The “What If” era

By Brent Blum, Contributor

NBA Draft night is consistently one of my favorite nights of the year. It’s on the leader-board with the first night of the NCAA tourney, Iowa State’s opening Thursday night football game and any time that WHO Channel 13’s Brett McIntyre is on the air.

Tonight’s draft has an extra layer of interest for Iowa State, as we officially put to rest the “What If” era of Cyclone basketball.

Let’s tap the DVR button back four years. Think back to June, 2006. To refresh your memory Chamillionaire’s “Ridin” was #1 on the charts. Oh, where have you gone Chamillionaire? While, Fantastic Four’s “Rise of The Silver Surfer” was the top box office draw.

I was a lowly intern in the ABC5 sports office working with “The Godfather” himself, John Walters. In between the spirited ping-pong battles (meteorologist Brad Edwards is a table tennis savant by the way) and the many trips to the Valley West Mall food court, there was some actual work done.

NBA Draft night 2006 was especially active. Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock had hopes of being selected after forgoing their senior seasons. My job was to record the proceedings and edit together some clips when either was selected to use for the 10 p.m. news. The night went on and on until Blalock was finally tabbed by the Detroit Pistons with the last overall selection. The pick occurred five minutes after the news had ended. Stinson went undrafted. It was a disappointing yet somewhat fitting way to end theirs and -in a way- Wayne Morgan’s Iowa State career.

In that same night’s sportscast, there was a story on a couple of new Cyclones debuting at the Capital City League in Des Moines and generating a lot of buzz in the process. One was an eclectic JUCO guard from Milwaukee and the other was an unknown forward from Texas.

Just a week previously, I had listened to Walters interview a very polite four-star recruit from California, who had just committed to Iowa State. He said he couldn’t wait to get to Ames in a year to develop his post skills with new coach Greg McDermott and help Iowa State get back to the top.

Fast forward to tonight.

That unknown forward from Texas is a likely top three pick and a consensus All-American. The polite recruit is a probable first rounder and a first-team All-Big 12 performer. The JUCO guard was a 2008 NBA Draft pick, who stayed a couple years in the league before making millions overseas.

Wesley Johnson, Craig Brackins and Mike Taylor.

And yet, Iowa State played in zero post-season tournament games with them on the roster.

Those three are part of the Mt. Rushmore of the Greg McDermott era at Iowa State. They were the reason for optimism and the cause of the demise. They were the corps that never materialized. The fourth member of that Mt. Rushmore you ask? Well, he happens to be the projected consensus number one pick in next year’s draft. Harrison Barnes.

It will be especially hard to watch the proceedings tonight and not think, “What if?”

The four schools that will likely have two or more former players drafted in the first round tonight are Kentucky, Kansas, Texas and Iowa State.

It also continues a fairly amazing streak for Iowa State. They have had at least one future NBA player on their roster each year since 1981. (Barry Stevens 81-85, Grayer 85-88, Alexander 88-91, Hoiberg 91-95, Cato 95-97, Fizer 97-00, Tinsley 00-01, Vroman 02-04, Blalock 04-06, Johnson 06-07, Brackins 07-current). Although no player on the 01-02 team played in NBA, technically Tinsley played in the spring ’01 and Vroman the fall of ’02.

I have little doubt that Wesley and Craig will both have long careers in the NBA. Marquis Gilstrap also has an outside shot of being selected late in the second round. It’s an exciting night for them and I know everyone in Cyclone Nation wishes them the best. (Maybe not Wesley as much. It’s sort of like seeing an ex doing well. Good for them, but you wouldn’t be crushed if they languished with the Grizzlies and had to get Zach Randolph donuts every morning.)

I’m sure there will be a few eyes at the Creighton compound in Omaha watching with interest as well.

It’s almost unfair to put Brackins in the same category as the others. He worked tirelessly and turned down a good chunk of change last year to come back and fulfill his goal of getting Iowa State back to the NCAA Tournament. And when things went south and his Draft stock suffered in the process, you never heard him complain. He kept plugging away and faced the doubters head on. That resilience has helped him move from a projected mid-second rounder when the year ended, to a good bet for the first round tonight.  Whenever he comes back to Ames someday, I expect Cyclone fans to give him a “Mayor’s” reception.

Still, there will always be a lingering sense of disappointment. Any time the Cyclone program appeared to catch its footing under McDermott, another hurdle was clipped.

"What If?"

That brings us to tonight. As the book closes on one era, another fresh start to the Cyclone basketball program is underway.

It’s hard not to wonder where Cyclone basketball will be when NBA Draft 2014 rolls around.