WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa State's hopes for a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament next season rest largely on how it overcomes the loss of guards Korie Lucious, Chris Babb and Tyrus McGee.
A major part of Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg's plan to replace his starting backcourt is to lean on transfers — again. The Cyclones, however, have young guards who are eager to show Hoiberg he already has a solution on hand.
Hoiberg brought in former Marshall star DeAndre Kane and junior college standout K.J. Bluford. The expectation is that both will immediately compete for significant minutes.
But the Cyclones have four underclassmen guards: Naz Long, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Matt Thomas and Monte Morris, and a veteran backup in Bubu Palo. And none of them is planning to spend the season on the bench.
"We're just going to see how the chips fall," Morris said.
Dorsey-Walker and Long should have a head start on Thomas and Morris since they've been on campus for more than a year.
But both still have a lot to prove after a forgettable first season in Ames.
Dorsey-Walker, a Detroit product with offers from schools such as Indiana, Michigan and Baylor, redshirted last season.
Long played in 18 games last season, averaging just 1.4 points. Long was largely forgotten once Palo returned after a sexual assault charge against him was dropped by prosecutors in January.
Long knows he needs to work on his decision-making, which was spotty at times when he was pressed into play.
"Being a freshman, I was just young," Long said before a summer league game in West Des Moines, Iowa, with fellow college players from the area.
Hoiberg "said just to take what I got and just build on everything I got and get better in all areas."
Dorsey-Walker and Long will have to show significant improvement since they'll be pushed right away by Thomas and Morris — the most highly touted prep backcourt duo Hoiberg has recruited.
Thomas, a consensus top-60 recruit from Onalaska High (Wis.), is considered one of the best young shooting guards in his class. Thomas averaged nearly 30 points a game as a senior, and Morris called him a "Kyle Korver-type shooter" from the 3-point line.
Morris, a three-time All-State pick and Michigan's Mr. Basketball in 2013, could end up being the true young point guard that Hoiberg has never had.
It's tough to imagine Morris beating out Kane, who averaged 15.1 points and, more importantly, seven assists a game at Marshall last season. But Morris believes he and Kane could see significant minutes because of their versatility.
Kane "can play all five positions. He's 6-foot-4. He's not just a point guard. He plays great off the ball, too, and he can post up," Morris said. "I can run (on) the wing too, with me and him playing at the same time. With him being a senior, I know we need that senior leadership, and it's going to help us in the long run."
Don't count out Palo in the fight for playing time either.
Though he's had an unspectacular career with Iowa State, Palo worked his way up from walk-on status to a scholarship by being a steady presence with the second unit.
By far the most experienced point guard in Hoiberg's system, Palo is also hoping to earn a starting spot.
But he's one of seven guards competing for minutes, and it could be a long time before Iowa State's backcourt rotation works itself out.
"We're young, for the most part. But people are ready to step in," Palo said. "It will be interesting to see how things develop."
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