AMES — As Diante Garrett’s face flashed on big video screens arrayed above the Hilton Coliseum floor Monday, fans reacted as expected.
A huge ovation ensued and Garrett smiled. There’s still love for ISU coach Fred Hoiberg’s original Cyclone point guard — and he definitely felt it.
“I know it’s a loving fan base whenever I come back to Iowa,” said Garrett, who was a senior when Hoiberg began his head coaching career at his alma mater in the 2010-11 season.
A lot has changed since then, of course.
Garrett, who ranks second all-time in assists at ISU with 611, played most of last season with the NBA’s Utah Jazz, but is leading the offense for the D-League’s Iowa Energy now. Hoiberg, the Cyclones’ third all-time leading scorer with 1,993 points, has gone from lamenting a flurry of close losses in year one to celebrating three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, a Big 12 Tournament championship, and a Sweet 16 appearance.
And none of that success surprised Garrett, who played 36.7 minutes per game and averaged 17.3 points and 6.1 assists as Hoiberg began transforming ISU back into a winner.
“He still has that same calm, smooth demeanor,” said Garrett, who also attended a Cyclone practice nine days ago. “He yells here and there, but it’s more like to get guys going and stuff like that. Watching that practice, he had that same mentality of having his guys go and just hoop — and shoot that 3.”
Garrett’s Energy, like Hoiberg’s 14th-ranked ISU team, won its first two games of the season. He’s averaging 11 points and eight assists while playing 42 minutes a game. He chose to play for Iowa — there were more lucrative overseas options — because he hopes it will at least springboard him into a 10-day NBA contract or two, if not a full season stint.
“I felt like this was one of the best opportunities where I know I’m going to be able to play and be at home, really — have a nice fan base,” said Garrett, who grew up in Milwaukee. “I know the coaches and owners and just having a shot of being up there with the Iowa Energy has been good.”
Garrett’s played 90 games in the NBA for Phoenix and Utah. Once he gets called up again, he plans to stick by showcasing the skills he honed with the Cyclones.
“Run my squad, win and show them I’m a playmaker and scorer,” Garrett said of his projected path back up the ranks. “I’ll keep working to get that call back up.”
He’ll also be keeping track of ISU’s progress, which he expects to continue to reach new heights.
“Oh yeah,” Garrett said. “I know coach Fred is going to have them going. I know a couple of the guys from last year, and it was like their recruiting years when I was here my senior year. I know Fred’s going to have them shooting the 3 really good; getting those guys playing in that kind-of swagger offense. And letting guys play with that freedom. They’ve got a great group of guys that can do that.”
Garrett said he’s met Cyclone players that look up to him. They’ve seen his highlights at every level, but one set sticks out the most.
“A lot of my highlights (came while) playing for coach Fred,” Garrett said. “That’s when I was playing with freedom and playing my real game.”