A Jolt, Something Different: 20 Years of Bill Fennelly

Bill Fennelly

As Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly enters his 20th season at Iowa State, we decided to take a look back at the last 19 seasons and how it all started.

Janel Grimm really hated the yellow caution tape in Hilton Coliseum. It bothered her from day one.

With an average of 733 fans in attendance at Iowa State women’s basketball games, the Hilton Coliseum crew would tape off sections with yellow caution tape to keep fans centrally located and to assist with a quick and easy cleanup.

The yellow caution tape wasn’t the only problem.

With no lines to get in, Grimm’s parents would pull up to the arena just before tip, park front and center, and walk inside Hilton Coliseum with no questions asked.

The atmosphere during games in Hilton Coliseum was also weak. If you wanted to sit in the upper deck there was no chance of that happening with the stairs blocked off.  Concessions were at a minimum. For women’s games, workers would drag out two pushcarts to serve the few fans in attendance. The regular concession stands weren’t open.

One day Grimm made herself a promise that before her time was up at Iowa State the yellow caution tape would come down.

As Bill Fennelly picked up the morning newspaper on May 12, 1995, he flipped to the sports page and his eye caught an article on the resignation of Iowa State women’s basketball coach Theresa Becker.

Fennelly, who was currently the women’s basketball coach at Toledo, was fresh off his sixth postseason bid. He had built Toledo from the ground up over the last seven years.

Fennelly read on as Becker cited personal and professional reasons for her resignation and offered an introspective quote.

“I feel that I have taken this program as far as I can,” Becker said. “To get to the next level, this program needs a jolt, something different. What I am doing is in the best interest of the team.”

A jolt. Something different.

A few hours later the phone rang in the Fennelly house.

The caller was Gene Smith, the then athletic director at Iowa State.

Home is Where the Heart is
One summer on a visit home from his job with the Toledo Rockets, the Fennelly family was driving through Ames, which is located halfway between his parents’ house in Davenport and his wife Deb’s parents’ home in Ruthven. His eldest son Billy looked up and simply said, “Dad, why can’t you just coach here?”

He looked over at the then-six-year-old boy and explained that sometimes it’s not that simple, but in the back of his mind he wished it was.

Fennelly was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. Davenport is located along the Mississippi River, and is part of the Quad Cities, which boasts a population of over 380,000 today. His father ran a gas station in Davenport and that’s where Fennelly learned about hard work and how to treat people.

He was raised a fan of all things Iowa. He never picked an allegiance between Iowa and Iowa State and would often go to sporting events for both teams.

Fennelly played high school basketball in Davenport when he was first introduced to the coaching world. He considered himself a “very average” player, but his high school coach would often tell him he would be a good coach someday. That comment stuck with him throughout high school and into college at William Penn. While on campus, he was asked by the head women’s basketball coach, Bob Spencer, if he wanted to help out.

Spencer didn’t have an assistant on his staff, but Fennelly was a sponge and tried to learn as much as he could. The assistant position turned into a full-time gig after graduation, and Fennelly helped lead the Lady Statesman to an AIAW National Championship in 1981.

It was then that Spencer was offered the head coaching job at Fresno State, and took Fennelly along with him.

From there he went to Notre Dame and then off to Toledo for his first head coaching position. Sure he and Deb missed Iowa, but he had a career now and he was building something. He knew this career may never lead him back home, but it was his dream nonetheless.

“Professional Suicide” or a Dream Come True
A few years after that conversation with Billy, he got the call that would change everything.
When he answered the phone it was all too familiar to the one he received three years earlier when Iowa State was searching for a new coach, only this time it was a different athletic director on the line and the pitch seemed to have a different ring to it.

There was still some hesitation for the Fennellys for a few reasons. First, they had their heart set on returning to Iowa a few years prior and the administration hired Becker for the position. Second, he had a solid team at Toledo and they were fresh off an NCAA tournament and were returning the entire team. He had high hopes for the 1995-96 Rockets. Lastly, becoming the head coach at Iowa State would require him to take a pay cut, and that was not the norm in college coaching or anywhere for that matter.

After interviewing with top officials at Iowa State, the call from Smith came in July. The position was his if he wanted it. He said first he needed to talk to the boss before making a decision, and by boss he meant his wife, Deb. They both agreed this was what was best for them at the time and he feverishly tried to get Smith back on the line to accept the position. The deal was done within an hour of the offer.

After accepting the position, Fennelly received mixed reviews from people. His family was thrilled they were returning to Iowa, but many others didn’t see it as a great decision to leave a booming Toledo program for a program that had just five winning seasons in 22 years.

A coaching friend even went as far as to say he was committing “professional suicide” by going to Iowa State.

Those were harsh words. It’s true that Iowa State’s women’s basketball program appeared lifeless from the outside. The program had zero postseason trips, and had also gone through five coaches in its 22 year history, but coaching in Iowa was his dream.

Please Welcome John Smith
As Fennelly arrived in Ames just prior to the introductory press conference, he checked into his hotel under the name “John Smith.” The athletic department made it a priority to keep the new hire a secret until the official announcement.

The press conference room was filled with friends, family and reporters while the women’s basketball team stood in the back of the room. Mixed feelings surrounded the group, some were upset about losing the only coach they knew, some were excited for what change could bring and some were a little of both.

