Women's Basketball

Audi Crooks embraces “the hard stuff” while blossoming into a freshman star at Iowa State

Iowa State Cyclones center Audi Crooks (55) takes a shot over Kansas State Wildcats forward Ayoka Lee (50) during the second overtime of a NCAA women’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Feb.14, 2024, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES Audi Crooks looked at the cones and waited for the beeps. The Iowa State standout freshman center and her teammates faced their most daunting conditioning day of the summer— and the beeping that prefaced each of 60 mini sprints seemed to never stop.

 “I had never experienced anything like that before,” said the 6-3 Crooks, who hopes to help the Cyclones (14-10, 8-6) churn up a road win in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 test at Houston (13-12, 4-10). “You think (if) you go play pick-up, you get some shots in, you run on the treadmill a little bit and, ‘Oh, I’m good to go.’ Wrong. There’s no conditioning like college conditioning.”

 And few have grown more in the women’s college game than Crooks. The former Algona Garrigan star ranks fourth in the Big 12 in scoring (18.0 points per game) and sixth in rebounding (7.4). She’s also logged 33 or more minutes in three of the past four games — a plateau few expected her to traverse coming into the season.

 “If you want to go over to Hilton and do all this fun stuff in front of 10,000 people, you’ve gotta do the hard stuff in here,” ISU head coach Bill Fennelly said. “And most people don’t want to do it. Especially when you know you’re gonna play and you’re a freshman and if she goes out there and gets 10 points a game and does OK, (everybody says), ‘Oh, that’s a nice little start to your career.’ Well, that’s not the way she’s wired. She’s done the work. Everyone has helped her, but she’s the one that’s gotta hear the beeps.”

 Fennelly said early in the season he thought Crooks might be a 15-20 minutes-a-game type of player. Extremely skilled and mentally tough, but not fully ready for the physical challenges baked into Big 12 play. Crooks changed his mind rather quickly, though, and now she’s routinely inching into the 30-plus minutes range while largely avoiding foul trouble and fatigue.

 “A lot of hard work, a lot of hours spent,” Crooks said. “This is a lifestyle change. You go from high school athletics to college athletics, it’s a completely different ball game in terms of the way you train, the way you prepare. I kind of had to shift my mindset and my body and adjust in some different ways so I could play to the caliber I’m playing now.”

 Crooks has scored 20 or more points eight times in Big 12 play after eclipsing that mark just three times in the nonconference season. So her growth’s been remarkable — and that also happens to be her favorite word. The beeps are fully internalized now and Crooks is ready to respond to each one with alacrity rather than a sense of dread.

 “I knew this was something that I wanted to do and I knew that come hell or high water I was gonna do it,” Crooks said. “So that was kind of a motivating factor not necessarily to prove (doubters) wrong, but to prove the people that did believe in me — my family, my friends from Algona, and the staff here, to prove them right.”