AMES, Iowa – It's a good thing everyone in Ames knows Fred Hoiberg.
Hardly anyone knows anything about his players.
After a tumultuous offseason that saw coach Greg McDermott leave for Creighton and scores of players follow him out the door, the Cyclones bring back just three players with any experience this season.
Iowa State knew they'd be kicking off a new era when they lured Hoiberg, an Ames native known as "The Mayor" for his exploits with the Cyclones in the 1990s, from a front office job with the Minnesota Timberwolves to replace McDermott.
But this is some kind of mess Hoiberg is inheriting.
The youthful Cyclones were a unanimous pick to finish last in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll.
"You know what? We put that on the board the first day. These guys will take that as a challenge," Hoiberg said Wednesday. "They're going to go out there and try and prove people wrong, and hopefully we're capable of doing that."
It's likely to take more than one year for the Cyclones to rebuild a program that was gutted in just a few short months. As expected, forward Craig Brackins left for the NBA and was selected 21st overall in the draft. Fellow starter Marquis Gilstrap, who averaged 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, was denied an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Then, promising young center Justin Hamilton said he wanted to play closer to home. He promptly transferred to LSU even though he's from Utah.
Guards Dominique Buckley and Chris Colvin left shortly after the season, would-be senior Charles Boozer left to seek treatment for unspecified issues after an arrest in May and forward LaRon Dendy transferred in May.
That left Hoiberg with starting guards Diante Garrett and Scott Christopherson, oft-injured big man Jamie Vanderbeken and a host of newcomers.
Three new players, Penn State transfer Chris Babb, Southern Illinois transfer Anthony Booker and Michigan State's Chris Allen, won't be eligible until 2011-12. The NCAA has yet to announce a ruling on Minnesota transfer Royce White, who is hoping to have his transfer year wiped out so he can play right away.
Hoiberg found a stopgap guard in Jake Anderson, who was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after graduating from Northern Illinois in four years while playing in just three.
Anderson, who scored 1,152 points for the Huskies, will likely play shooting guard and handle point guard duties when Garrett needs a breather.
Junior college transfer DeMarcus Phillips, also a combo guard, was one of the nation's top juco players a year ago at Marshalltown Community College (Iowa) who could give the Cyclones a much-needed slasher in the backcourt.
There is no stopgap in the frontcourt.
Vanderbeken was a medical redshirt in 2009-10, and he's more of a perimeter player. Melvin Ejim, whom Hoiberg said is the freshman most ready to play, will likely be at small forward. Freshmen Calvin Godfrey, Eric McKnight and Jordan Railey will battle for minutes at power forward and center.
"The big thing they're going to have this year is an opportunity," Hoiberg said of the freshman class. "Whether they're ready or not, they're going to get thrown into the fire and see what they have and gain valuable experience doing that."
There appears to be some talent in the new class. McKnight picked Iowa State over the likes of Georgetown and Maryland, and Ejim starred for the nation's top prep school team a year ago.
But there's a reason why Iowa State's been tabbed for the Big 12 basement. The Cyclones lost by far their two best players and most of their depth from a team that finished with a losing record, and they're replacing them with a host of youngsters.
"You may see these guys throwing the ball in(to) the third and fourth row in the first month of the season," Hoiberg said. "But if they keep grinding away and learning from their mistakes, these kids have got a chance."