Bill FennellyA beaming Smith took the podium and sold Fennelly to the crowd.

“It was a fortunate search because we found a great leader,” Smith said. “One that is a good coach, a good teacher, a good recruiter, a motivator of young people.”

Fennelly excitedly took the podium, offering a passionate statement on what it means to return to the state of Iowa for him and his family.

“I know it would seem cliché nowadays to talk about dreams and aspirations,” Fennelly said. “For 20 years I’ve been a women’s basketball coach, and for 20 years I’ve dreamed of coming to this school to coach, to hopefully finish my career and to build something in this state and for this university. It is a dream come true for me and my family.”

In his mind, he hoped Cyclone Nation and the Iowa community would embrace the Fennellys as they were just like them – Iowans.

At the end of the press conference Smith offered one last message to Cyclone Nation.

“I want to share one last thing … he’s a winner. Bill Fennelly is a winner, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

A Winner
In his first days on the job at Iowa State he knew he had an uphill battle. He had to coach a team of players he inherited. Not a single player in the 1995-96 season was one of his recruits. He had to make the best of it.

He credits Becker for leaving him a strong cast of players. Good kids with solid work ethic and a will to win. Players like Janel Grimm, Tara Gunderson and Jayme Olson, who was a 2014 inductee to the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.

It was Gunderson, a 5-8 junior, who surprised him the most as she sat down for her one-on-one meeting.

“What do you want to see change?” he asked the Lake Park, Iowa native.

“You just tell me what you want me to do because I just want to win.”

And win they did.

The 1995-96 Cyclones began the season with a 12-0 record and an undefeated nonconference record, the first in Iowa State history. However, Fennelly would be the first to tell you winning isn’t the only part of building a program, though it does help.

If You Build It – They Will Come
In Fennelly’s office, propped up on a side table sits a single framed box score, an 82-55 win over Idaho State in the Cyclone Classic played in front of a few hundred fans. He keeps it for a few reasons, for one it is a reminder of where they started. He recalls playing in a quiet Hilton Coliseum where his first win as head coach of the Cyclones was witnessed by just a few fans.

He doesn’t forget the silence. It’s where they started, and he knew then it wouldn’t be where they finished.

So he put together a plan.

They started with Fellows Elementary School and Green Hills retirement home. In true Iowa fashion, Deb and Bill got in touch with the local Ames community; they smiled, shook hands and invited everyone who would listen to come to watch the Cardinal and Gold in action.

“It was like a really poorly orchestrated political campaign is what I tell people,” Fennelly said. “We were gripping and grinning and talking and meeting as many people as we could see and going to as many things as we could go to.”

FennellyIt was a true grass roots campaign.

While Bill was off recruiting and coaching, it was Deb who took on the reins of getting fans to come to games. She was the marketing director before they ever had one, Bill jokes. Slowly but surely, it began to work.

Soon enough, the women’s basketball team got support from Dan McCarney, the then-football coach, and Tim Floyd, the then-men’s basketball coach. The university president Martin Jischke and Smith also helped pump up the team.

The players got involved too. They made numerous stops at charitable events. Nobody went home until the sharpies were dry and everyone got their autograph.

As Deb, Bill and the Cyclones immersed themselves in the community, the caution tape was shuffled around to add more room, a few more pushcart concession stands were added, and before long the concourse concession stands opened.

Turning it Around
When Fennelly took a look at the 1995-96 schedule that was set up by his predecessor and her staff he immediately had a question.

“Why isn’t Iowa on the schedule?”

The response he got went something to the effect of, “Well coach, we aren’t good enough to play them so they don’t schedule us and we don’t schedule them.”

He didn’t like the response very much and he planned to change that.

And change it did.

Grimm remembers the moment clearly when Fennelly announced to the team the Hawkeyes were now on the 1996-97 schedule. Eight of the 14 members of the 1996-97 team were Iowans, and Grimm had grown up a fan of the Hawkeyes. She had hoped this moment would come, a chance to play the intrastate rival, who was long considered the “big dog” in the state.

“I walked out of Hilton practically skipping back to my dorm so excited because we were going to play Iowa,” Grimm said.

The Cyclones would fall 64-53 at Iowa when the series was renewed. The loss didn’t bother the Cyclones, they just wanted the chance to compete against the Hawkeyes, but they knew when Iowa came to Hilton Coliseum the next year they were going to get them.

It was Iowa’s first trip to Hilton Coliseum in six seasons.

As the Hawkeyes arrived on Dec. 13, 1997 they were greeted by something they or even the Cyclones had never seen before in Hilton Coliseum, a school record 5,844 fans were decked out in Cardinal & Gold. And for the first time in history, the balcony was opened for fans to sit and the infamous caution tape was removed.

Iowa State rewarded the record crowd when it went on to defeat Iowa, 74-57, for the first time since 1982 behind a 22-point performance from Iowa transfer Stacy Frese.

Fennelly IowaFor Fennelly, that game marked a real turning point in Cyclone basketball. Iowa State was relevant to the Iowa community again, but they weren’t done shaking things up yet.
Just over a month after the win against Iowa, the Cyclones won at Colorado, 76-67, for the first time since 1987. Fennelly looked over at senior Janel Grimm and noticed a tear in her eye.

