By all accounts, 2009-10 was supposed to be the year for Iowa State. Fourth-year head coach Greg McDermott was fortunate enough to get hypertalented forward Craig Brackins back for his junior season in Ames, despite the fact that he was projected as a mid-first round NBA draft pick. To go with Brackins, McDermott had plenty of surrounding talent and experience with seniors Marquis Gilstrap and Lucca Staiger and junior Diante Garrett. But the Cyclones lost all their up games in the non-conference schedule (although to their credit, they did take care of the teams they were supposed to beat), then proceeded to limp through a pathetic conference season, posting a 4-12 record with only two wins over Nebraska and a win over Colorado to show for their efforts prior to an upset of Kansas State in the season finale. And then things got really bad.

Soon after the season ended, Brackins declared for the NBA draft, Gilstrap lost an appeal to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility due to an injury early in his career, but Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard announced his intentions to keep McDermott on board for another year. However, center Justin Hamilton announced he would be transferring out of the program in order to be closer to his home in Utah (he wound up in Baton Rouge, which suggests that Hamilton did not take Geography 101 at Iowa State). Next, guard Dominique Buckley announced his intentions to transfer. Then point guard Chris Colvin joined Hamilton and Buckley in jumping ship. All of a sudden, McDermott wasn’t so sure he wanted to stick around and in late April, McDermott resigned in order to head back to the Missouri Valley Conference and take over the Creighton position left vacant by Dana Altman’s move to Oregon. Within 24 hours of the McDermott announcement, Pollard named former Cyclone star Fred Hoiberg the new face of the program. But the bad times were just beginning for the Cyclones. Would-be senior guard Charles Boozer was arrested for assault the following weekend, and he subsequently announced that he would not be returning to the team for his senior season, but instead would be “seeking treatment.” Finally, forward LaRon Dendy announced he would be transferring and guard Antwon Oliver chimed in with the announcement that he would not be returning either.

So, what remains for the Cyclones? There are really just three players of any consequence that return from last season’s squad: Garrett, junior guard Scott Christopherson and senior center Jamie Vanderbeken. Garrett is the key cog, having started every game at the point for Iowa State the last two seasons. He can be a bit out of control at times, but he has coast-to-coast ability, is a great passer, can penetrate and score, and is a good team leader. Christopherson is a transfer from Marquette who got about 25 minutes a game last season, as well as a few starts. He is a deadly shooter (43% from behind the arc, 85% from the line), but doesn’t provide much beyond his shooting ability. And Vanderbeken, who earned a medical redshirt last season with a variety of injuries, is a pick-and-pop center with excellent shooting ability and pretty strong work ethic on the glass. All things considering, not a terrible group of returnees.

Hoiberg’s first bit of success as a coach in Ames was his ability to keep the incoming recruiting class intact, and given the shortness of the bench, all of these guys should get a chance to play immediately. There’s Jordan Railey, a long and thin center with developing post moves and a bit of a jumper. He’ll need to add strength, but he’ll at least provide an energetic body in the middle early in his career. Next up are a couple of power forwards: 6’9 Eric McKnight and 6’8 Calvin Godfrey. Both guys are long and athletic, they run the floor well and can block some shots. Godfrey probably has the more polished offensive game at this point, but McKnight might have more upside. Lastly, there are a couple of backcourt players in the class. Melvin Ejim is a 6’6 wing who can play either the two or the three, has great athleticism and length and a good midrange jumper that should develop into three-point range. He is not much of a threat off the bounce at this stage of his career, but that is something he could add, and he should be an excellent defensive wing. DeMarcus Phillips is a JuCo transfer who can play either guard spot, and will probably be the guy tapped to run the point when Garrett needs a break. He is more of a scoring point guard, with a crafty game, but the Cyclones will definitely need somebody to step up and score the ball, so Phillips could be the counted on to bring offense off the bench.

In addition to the incoming recruits, Hoiberg has also drawn in three transfers, two of whom could see some type of playing time this year. The biggest name is Royce White, a transfer from Minnesota. White never played a minute for the Golden Gophers after an alleged shoplifting incident and later a laptop theft on the Minnesota campus. The end for the White/Minnesota marriage was bizarre, with White releasing a rambling YouTube video which apparently announced his retirement from basketball. Hoiberg has talked with White and is convinced that those troubles are in the past, but it may be White’s immense talent and Iowa State’s equally immense need for a playmaker that helped tip the scales in Hoiberg’s mind. White was a top-20 prospect last season with post skills, the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish and strong defensive capabilities. He is petitioning the NCAA to be eligible immediately, with the answer to that petition expected later this summer. If he is allowed to play for the Cyclones this year, that would be a huge boost for the program, and White would probably be the number one offensive option for the squad and a frequent target of Garrett’s passes.

Off-guard Darion Anderson, an incoming transfer from Northern Illinois, is taking advantage of the NCAA rule allowing players who have completed their undergraduate degree to transfer out of their program to a different program without having to sit out a year, provided the new school offers a post-graduate degree that your old school did not, meaning he will be eligible to play immediately. He is a streaky scorer and a great rebounder for his position who could wind up starting immediately, boosting the team’s athleticism and offering a scoring option that may be very much needed.

The final incoming transfer is Chris Babb, from Penn State, who will not be eligible until next season. The combo-guard will have two remaining years of eligibility and should be ready to take over for Garrett when he graduates.

As bad as things got for the Cyclones in the middle of spring, they are actually not in terrible shape. If White is eligible this season (my guess, the NCAA grants him eligibility at the semester break), he’ll pair nicely with Garrett, and guys like Christopherson, Vanderbeken and Anderson could benefit from the ability of those two to break down defenses. Throw in the bouncy athleticism of McKnight and Godfrey, and this team could surprise some people. Unfortunately, they still play in a very stout Big 12, and making any headway against the powers at the top of the conference is a dicey proposition. But given that Hoiberg is going to get a pass for his first year regardless of what happens, this team will be playing without a lot of pressure on them, and they have enough talent to improve upon the mediocre record last year’s underachieving team produced, but probably not enough to challenge for an NCAA tournament bid.

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