There wasn't much in senior guard Dedric Willoughby's past to indicate that he would ever be more than an average college player. After sitting out his first season at New Orleans in 1992-93 as a medical redshirt because of a knee injury, Willoughby failed to crack the starting lineup the following year. He was a three-point shooting specialist whose game offered little else, and he was also a borderline student. Soon after his coach, Tim Floyd, left to take the Iowa State job in April '94, Willoughby dropped out of school.
So who would have figured that after a one-season layover at a junior college to get his grades back in order, the 6'3" Willoughby would finish last season second in the Big Eight in scoring, with a 20.5 average, and lead a team of unknowns to a 24-9 record, a victory over Kansas in the Big Eight tournament final and an upset win over California in the first round of the NCAAs? Certainly not Floyd. "I thought he'd be a nice little player," he says, "but I had no idea—no idea—he would be the level of player he is now. It shows you how smart I was, playing him 21 minutes a game at New Orleans."
Then again, just about everyone underestimated all of the Cyclones last year after they'd lost 95% of their scoring and rebounding from the 23-11 team of the previous season. The lone starter coming back was Jacy Holloway, a baby-faced wisp of a point guard who had averaged 1.8 points and 23.4 minutes the year before. The top inside player was juco transfer Kenny Pratt, a power forward who stands all of 6'5". And at center, 6'11", 255-pound Kelvin Cato was a junior transfer who had never played in high school and had had to sit out his freshman year at South Alabama for academic reasons.
That this hodgepodge of anonymous players was able to make such a name for itself last season is a tribute to Floyd's savvy and Willoughby's marked improvement. But even though all five starters are back for the Cyclones, they may find it a little harder to reload the slingshot this year. Floyd issued one-game suspensions this summer to Willoughby and senior forward Shawn Bankhead and a three-game suspension to Cato for missing classes, and Pratt is academically ineligible for at least the first six games of the season.
But don't count them out just yet. If they can steady themselves in the classroom, the Cyclones have a way of surprising people when they take the floor.