He asked her if everything was alright and she said her freshman year they had lost by 45 points to Colorado and then lost by 35 points a week later in the conference tournament. It was a special moment for the senior to have gotten that particular win.

As the season went on it wouldn’t be the only special moment. There were two more games that will hold a special place in program history in the 1997-98 season.

Just a week after the win at Colorado, a blizzard was bearing down on Ames. With the snow falling in buckets, the Cyclone faithful braved the blizzard, showing up in droves to cheer on the home team as fifth-ranked Texas Tech came to town. A total of 3,188 fans piled into a warm Hilton Coliseum and witnessed Iowa State topple the Lady Raiders, 82-73. The win would move the Cyclones into the Associated Press Poll for the first time in school history.

Iowa State would host the 1998 NCAA tournament first and second rounds, winning its first tournament game against Kent and earning a date with Rutgers in the second round. In one of the most emotional games in ISU history, the Cyclones fell 62-61 on their home court.

However, the record crowd of 9,705 fans felt nothing but pride for the home team. The fans cared not just about winning, but about the girls who wore the jerseys. They were invested in the team and knew they had battled not just for 40 minutes against Rutgers, but for every minute of the season. For that, the crowd honored them with a standing ovation.

“They played hard,” Fennelly reflected. “Yeah, they didn’t win and we all wanted them to win, but they appreciated the effort and getting to that point, which no one thought that they could get to.”

The 99ers
The Rutgers loss was tough for Stacy Frese to swallow. They were so close. They played hard. It just wasn’t enough to lift the Cyclones to their first Sweet 16 berth.

She entered the press conference teary eyed. She answered question-after-question under the bright lights of cameras flashing all the while thinking about what they could have done differently.

Days later she came across a picture of herself crying at the postgame press conference. She clipped it from the newspaper along with the score of the game and put it in her locker. She also taped a single word “Rutgers” on her mirror and in her car. It was a constant reminder.

Every single day Frese stared at that same picture and that same score. It never changed, but she still looked at it. She promised herself if she was given another opportunity there would be a different ending.

The next season Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time after beating Santa Clara and Oregon on its home court. The wins earned them a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to face top-seeded Connecticut.

After the win against Oregon, Frese walked back to her locker and tore up the picture.

Iowa State was the instant underdog, and it’s safe to say nobody gave the Cyclones the time of day. Press questions centered around “You must just be happy to be here, right?”

In a way they were just happy to be there, making it to a Sweet 16 was something Fennelly always wanted to achieve in his career. He hadn’t done it at Toledo and hoped that one day he would take the Cyclones and make history together.

However, they’d be lying if they said it wasn’t offensive. They answered the questions honestly and politely, but maybe gritted their teeth a little more than a typical pregame press conference.

“We were happy to be there, but we weren’t done,” Frese said.

If one thing was certain there wasn’t a person in the Iowa State locker room who didn’t think they could beat Connecticut.

Scores of Iowa State fans came down for the game. With Fennelly only a few years removed from being the head coach at Toledo, the Cyclones had quite a cheering section, former players, fans and friends of the Fennelly’s showed up to cheer on the Cyclones. Even the Hilton Coliseum tech crew loaded up in a van to drive down for the game. They all wanted to see what this Iowa State team was really capable of.

The game was neck-and-neck most of the way through. Connecticut, who was the national leader in field-goal percentage, was hounded by the Cyclones’ defensive game plan. Iowa State held them to a season-low 29.9 percent.

With 5:26 left on the clock, ISU was trailing 50-43. They needed something, anything. That something came in the unlikeliest of ways – a 3-pointer from Monica Huelman. Before that shot, Huelman had hit just 14 3-pointers that season. Huelman’s basket opened the floodgates for ISU. One after the other. Tracy Gahan. Frese. Megan Taylor. Frese. The barrage of 3-pointers forced a Connecticut timeout. The crowd knew a Cyclone victory was within reach when the score stood at 59-55 with just over two minutes remaining.

Huelman, the 6-2 junior from Vinton, Iowa, who hit the biggest shot in Iowa State history is not only known for THE shot, but that she was Fennelly’s first recruit to sign with the Cyclones.Fennelly UCONN

When it was all said and done the final stat line read Iowa State 64, Connecticut 58. The Cyclones would advance to their first Elite 8 berth, becoming just the third team at that time to make an Elite 8 after posting a record of 8-19 or worse four seasons prior.

The throngs of Iowa State fans who made the game could hardly contain their excitement. They had traveled near and far to see the Cyclones compete in the Shoemaker Center.

Take Iowa State student Luke DeKoster for example. DeKoster told the Ames Tribune he left a spring break mission trip in Denver, Colo. when he heard ISU advanced to the Sweet 16. He drove 711 miles back to Ames to pack his bag and pick up two friends and make the 10-hour drive to Cincinnati. They drove through the night and arrived just 10-minutes before tip-off.

“All my life, as a Cyclone fan, you can’t beat this,” he told the Ames Tribune of the win over Connecticut. “This is like Lafester Rhodes scoring 54; this is like beating Iowa in football, except better.”

Iowa State’s magical run would end in the Elite 8 with a loss to Georgia, but they left its mark on the women’s college basketball world anyway.

