Blum: Last Chance Motel

By Brent Blum, Columnist

The other night I was watching Field of Dreams on one of the roughly 8,345 movie channels in cable land. Field of Dreams is in the same category as Top Gun, Major League, Tommy Boy and Dumb and Dumber for me; if I stumble across it, I feel obligated to watch parts of it. “We’ve got no food, we’ve got no jobs. Our pets HEADS ARE FALLING OFF!! – sorry, had to get that out of the way.

Anyway, I happened to catch Field of Dreams when Ray (Costner) is roaming the corn fields and he hears the voice for the first time: “If you build it, he will come.” We all know the scene. And of course, Ray listens to the voice, builds the baseball complex in his corn field and the rest is movie history.

In my convoluted cerebrum, I got to thinking about the Iowa State men’s basketball team while watching Ray hack away at his corn field. With the recent addition of Utah transfer Will Clyburn, that makes EIGHT transfers to Iowa State under Fred Hoiberg’s 11-month old tenure. In that same time period, the current staff has signed and retained ONE high school player, that being Tavon Sledge. (Anthony Odunsi and Elgin Cook committed, but were released to pursue other ventures).

“If you build it, they will transfer.”

It is a rather remarkable and brazen strategy. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but take a very premature look at the starting lineup the next two years (my best guess–nothing more).


G – Tyrus McGee (Jr.–JUCO Transfer-21 years old) G – Chris Allen (Sr.–Michigan State Transfer–23 years old) G – Scott Christopherson (Sr.–Marquette Transfer–22 years old) F – Melvin Ejim (So.–Brewster Prep–20 years old) F – Royce White (So.–Minnesota Transfer–20 years old)


G – Tyrus McGee (Sr.– JUCO Transfer–22 years old) G – Korie Lucious (Sr.–Michigan State Transfer–23 years old) F – Melvin Ejim (Jr.–Brewster Prep–21 years old) F – Will Clyburn (Sr. –Utah Transfer–22 years old) F – Royce White (Jr.–Minnesota Transfer–21 years old)

With transfers Chris Babb (Penn State–born 1990) and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois–born 1989) getting significant minutes both years.

The first thing that jumps out is the sheer amount of minutes the “X Men” will contribute over the next two years. But the second, and most important, aspect is the experience and physical maturity the teams will have. The median age is well over 21 years of age. It’s as if Iowa State is BYU of the Big 12 — minus The Jimmer and The Honor Code.

In the ever evolving “one and done” world of college basketball, experience is paramount if you aren’t one of oligarchs of the hoops nation. (Duke, UNC, UK, Ohio State, Kansas, UCONN.) Four of the six men in Butler’s rotation were upper-classmen–including leading scorers Matt Howard (Sr.) and Shelvin Mack (Jr.). The five leading scorers for VCU were all upper-classmen and accounted for 83 percent of their points this season.

In an ideal world, Iowa State would be like Kentucky and have their pick of McDonald’s All-Americans. Unfortunately, that is just never going to happen. Even in Iowa State’s marquee years, they rarely were able to compete with the nation’s big boys for the top talent. The Cyclones have signed one McDonald’s All-American in their history — Marcus Fizer. And that took a stroke of serendipity to get him to Ames. (Tim Floyd’s mother-in-law was a patient at a Retirement Center where Fizer’s guardian worked).

In the last 10 years, Iowa State has signed a pedestrian three top 50 players nationally (Adam Haluska #48 nationally-2002, Shawn Taggart #35–2005, Craig Brackins #20–2007). It also reminds me of one of my favorite Taggart stories — I interviewed him during media day his freshman year and jokingly asked him if he was considering  jumping to the NBA after his first year. He looked me dead in the eye, serious as a heart-attack and said, “No comment.”

Oh, Tags.

We love Ames, but it is always going to be an uphill battle to get the nation’s elite players to head to Story County.

Greg McDermott tried the high-school and prep-school route and had some rather unprecedented success in finding talent. He recruited three players that have played in the NBA — and a 4th in Diante Garrett that will likely make an NBA summer league team. Unfortunately some of the chess pieces he recruited ended up on other’s people’s boards.

Cue the Field of Dreams Voice: “If they transfer, they can’t leave.”

I found this Hoiberg quote very telling in a recent chat with the Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson:

“I talk to Tim Floyd quite a bit. He kept an eye on what we were doing, and I asked him advice on countless things. He’s been through it. I have great admiration for the way he coaches the game. He’s won at Iowa State. He knows the types of players it takes to be successful here.”

So what type of players did Tim Floyd get? His ’95-96 Big 8 tournament champions and ’96-97 Sweet 16 squad included starters:  Dedric Willoughby — transfer from New Orleans, Kelvin Cato — transfer from South Alabama, Kenny Pratt — transfer from College of Eastern Utah, Shawn Bankhead — transfer from College of Southern Idaho.

Larry Eustachy’s ’99-00 crew featured: Jamaal Tinsley — transfer from Mt. Jacinto Junior College, Kantrail Horton — transfer from Utah State, Michael Nurse — transfer from New York’s Monroe College, Richard Evans — transfer from Kilgore College.

Notice a pattern?

Iowa State has had their most success in the recent past when they operated less like a boarding school and more like a last chance motel.

Let’s be real. For the transfers in the Iowa State program, this is their last opportunity. You leave Ames and you become a college basketball vagabond and end up like LaRon Dendy miring in obscurity at Middle Tennessee State.

If you don’t have success at Iowa State, good luck finding another BCS school that will take the risk of a double transfer. And at that point, the NBA is an absolute non-entity.

The hope is the ‘fellas in the program use that desperation to their advantage and play with a chip on their shoulder much like the auspicious misfit squads of the past. The risk is you end up with the Chris Alexander’s and Jerome Harper’s of the world who carry more baggage than a Kardashian family reunion.

But, so far, so good.

Hoiberg realizes this is a win now business. In under a year he has transformed a team with three returning scholarship players, with no class balance and a murky future, into one that is setup for a chance to make the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season for the first time since 2005. And a chance to be even deeper the next season–all while signing just one high school player.

It’s crazy enough, that it just might work.

“People will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom.”