Riding the storm out
Cyclones ready to turn page in post-Eustachy era against Mercer
Posted: Thursday November 27, 2003 6:09PM; Updated: Thursday November 27, 2003 6:09PM
AMES, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa State's basketball team is ready to officially turn the page on its troubles and leave a stormy offseason behind.
The Cyclones are looking for a fresh start against Mercer at Hilton Coliseum on Friday night, their first game with Wayne Morgan as coach.
Morgan replaced Larry Eustachy, who resigned in May after it was reported he had partied with college students on Big 12 road trips. The episode left the program in turmoil and thrust Morgan into the position of picking up the pieces.
"I think we put the past behind us a long time ago, way back when," senior guard Jake Sullivan said. "It's a new start. It's a chance for me to win."
Morgan is starting his second stint as a Division I head coach. He was Long Beach State's coach from 1996-2002 and spent last season at Iowa State as an assistant to Eustachy.
"I'm looking forward to playing the first game," Morgan said. "I'm glad it's here, although I wish we had three or four more weeks to practice. At the same time, I understand we have to get going and we have to play."
The players certainly are ready for a game. Iowa State will be one of the last teams in the country to open. Mercer already has played four games.
"I think all of us have been dying to play a game," center Jared Homan said. "Practice is practice, but once you get in that game, it's great. A game like this is an important measuring stick to see where we're really at, to see what we really need to work on."
Mercer (1-3) is coming off a 93-61 loss at No. 12 Illinois on Wednesday night. The Bears returned most of the top players from a team that went 23-6 last season and accomplished the biggest turnaround in NCAA Division I history. Mercer had gone 6-23 the year before.
Morgan said Mercer has a big advantage from having played so many games already.
"They're battled tested," he said. "They are familiar with game speed and tempo. They're probably more familiar with each other than we might be at this time.
"Although we've got a good amount of veterans ... a new system is almost like having 13 freshmen. Our team will be a work in progress all year."
Sullivan and Homan both started last season and senior Marcus Jefferson has plenty of game experience. But two other returning starters are not playing, point guard Tim Barnes and forward Jackson Vroman.
Barnes is academically ineligible for the first semester. Vroman remains suspended from competition after his arrest last month for drunken driving, though he might be allowed to play against Northern Iowa on Sunday.
Freshmen Will Blalock, Curtis Stinson and Reggie George and junior college transfer Damion Staple all will play key roles for the Cyclones. Blalock and Stinson, both guards, were especially impressive in the two exhibition games.
"Both Will and Curtis are great basketball players," Morgan said. "Both handle themselves very well. I think there will be times when it will be beneficial to start them together and there will be times when one may start and the other may not.
"They've been great in accepting that role and responsibility. Their attitude is as long as we can play hard and contribute toward winning, that'll be enough."