Never Say Never
If you asked Fennelly in 1995 if Iowa State would ever see over 10,000 fans for a women’s basketball game he would have answered simply, “Never.”

After the 1998-99 season, Iowa State women’s basketball would never be looked at in the same light again. They had arrived, not just in the Iowa community, but on the national scene as well. They were relevant to women’s college basketball and stood as a shining example that anything is possible with the right leader.

Under the direction of Fennelly, Iowa State has made 15 NCAA Championship appearances, five Sweet 16 berths and two Elite 8 appearances. The Cyclones have climbed the attendance ranks, sitting at second nationally behind only Tennessee. Eight Cyclones have combined to earn 13 All-America nods. Iowa State has also maintained a 100 percent graduation rate during his tenure.

If you recall the coaching friend that said Fennelly was committing “professional suicide,” well he called back at the end of the 1999 season asking if Fennelly had seen The Women’s Basketball Journal because it had Iowa State ranked fifth, Tennessee sixth and Louisiana Tech seventh.

And what about that dreadful yellow caution tape? Well, it hasn’t seen a game inside Hilton Coliseum since 1997.

A special thanks to Tom Kroeschell and Erin Rosacker for their historical contributions to this piece.

This article was made possible by interviews with Bill Fennelly, former SID Erin Rosacker, former beat writer Susan Harman and former players Tara Gunderson, Janel Grimm and Stacy Frese.

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Ankeny Surprises Rhoads With Honor

Coach Rhoads was surprised to be inducted into the Ankeny Alumni Association Hall of Fame Friday night. Photo courtesy of Jon Jamison.

Coach Rhoads was surprised to be inducted into the Ankeny Alumni Association Hall of Honor Friday night. Photo courtesy of Jon Jamison.

Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads received an outstanding honor on Friday night, and it came as a huge surprise.

The Ankeny, Iowa native was asked to speak at an Ankeny Alumni Association banquet to talk about how teachers at Ankeny High School influenced him and his life. After his presentation was over, in which he presented Ankeny H.S. students with scholarships, the real reason for his invitation to the banquet was revealed: His induction into the Ankeny Alumni Association Hall of Honor.

The ruse was set up by the Ankeny staff. They wanted Rhoads to be there without him knowing anything about the award he was about to receive. Initially, Rhoads declined the offer due to scheduling of his son’s (Wyatt) high school baseball schedule. With the help of Rhoads’ wife, Vickie, she was able to convince the Cyclone head man to make an appearance.

Needless to say, Rhoads was shocked and humbled to receive the honor.

Photo courtesy of Jon Jamison.

Photo courtesy of Jon Jamison.

“It is a very humbling experience to be elected into the Ankeny Hall of Honor and something I certainly wasn’t prepared for,” Rhoads said. “My experience as an Ankeny High School student helped shape the person I’ve become and provided a fantastic foundation to build upon. I couldn’t be more appreciative of this selection.”

For more information on the Ankeny Alumni Association Hall of Honor go to: http://www.ankenyalumni.org/pages.php?id=5

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Iowa State Making Strong Social Media Strides

Cyclone fans have always shown their full support for the Cardinal and Gold, over-packing the hillsides of Jack Trice Stadium and creating one of the nation’s best college basketball environments in Hilton Coliseum. Off the field, #cyclONEnation’s support is just as strong, creating one of the most powerful fan bases on social media.

Twitter has become the source of instant news. It is especially prevalent in the sports world. Fifty percent of tweets are sports related, showing the sports community is locked into the social media tool.

Six of Iowa State’s sport-specific twitter accounts (@CycloneWBB, @CycloneWR, @CycloneMBB, @CycloneVB, @CycloneTrackXC, @CycloneGYM) currently rank in the nation’s top-25, with three ranking in the top-15. In fact, Iowa State is tied for 21st with six sport-specific Twitter accounts in the top-25* (*only sports ISU participates in were counted).

Sport-Specific Accounts in the Top-25

  • @CycloneWBB, 6th nationally // 2,733 followers away from the top-5
  • @CycloneWR, 9th nationally // 1,832 followers away from the top-8
  • @CycloneMBB, 15th nationally // 617 followers away from 14th
  • @CycloneVB, 23rd nationally // 25 followers away from 22nd
  • @CycloneGYM, 25th nationally // 93 followers away from 24th
  • @CycloneTrackXC, 25th nationally // 33 followers away from 24th

In addition to just ranking in the top-25, five different sport-specific accounts doubled in followers just over the last calendar year, including football (@CycloneFB), men’s basketball, women’s basketball, soccer (@CycloneSCR) and softball (@CycloneSB). Among the big gains, track and field also gained over 50 percent more followers in the last calendar year.

In addition to the impact made on Twitter, Iowa State’s blog (Cyclone Sidebar) has received over 227,000 views and has over 730 subscribers in its first year.

Sidebar Notables:

  • Nine posts tallied 5,000 viewers with four grabbing over 10,000.
  • The highest viewed sidebar received 10,115 views.
  • The average view count is 2,400.
  • In its start, Cyclone Sidebar was named one of WordPress.com’s up and coming blogs in 2013.

It’s easy to see Iowa State had another banner athletics year across the board, finishing 38th in the Learfield Director’s Cup Standings – the second-highest finish in school history. It’s clear that in the digital age the Cyclone faithful have taken their support to Twitter and other social platforms.

