Published October 30, 2012
AMES, Iowa – Iowa State isn't necessarily rebuilding and it isn't really reloading.
The Cyclones are simply seeking to reinvent themselves this season with a more traditional lineup.
Iowa State lost perhaps the nation's most unique player in Royce White, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward who drove and dished like a point guard. The Cyclones also lost their second and third-leading scorers in Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen, a pair of shooting guards who were also forced to handle the ball at times.
Iowa State will replace the unconventional, highly successful trio with a true point guard in Korie Lucious, a traditional wing forward in Will Clyburn and more depth than the program has had in years.
The Cyclones, who won 23 games and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament in 2011-12, open on Nov. 9 against Southern.
"We tried to play to the strength of our team, which, a lot of times, was using Royce as a facilitator, and he was great at it," Hoiberg said. "We're not going to do it with one guy, but I think, collectively, we've got a group with experience."
Iowa State experienced a renaissance in its beloved but beleaguered basketball team last winter. After years of scuffling near the bottom of the Big 12, the Cyclones beat two top-10 teams for the first time in 20 years, earned a spot in the Top 25 for the first time since 2005 and reached the NCAA tournament after a six-year absence.
The Cyclones are confident that Lucious and Clyburn — both transfers who'll play just one season — can help keep the momentum going.
Lucious, a valuable role player at Michigan State who sat out all of last season with Clyburn, will give Iowa State the traditional point guard they lacked a year ago. The presence of Lucious is a big reason why Hoiberg will go with a more conventional approach this season.
Clyburn led Utah in scoring with 17.1 points a game and rebounding with 7.8 a night in 2010-11 before a coaching change brought him to Iowa State for his final season. Clyburn is athletic at 6-foot-7 and shot 40 percent from 3-point range at Utah.
"Will has an opportunity to be a special player," Hoiberg said. "He's long, athletic, and he can really put the ball in the basket."
Though the Cyclones lost a lot of talent from a year ago, they also bring back a host of solid contributors.
Junior forward Melvin Ejim was an honorable-mention All Big 12 pick a year ago and is perhaps the most experienced player on the roster. Senior guard Chris Babb shook off an extended scoring slump by blossoming into one of the Big 12's best perimeter defenders, and senior Tyrus McGee brings energy, scoring and leadership from the bench.
Senior Anthony Booker gives Iowa State size and surprisingly strong 3-point shooting for a post player. Sophomore Percy Gibson is an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-9, and he has the potential to be an All-Big 12 performer if he can put it all together.
The youngster to really watch in the post is freshman Georges Niang, the prize of the best recruiting class the Cyclones have had in recent memory. The 6-foot-7 forward played at the Tilton School with Kentucky's Nerlens Noel and scored nearly twice as many points as the nation's top recruit last season.
"He's been scoring over bigger, longer guys for the last five or six years of his life. He has a tremendous understanding of the game," Hoiberg said of Niang.
Iowa State also brought in four new guards; Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Cameron Fowler, Naz Long and Nkereuwem Okoro, who could push for playing time but will likely spend much of the season getting up to speed on the college game.
The Cyclones went 12-6 and finished in a tie for third in the Big 12 last season after being picked eighth in the preseason poll.
So where is Iowa State picked to finish this year? Eighth, of course.
That's largely because of all the Cyclones lost and the uncertainty over what they brought in for replacements. But Hoiberg is excited about trying to mold his latest random crop of returnees, transfers and freshmen into a team that can compete for a Big 12 title.
"This is a group that's going to be very easy to root for because of the type of kids that they are. Great work ethics," Hoiberg said. "This group absolutely gets after it."