AMES — The illness struck just as ISU freshman Clayton Custer began hitting his stride.
The diagnosis last month: Mononucleosis, or mono for short. Luckily for the talented point guard from Overland Park, Kan., it turned out to be “minor mono” — or that’s what he called it, anyway.
“I’m not sure if there is such a thing,” Custer said Wednesday in advance of his Hilton Coliseum debut in Friday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against NAIA foe Viterbo (Wis.). “I was still in here shooting free throws everyday, watching practice. I was lying down quite a bit. I was taking a nap every day and everything ,but I wasn’t so bad where I was just knocked down all day.”
Daily nap? Sounds nice, but Custer’s feeling spry on his feet now.
“100 percent,” he said.
Custer — along with other backcourt reserves such as Sherron Dorsey-Walker —will likely get even more run at guard than usual since Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader will begin serving their three-game suspensions stemming from offseason arrests for OWI.
“Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it — go out there and take care of the ball and hopefully knock down a couple of the first shots in my career,” said Custer, who averaged 19 points, four rebounds and four assists while leading Blue Valley Northwest to its second straight state title last season. “I’m excited about it.”
So is the fan base.
Friday’s game is not a sellout (yet) like most if not all regular season home games will be, but crowd support — along with expectations — sit at or near an all-time high coming off the Sweet 16 appearance.
“I just think with all the hype that we have and the attention that we’re getting, I think they’re just super-excited to see what we’re all about,” star forward Georges Niang said. “So I think that puts more pressure on us; I don’t know if I’m super-excited about that, but, no, they’re just excited to see some good basketball and we’re excited to provide that.”
Dorsey-Walker’s also on the “excited” train. The shooting guard will look to showcase his skills in hopes of carving out playing time among a loaded backcourt that also includes transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones (who scored 19 points in ISU’s closed-door scrimmage rout of Minnesota), clutch 3-point ace Naz Long, and NCAA assist-to-turnover record-setting point guard Monte Morris.
“It’s a good opportunity,” said Dorsey-Walker, who averaged 1.2 points in 20 games last season. “It just gives our team another element if we can be deeper this year.”
Depth already dots the list of virtues for this Cyclone team which will enter the season ranked No. 14 by the Associated Press. ISU coach Fred Hoiberg expects to eventually reduce a regular rotation down to “nine guys, maybe 10,” but it’s tough to find a cutoff point after one month of practice.
“We’ll see how everything goes on Friday night,” Hoiberg said. “That’s going to be probably the hardest part of my job this year, is to throw the guys out there that deserve the minutes and try to get the rotation the best way I can — and in the biggest part of the game, to have them in there at crunch time. It hasn’t really worked itself out yet. A lot of guys are playing very well right now.”
That list of good players includes Custer, who missed slightly more than two weeks of practice with “minor mono” — an often longer-term malady.
“I don’t feel I got too far behind,” said Custer, who returned to practice last Thursday. “I think I almost feel back in game shape right now, so I feel pretty good about where I’m at.”