Posted in Cross Country, Football, Gymnastics, Iowa State Athletics, Men's Basketball, Soccer, Softball, Track and Field, Uncategorized, Volleyball, Women's Basketball, Wrestling | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Maddy Baier: The Long Road Back

Madison Baier vs. South Dakota

Madison Baier vs. South Dakota

December 8th – A date that never escapes Maddy Baier’s mind, and a date she probably will never forget.

It was Dec. 8, 2013, and Cal State-Fullerton was in town when Baier checked in for senior Hallie Christofferson.

“I’ll never forget, I beat my girl down the court and I was going right down the left side of the lane and Nikki [Moody] saw me and passed me the ball,” Baier said. “I just jump stopped and right when I stopped to jump I felt my knee buckle and I just threw the ball up. I remember leaning against the post watching everybody run down.”

At first she thought she tore her LCL, which would have left her out a few weeks. The next day she got the news she didn’t expect.

“I remember watching Dr. (Tom) Greenwald read the MRI and seeing his face. I knew what he was going to tell me by the look on his face and I just busted into tears,” Baier said.

The news was a torn ACL in her right knee, one that would require surgery and she would have to sit out for six months, ending her sophomore season.

After the initial shock, the always positive Baier knew it was time to face this head on.

Dec. 18, 2013. That’s the other date she won’t soon forget – the day of her surgery.

For Baier, it wasn’t surgery that was difficult; it was the long road to recovery, a road that really only started on Dec. 18.

“After I had my surgery it was hard to do the smallest thing,” Baier said. “I would think ‘I’m never going to get back. This is going to take forever,’ but I would say the rehab right after surgery was easily the hardest.”

With little muscle mass left in her leg, rehab was long and arduous. As with most season-ending injuries, it isn’t always the physical hurdles, but the emotional hurdles that are difficult during recovery.

Having to sit on the sideline while the team continued to play was one of the most difficult parts of rehab for Baier.

“Hallie was playing 40 minutes and I know she was tired,” Baier said. “That’s my job— to give her a break—and I know she was tired. We were short on post as it is. I would just think ‘That’s my job, to give her that break so she can come back in and be fresh.”

“I think the hardest thing was sitting out and thinking ‘If I had never done this I could have helped.’”

But Baier’s strong support system didn’t allow her to think like that for long. She was surrounded by encouragers, everyone from her teammates and coaches to the training staff and her family.

She noted teammate and roommate Kidd Blaskowsky was one of her biggest cheerleaders and always there to offer words of encouragement.

Over the last six months, Baier dutifully continued her rehabilitation, remaining positive and looking forward for the day she can rejoin her teammates on the floor.

During her road to recovery, it wasn’t just the big things – like playing basketball – that she relished, but even little things like getting her ankles taped and warming up on the court with the team. She knew it was going to be a good day when she could step back out onto the court again.

That day finally came last week.

A big smile erupted across Baier’s face as she talked about what it was like to work out with the team. Though she isn’t completely finished with her recovery, the finish line is just around the corner and you better be sure she is going to cross it.

Posted in Uncategorized, Women's Basketball | Tagged | 1 Comment

The 2014-15 Non-Conference Schedule

The 2014-15 men’s basketball non-conference schedule has been set. Below are short capsules of the teams the Cyclones will be facing in Fred Hoiberg’s fifth season as head coach. Times and TV information will be announced at a later date, as will the Big 12 schedule.

Friday, Nov. 7 – Exhibition – Viterbo (Wis.) (16-14)
The Cyclones and V-Hawks will meet for the first time as ISU gets primed for its season opener a week later. Viterbo, which plays at the NAIA level, went 16-14 last season and returns two of three scorers that averaged double figures on last season’s team. This won’t be Viterbo’s only trip to Iowa this season. The V-Hawks are members of the Midwest Collegiate Conference, which includes the likes of AIB, Mount Mercy, William Penn and Grand View.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Viterbo on Twitter: @viterboathletic

Friday, Nov. 14 – Oakland (13-20, 7-9 Horizon League)
Gone is all-time NCAA 3-point record holder Travis Bader, who made an astonishing 504 threes in his career, but under Greg Kampe the Grizzlies have never shied away from playing bigger schools. Last season, Oakland played at North Carolina, at UCLA, at Cal and at Gonzaga to open the season. They also matched up with Indiana and Michigan State. So Kampe, who will be in his 30th season at the school, doesn’t back down in preparing his team for conference play. Oakland returns 6-10 center Corey Petros, who shot 57.6 percent from the field and averaged 13.3 points. The game is part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Oakland on Twitter: @OUGrizzlies

Monday, Nov. 17 – Georgia State (25-9, 17-1 Sun Belt)
The Panthers cruised through the Sun Belt Conference last season before losing by a point in overtime in the conference tournament championship game to UL-Lafayette. Georgia State returns its top two scorers, including junior R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son who averaged 18.4 points and shot 88.4 percent at the line. Hunter will participate in the Nike Skills Kevin Durant Camp later this summer with Cyclone Bryce Dejean-Jones. Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow averaged 17.9 points last season and fills out the Panthers’ backcourt. Georgia State also received a boost when Louisville transfer Kevin Ware was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA. Don’t sleep on this Georgia State team, a major NCAA Tournament team contender. This game is also part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Georgia State on Twitter: @GSUPanthers

Nov. 24-25 – CBE Hall of Fame Classic – Kansas City, Mo.
Cyclone fans will again have a chance to visit our home away from home, the Sprint Center. Hilton South as some know it. The competition will be good as ISU will play two games against a combination of Maryland (17-15, 9-9 ACC), Alabama (13-19, 7-11 SEC) and Arizona State (20-8, 9-6 Pac-12). The schedule for the tournament will be announced later this summer.

