AMES — When Bill Fennelly signed a little known small town girl by the name of Chelsea Poppens to his 2010 recruiting class, a few folks thought he was crazy.
“I won’t say the school and embarrass the coach but when we signed ‘Pop,’ I had two division three coaches call me and ask me if I was trying to get fired. They said that she couldn’t play for them,” said Fennelly at his program’s media day on Wednesday.
Three NCAA Tournaments, three Big 12 Player of the Week awards, an honorable mention All-American honor and being a unamimous member of the All-Big 12’s first team later, it turns out that Iowa State’s Fennelly is indeed a very sane individual.
Who’s looking to get fired now D-3?
Poppens averaged 14.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game last season and the gritty 6-foot-2 forward was elected to the preseason All-Big 12 first team on Wednesday.
Poppens, who hails from Aplington, Iowa (population 1,128 during the 2010 census according to our good and not-so always reliable friends at Wikipedia), was under-recruited coming out of high school. She didn’t play much AAU ball growing up. Poppens is rarely the most athletic player on the court at any given time. In fact from the day that she first stepped on Iowa State’s campus, “Pop” was a major work in progress.
“When she came here, I don’t think anybody thought she’d be where she is today,” said Fennelly. “She literally learned the game from scratch and that’s a credit to her and her coaches.”
Oh how times have changed. That work in progress now has a chance to have her number hanging from the Hilton Coliseum rafters some day. It’s all due to her tireless work ethic and undeniable toughness.
Fennelly gave Poppens the biggest compliment of all that will never show up in a box score.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a player, a person that really does define what we’re about like Chelsea does,” said Fennelly. “I think any coach here including Coach Rhoads would love to have Chelsea on their team. She could be on special teams. She could do whatever.”
“What you want in a student-athlete is someone who represents the school in every way, shape and form. She’s a great student. She’s as hard of a worker as I’ve ever been around. She engages our fan base. She does all of the things that you want a student-athlete to do.”
"Pop" is essentially the perfect representative of what an Iowa State student-athlete should be (notice that I emphasized student. Poppens was named Iowa State’s Scholar Athlete in 2012 and is a three-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll).
Fennelly’s line about Paul Rhoads using Poppens on special teams is a fitting one. “Pop” credits the football mentality of her hometown for making her the player that she is today.
“You always have to work to get what you want,” said Poppens. “That’s the way that our community focuses things, especially with us being a football town. That’s our way of doing things. It’s how I was brought up."
What’s scary is that Poppens’ numbers should only get better during her senior season, under one condition of course. Poppens’ best trait is also her biggest weakness. That’s her physicality. Foul trouble has been an issue. Poppens only averaged 26 minutes per game last season. Just imagine what five more minutes a game would do.
Iowa State will unofficially tip off its 2012-13 season on Nov. 1 in an exhibition against Northwest Missouri State.
I’d suggest that you all make it out to a game or two, or 15 this season. In doing so, you’ll witness one of the all-time greats to ever put on an Iowa State uniform on the court and off of it as well.
To state the obvious, Chelsea Poppens is something special.
Quotable: Billy Fennelly on Chelsea Poppens’ legacy
“When you start talking about the toughness of an Iowa State women’s basketball player, the names of Megan Taylor and Heather Ezell, people like that come out. People who our fan base really enjoyed watching. Our fan base is hard working, Middle America, do the right thing, do it every day and appreciate people who do it the same way. I think that’s why our fan base loves Pop. They are sitting watching someone who is them. They go home and do their job and do everything as best as they can do it. She’s diving on the floor. She’s falling down. She’s having to play against some of the best players in the country day in and day out. It’s a physical game. Whether if it is a bad ankle or bad anything, she shows ups and does her job.”