from catching the ball. That's the best thing you can do defensively against a good scorer. I thought I saw some quit in Johnson, too. He got frustrated and couldn't get the ball.

(Jackson) Vroman had a great start with some rebounds. Some of that is because of Homan blocking out the big guy and Vroman going into the boards. I'm sure Vroman was keyed up with his dad Brett being there for the first time. He hadn't seen him in a year. Jackson didn't have a good game down at Missouri. I think he only had four points and two rebounds. So it was a payback game for Vroman himself.

CN: The perimeter play was outstanding as well, with the continued solid effort of Tim Barnes.

Thompson: He has really been playing well at home. He was shooting the ball at 56 percent coming into the game. The big thing that has changed around him is confidence, feeling it and thinking he can get the job done. He's doing it on the defensive end and offensive end pushing the ball down the floor. Of course he's not afraid to take the shot. When you're not thinking about shots and take them when they present themselves and have that confidence, everything starts to flow.

CN: I asked you this question last week prior to the Nebraska game and will do so again as a precursor to the trip to Kansas State on Saturday: Is this team ready to win a Big 12 contest on the road?

Thompson: I look at this like the Nebraska game. I was very disappointed that we didn't come away with a win, because it was there to be had. We kind of pulled the same thing at Nebraska as we did in the first game against Missouri. We let them beat us to death on the boards. Nebraska had 20 offensive rebounds and had only out-rebounded one other team in the conference.

Kansas State beat us on the boards up here by seven and out-shot us. But we handled the basketball with only eight turnovers in that game. We've got to get a win sooner or later, and this is one that's there for the taking. We have a great chance to go down there and win on the road. You'd hope this nice play we've had at home would carry over. We've got to put it into the game.

CN: So rebounding, particularly on the offensive end, is your main key to a victory?

Thompson: I think rebounding and taking care of the basketball with turnovers will be huge down there.

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