All-Time Series: Alabama (Alabama leads 1-0), Arizona State (ISU leads 2-1), Maryland (Never met)
On Twitter: Alabama (@AlabamaHoops), Arizona State (@SunDevilHoops), Maryland (@TerrapinHoops).

Tuesday, Dec. 2 – Lamar (4-26, 3-15 Southland)
The Cardinals struggled last season to a 4-26 mark but will have a new coach in Tic Price, who served as interim head coach after the dismissal of Pat Knight late last season. Lamar returns five of its top six scorers, including guard Nimrod Hilliard (14.1 ppg).

All-Time Series: First Meeting
Lamar On Twitter: @LamarCards

Thursday, Dec. 4 – Arkansas (22-12, 10-8 SEC) – SEC/Big 12 Challenge
The second edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge will again see the Cyclones at home, meaning the next two years will be away from home. ISU beat Auburn last year in the challenge, while Arkansas didn’t participate. The Razorbacks played in the NIT after missing the NCAA Tournament in head coach Mike Anderson’s third season at the helm. Arkansas returns three starters, including leading scorer Rashad Madden (12.7 ppg). Post Bobby Portis averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds as a sophomore. Portis is attending the Nike Elite Big Man Skills Academy along with Cyclone Georges Niang.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 3-1
Arkansas on Twitter: @RazorbackMBB

Tuesday, Dec. 9 – UMKC (10-20, 7-9 WAC)
The Cyclones will meet UMKC for the third time in as many years, with ISU winning last season’s game 110-51 in what proved to be the highest-scoring output of the 2013-14 campaign for Fred Hoiberg’s team. Guard Martez Harrison averaged 17.2 points as a freshman to lead the Kangaroos in scoring. UMKC is coached by former Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 3-0
UMKC on Twitter: @UMKCMensHoops

Friday, Dec. 12 – at Iowa (20-13, 9-9 Big Ten)
In what is always the most anticipated game of the non-conference season, Iowa State will travel to Iowa for the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series matchup. The Cyclones and Hawkeyes battled in a thrilling contest last season that saw ISU win 85-82 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones are 1-1 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena under the guidance of Fred Hoiberg. The Hawkeyes won 80-71 in 2011, while the Cyclones were victorious in Hoiberg’s initial trip to Iowa State, winning 75-72. Scott Christopherson had 30 points in that win. Iowa returns much of its lineup, but will have to replace leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble (17.0 ppg).

All-Time Series: Iowa leads, 43-24
Iowa on Twitter: @IowaHoops

Sunday, Dec. 14 – Southern (19-13, 15-3 SWAC)
The appearance of Southern University at Hilton Coliseum will also mark the return of a familiar face. Calvin Godfrey, who averaged 5.7 points and 5.4 rebounds for Fred Hoiberg’s 2010-11 team before being dismissed from the team, will return as the Jaguars’ leading scorer after averaging 13.1 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. Godfrey made 55.6 percent of his shots.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 2-0
Southern on Twitter: @SouthernUSports

Saturday, Dec. 20 – Drake (15-16, 6-12 Missouri Valley)
The Cyclones and Bulldogs meet for the 173rd time in the third year of the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic. Iowa State won the last meeting in 2012. The Bulldogs return a pair of double-figure scorers in Gary Ricks, Jr. (12.3 ppg) and Jordan Daniels (10.2) in Ray Giacoletti’s second season at the school.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 107-65
Drake on Twitter: @DrakeBulldogsMB

Wednesday, Dec. 31 – Mississippi Valley State (9-23, 4-12 SWAC)
The Cyclones will play on New Year’s Eve for the second year in a row when they host Mississippi Valley State this season. The Delta Devils return their top-five scorers, including Anthony McDonald (11.9 ppg). MVSU is a fairly frequent visitor to Hilton Coliseum as this will mark their fourth trip to Ames in seven years.

All-Time Series: Iowa State leads, 4-0
Mississippi Valley State on Twitter: @MVSUDevilsports

Saturday, Jan. 3 – vs. South Carolina (14-20, 5-13 SEC) – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Iowa State could be facing its third SEC opponent of the season when it faces South Carolina in the first game of 2015 at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. Dustin Hogue gets to play what is essentially another home game. Remember the last time he played in New York? If you don’t remember, well, he was awesome. 34 points on 15-of-19 shooting at the Garden. The Gamecocks struggled last season under Frank Martin, a familiar face who spent five years as head coach at Kansas State and is in his third season with the Gamecocks. USC should be improved this season, however.

All-Time Series: First Meeting
South Carolina on Twitter: @GamecockMBB

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Catching Up With Stevie Johnson

Stevie Camp

Stevie Johnson had been struggling at the free-throw line and didn’t want to let his team down. It was a pivotal moment in one of the biggest games of the season. Iowa State was down four points to No. 13 Oklahoma State with just over three minutes left in the 2000 Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinal.

