Iowa State star Brackins to return
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- After three years of player defections, losing seasons and general frustration, Iowa State coach Greg McDermott finally has a reason to smile.
Cyclones forward Craig Brackins announced Friday that he'll return for his junior season, giving both McDermott and Iowa State fans hope that the long-awaited turnaround in Ames will come in 2009-10.
Iowa State has had three straight losing seasons under McDermott, and player departures have been a major reason for the Cyclones' struggles. A mass defection followed the dismissal of former coach Wayne Morgan in 2006, and McDermott lost stars Mike Taylor (dismissal) and Wesley Johnson (transfer) after each of the last two seasons.
If Brackins had jumped to the NBA, it would have been tough to see Iowa State as a .500 team next season. Now, with Brackins back for his junior and possibly final season, the Cyclones will be expected to at least push for a .500 mark in the Big 12 and make a run at a postseason bid.
Brackins, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Palmdale, Calif., had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2008-09. The first-team All-Big 12 pick averaged 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, numbers that jumped to 21.8 points and 10.3 rebounds in conference play.
Brackins, the Big 12's leading returning scorer, is one of four starters back next season.
"It's a big day for our program, because we haven't exactly had a lot of things go our way in the three years that we've been here," McDermott said. "For him to make a commitment to the program and to his teammates is a big decision for him."
Though opinions varied on where Brackins might have been drafted, the consensus is that Brackins was a likely first-round NBA pick.
Brackins had wrestled with the decision since the end of last season before informing McDermott of his plans to return earlier this week. Brackins said that for much of the process he had "no idea" what he was going to do.
"It was a hard decision. I was thinking about it every day and asking a lot of close people and my mom and everything," Brackins said. "A lot of people just really put it on me and said 'It's your decision."'
Brackins arrived on the national scene when he scored 42 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against Kansas on Jan. 24. Though the Cyclones lost, 82-67 -- illustrating how little help Brackins had around him -- that performance had folks speculating about his NBA potential.
McDermott said he'd like to see Brackins improve his strength and perimeter shot next season.
"I told Craig a long time ago, 'I'd like you to be a lottery pick and we're going to coach you to be a lottery pick, and when that takes place, when the time is right it'll be right,' I don't think Craig was thinking about the NBA until there was 42 reasons he started thinking about it that day against Kansas," McDermott said.
Brackins seems to have also been swayed, at least in part, by the talent Iowa State has brought in for next season.
The Cyclones have signed junior-college forwards Marquis Gilstrap and Laron Dendy, in addition to highly touted guard Chris Colvin. Gilstrap should be in line for significant minutes at small forward, a position Iowa State was thin at last season after Johnson left for Syracuse.
Dendy will gives the Cyclones depth behind Brackins in the post, and Colvin joins Diante Garrett, Lucca Staiger and Dominique Buckley in what should be a deep backcourt.
Garrett improved as a sophomore a year ago, averaging 9.8 points and 5 assists a game, and Staiger shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range in his first season of college ball.
Brackins will join Gilstrap, Dendy, Justin Hamilton and Jamie Vanderbeken in a frontcourt that should be both talented and deep. If Gilstrap and Dendy can make an immediate impact and Hamilton and Vanderbeken continue to progress, that should give Brackins the room he'll need to make things happen in the post and on the perimeter.
"Expectations are good. Obviously Craig's excited about his teammates' approach to next season. He's played with all of the incoming guys and I think he's excited about the potential coming into our program," McDermott said.
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