Cyclones can expect Eustachy hangover
The story isn't going away. That might be the biggest challenge for the Iowa State basketball program.
That's what new Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan has to understand. That's what the Iowa State players have to realize. It's going to get old and it's going to get tired, but the Cyclones better get used Larry Eustachy still being a large part of this Iowa State season.
What's going to happen when the Cyclones play on the road? They're going to hear from crowds about their former coach who took a contract buyout in April after photos showed he partied with college students on some Big 12 road trips. You think fans at, say, Oklahoma State might make some references to Natural Light? No doubt.
What are reporters across the Big 12 and across the country going to talk and write about? At every road stop, chances are pretty good there will be a picture of Eustachy kissing a coed in the local newspaper. And come mid-January at the very latest, Morgan and his players will have probably had enough.
But it's exactly what happened in recent years at places such as Indiana and Minnesota. It's what's going to happen this year at St. Bonaventure and Georgia and Baylor.
How many times do you think IU players were asked about Bob Knight's firing? How often did Gophers players hear from opposing fans that they've had others write papers for them? You think St. Bonaventure players will hear comments about welding certificates and forfeiting games? Think the Georgia players might get asked about the departure of Jim Harrick?
But if the Iowa State players and coaches can accept what's going to happen over the next six months, and deal with it, the Cyclones program has a chance to rebound quicker than other schools dealing with a summer of adversity. As bad as the public relations mess was around Eustachy, and as sad as it was for the former coach and his family, the Cyclones' program will face few long-lasting consequences.
There's little question that Eustachy used poor judgment, but he didn't violate any NCAA rules. Unlike Big 12 rivals Baylor and Missouri, or Georgia and St. Bonaventure, Iowa State doesn't face the potential of lost scholarships or postseason bans -- or a long NCAA investigation into the program.
Was it embarrassing? Absolutely. Will it gut the Cyclones' program? Probably not. This is still a school that won back-to-back Big 12 titles in the late '90s.
"Last spring, obviously, there was a lot of change, turmoil and that was something we had to get through," said Morgan, who was the head coach at Long Beach State for six years before joining Eustachy's staff. He was hired as head coach two weeks after Eustachy's departure. "I think we've gone through it, I think we've weathered the storm, and I think we've come through it whole.
"I think the team is a strong cohesive unit. I think the campus community is a strong, cohesive unit. And I think people who are Cyclone fans are a strong cohesive unit."
Morgan realizes things could be much worse for the Iowa State program. Shortly after Eustachy's departure, there was talk that several Cyclones players were going to transfer. While Adam Haluska did leave for cross-state rival Iowa, the rest of the players stayed, and all of the incoming recruits made it to campus.
|“||Last spring, obviously, there was a lot of change, turmoil and that was something we had to get through. I think we've gone through it, I think we've weathered the storm, and I think we've come through it whole. ”|
|--Wayne Morgan, first-year Iowa State head coach|
Over the summer, Morgan worked endlessly to regain the trust of the Iowa State fan base. He traveled to Cyclone Club meetings across the state and pressed a lot of flesh along the way.
"I've had to show them that ultimately we're going to land on our feet and we're going to have a productive, positive, good, representative Division I basketball program," Morgan said.
"It gave me an opportunity to go out and touch our fans. I think once they saw me and got to talk to me and touch me, then they realized, 'Maybe we're going to be all right here.' "
Morgan, a longtime assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, said the coaching change has had virtually no impact on Iowa State's recruiting. After all, Eustachy, who admitted to having a drinking problem, is no longer with the program.
"I don't think anybody looked at us last spring and said, 'We're not interested in that school because that happened,' " Morgan said. "In terms of recruiting, most people haven't even asked about it. To be completely honest about it, most people have no idea exactly what happened."
Some of that has to do with what's important to recruits, who generally have a short memory span. The players the Cyclones were after just wanted to know if they would have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament; if they're going to play on television; and if they're going to get playing time. They want to know a team's style of play, whether they like the coach, and if they get along with the returning players. And even though the Eustachy incident was painful for the school, it didn't change Iowa State's place in one of the country's top conferences.
The Cyclones already have a pair of commitments for next season in top 100 wing Rashon Clark of Bridgton Academy (Maine) and Tasheed Carr from Mt. Zion Academy in Durham, N.C. In addition, the Cyclones remain in the running for several top junior-college sophomores and have begun efforts to land the top high school sophomores and juniors in the Midwest once they graduate.
At the same time, Morgan has worked to make the Iowa State program more of a family environment. Senior guard Jake Sullivan said that when Eustachy was coaching, there was a clear line that separated the players and the coaches. They worked together on the court, but the player-coach relationships were underdeveloped on a social level.
"There was always a lot of tension," Sullivan said. "We just didn't feel like a family. Now we've been over at the coaches' houses hanging out and for meals. We got together and watched the (Oscar) De La Hoya fight.
"There's no tension, no conflict. Everyone's helping each other out."
On the floor, there will be some differences as well under Morgan.
"I'd like to play really defensively as Iowa State has in the past," Morgan said. "I'd like to rebound the ball well, as it has in the past. We'd like to be physical as Iowa State has been in the past, but we'd also like to get up and down the floor a little more and play some more in transition. ... I think we will do that."
Sullivan said there has also been more of a premium put on offensive skill development than there has been in the past.
"We have to do more stuff like that because we're not Kansas or Missouri, with 6-6 athletes running all over the floor," Sullivan said. "We're real good players who can play really well together."
Under Morgan, the Cyclones will also give Big 12 opponents a bit of a different look than what they get from most teams in the macho, defense-first league. Iowa State will still play man-to-man as its base defense, but the Cyclones are also going to mix in both pressure defense and zone.
"I spent 12 years with Jim Boeheim, so I understand that zone can be very effective," Morgan said.
So how good are the Cyclones going to be? That's difficult to tell. While Sullivan is probably the best perimeter shooter in the Big 12, he won't have a lot of help to start the season. Tim Barnes, projected to start at point guard, is academically ineligible for at least the first semester. And shortly before practice started, Iowa State big man Jackson Vroman was arrested for drunken driving and suspended indefinitely by Morgan.
Because of that, an Iowa State team that finished tied for ninth in the Big 12 last season will need immediate production from a talented class of newcomers.
Could this be a difficult year at Iowa State? Yes. But is this program in need of total rebuilding? No.
Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) is a regular contributor to ESPN.com