“I had been missing free throws early on,” Johnson remembered. “I said to myself, ‘Oh man, they’re going to be fouling me because I’ve been missing free throws.’ And I was able to hit my free throws.”

He did more than that. Johnson went to work, scoring seven-straight points, including a pair of conventional three-point plays in a two-minute span to put the Cyclones over the hump in a crucial 68-64 victory.

“I knew I wasn’t a great free throw shooter, but I made sure I made the ‘and-1s’ in that game,” Johnson said. “It was the best feeling ever. I remember Mike (Nurse) jumping on my back. It was great.”

It was one of many great days as a Cyclone for Johnson, who was back in town this week helping out at Fred Hoiberg’s Basketball Camp.

Stevie Camp2

The 36-year-old Johnson will always be remembered by Cyclone fans for a lot of reasons. The Beaumont, Miss., native was the tenacious defender and rebounder on arguably the greatest basketball team in school history, the 1999-2000 squad which captured both the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles and went onto the Elite Eight.

When his basketball eligibility was up after that magical hoops season, he wasn’t finished making history. Johnson hadn’t played organized football since his freshman year of high school, but he thought he would give football a try in his final season in Ames.

Well, the rest is Cyclone history. Johnson made the team, and was a significant contributor at linebacker on arguably one of the greatest football teams in school history, the 2000 squad which won a school-record nine games and captured the school’s first bowl victory (Insight.com Bowl).

That’s quite a legacy left by Johnson. He certainly is still proud of being a part of both iconic teams in Cyclone history.

“It means a lot because you think about the tradition of this school,” Johnson said. “You think about the people who came before me – Jeff Hornacek, Hoiberg, Troy Davis – all those people, and all those good teams that we had. I got the chance to play with (Marcus) Fizer and (Jamaal) Tinsley in basketball and (James) Reed and (Reggie) Hayward in football. Those years I spent here at Iowa State were the best years of my life.”

“I was a part of something great here at Iowa State, and it was just a blessing,” Johnson added. “I could’ve went to a lot of schools, but I don’t regret coming to Iowa State.”

Johnson is still playing basketball professionally, and if you saw him today, he could pass for a player in his mid-20s. He’s traveled the world playing the game he so cherishes. His first stop was in Iceland, leading the league in scoring and earning MVP honors. He spent the next eight years in Spain, followed by a stint in Argentina and his current team in Germany.

Despite all of his jet-setting, Johnson will always have a soft spot for Ames, Iowa.

“When I’m overseas, the games come on really late, so it might be 3 a.m. when the games are on,” Johnson said. “So coming back here, it just feels great. Now people are talking about Iowa State everywhere. It’s changed so much and that makes me feel good, because from where we started when I was here, to the notoriety we get now, you can see Iowa State jerseys in other places besides Iowa. That means a lot because I’m always bragging on my university everywhere I go.”

Johnson was a highly-touted recruit when he arrived in Ames prior to the 1996-97 season. Tim Floyd brought him to Iowa State, but it was under the guidance of Larry Eustachy where the power forward thrived.

Johnson was, and still is, an incredible athlete. He possessed extreme jumping ability and superior speed packed into his chiseled 6-4, 225-pound frame. He tested out with a 38-inch vertical leap and had an uncanny ability to time his jumps perfectly.

When Eustachy needed a guy to clean up around the hoop in the middle of his senior season (1999-2000), Johnson found his niche.

“I got a chance to play for Coach Floyd and Coach Eustachy, two of the greatest basketball men you’ll play for,” Johnson said. “Two really tough guys, but they made me a man. I came here, I didn’t know a lot about basketball. I was a really good athlete, but they taught me a lot of life lessons. I got a chance to grow up. When we started the conference season (1999-2000), Paul Shirley had gotten hurt and then Martin Rancik got hurt. So, I got the chance to start and things kind of went from there.”

The Cyclones were rolling and Johnson was a big part of it. He shot an incredible 66.3 percent from the field in his final year with the Cyclones, the best single-season clip recorded by a Cyclone with at least 100 made field goals (128-193 FG).

Playing alongside his teammates, including All-Americans Fizer and Tinsley, on a team which set the school record for wins (32) is something he will never forget.

“The biggest thing was, when we were in late game situations, we always felt like we were going to pull it out,” Johnson said. “If we were down five points with a minute left, we knew somebody was going to make a play. We knew Fizer would make a basket, or Jamaal is going to get one in. Then you would have Nurse or (Kantrail) Horton making big threes. It was always somebody who stepped up at the right time. And defensively, I think we were the best defensive team in the league. We had to be. We played really hard. Everybody knew their role. The cohesiveness was better than any team I’ve ever played with.”

Stevie Johnson shot 66.3 percent from the field as a senior in 1999-2000.

Stevie Johnson shot 66.3 percent from the field as a senior in 1999-2000.

After the record-setting 1999-2000 season ended, Johnson had a unique decision to contemplate. He always loved football and certainly had the build to succeed. His father, Cleo, was a fourth round pick of the Denver Broncos in the 1971 NFL Draft.

The Cyclones were on the verge of something great in Dan McCarney’s sixth season (2000) at Iowa State and Johnson was interested in joining the team for his fifth-year of eligibility.

The Iowa State coaching staff, including current head coach Paul Rhoads, who was an assistant on McCarney’s staff then, had talked to Johnson numerous times about the possibility of joining the team.

“The coaches had always talked to me about playing football. Growing up, football was probably my best sport, but I didn’t play it when I got older because my dad played two years of professional ball and he got hurt so he encouraged us not to play,” Johnson said. “I started excelling at basketball, so I left football and baseball alone. I needed a couple more classes to graduate and Coach (Tony) Alford, who was the running backs coach, had been talking to me a little bit about it. He told me, ‘You can do it, you know?’ I didn’t even know about the fifth-year rule where I could play another sport. I thought about it and said, ‘Yeah, I want to give it a try.’”

Depth at any position is needed for football, especially when you have the talent of Johnson. Johnson jumped into spring drills immediately after basketball season ended. He made an auspicious debut, leading the team in tackles in the 2000 Spring Game.

Johnson enjoyed the transition to football.

“As far as the physical part, I could pretty much adjust,” Johnson said. “But it was night and day. I hadn’t played football since I was a freshman in high school. To come to the Big 12, you are playing the big boys. Everything was so fast for me. About midway through the season I started to pick up on things, and it got a lot easier for me. I look at it now, to be able to contribute to that team, it means the world to me. I still chat with a lot of those guys. They opened their arms to me. They could have shunned me out coming from basketball. They allowed me to come into their locker room and be a part of their team and that meant a lot to me.”

Johnson played in 10 games at linebacker in 2000, racking up 17 tackles. He had a career-high six tackles vs. Colorado.

The season was capped off by a 37-29 victory over Pittsburgh in the Insight.com Bowl, a game where Johnson saw action.

Stevie Johnson played in 10 games at linebacker on ISU's 2000 Insight.com Bowl squad.

Stevie Johnson played in 10 games at linebacker on ISU’s 2000 Insight.com Bowl squad.

As a key member of ISU’s greatest men’s basketball and football teams, I guess you could say Johnson’s legacy at Iowa State is firmly cemented.

“I don’t think much of it right now because I’m still playing,” Johnson said. “When I’m done I probably will. I was a part of an Elite Eight team and a Sweet 16 team in basketball, and then ISU’s first bowl win. And the people in Ames, they always treated me great. It was the best five years of my life.”

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Volleyball European Tour Day Ten – Discover Yourself

Radio Italia Live in the Milan city center Sunday afternoon.

Radio Italia Live in the Milan city center Sunday afternoon.

It hasn’t really hit me yet, and I don’t know if it has hit anyone else just yet, but it is over. Tomorrow morning we will get on a bus early in the morning, which has been the story for about half of our trip, but tomorrow’s early journey will be taking us to an airport as we begin our all-day journey back home, a place we last saw on May 22. The tour has been an incredible journey, and though there have been plenty of times where things have not gone exactly as planned, many of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today was a total free day for the Cyclones in the city center; we would go into town together and then be cut loose for seven hours. I did not join in on the team’s trip into town, as I got an earlier start so I could go to a Sunday church service. I ended up at San Marco (I was even able to find it), just north of the city center, for an Italian-spoken service. Fortunately my few days of being surrounded by Italian did not doom me too much. It was a great chance to find another beautiful church to visit in Milan without the chaos of tourism that I would inevitably run into later.

I then joined up with the team at Sforza Castle, one of Europe’s largest castles when it was built in the 15th century. This was the kind of castle that matches our “romantic” perspective of what castles are. It was surrounded by a moat (not filled with water for obvious reasons, but it had a lot of cats in them which was … odd), it has a massive courtyard inside, it had various fortresses for protection of specific areas and it had imposing towers that everyone associates with castles.

The entrance to Sforza Castle, as long as you can get past the moat (you can).

The entrance to Sforza Castle, as long as you can get past the moat (you can).

After we broke up, I immediately journeyed for the biggest attraction in Milan, the Duomo di Milano. An absolutely massive cathedral, the project to build the Duomo di Milano was originally commissioned in the 14th century, but not formally finished until 1965. I was just expecting to walk in, see a church crowded with tourists like I did in Prague and Vienna and be on my way, I was in for something much different.

The Milan Cathedral dominates the city center, even with rock concerts going on.

The Milan Cathedral dominates the city center, even with rock concerts going on.

When I entered a service was just starting, which was really odd to walk into a church that was surrounded by tourists on the outside parts and had a religious service on the inside. Anyway, I was walking around the outside like the other tourists and I looked up to the front and I could not believe what I saw. The service was being given by none other than Cardinal Angelo Scola, one of the most influential men in the Catholic Church. In the last two elections for the new Pope of the Catholic Church, Scola has been among the finalists. I went from tourist to churchgoer and took a seat for the experience. This was an old-fashioned service: spoken entirely in Latin, upwards of 10 ordained ministers taking part, pipe organ, all-male choir, etc. I knew some Latin from my studies during my time at Dowling Catholic High School so I was able to follow along a little, but the experience of being there was the almost surreal.

From there, it was just exploring what Milan had to offer. As most people know, I am not much of a shopper, so I was not giving back to the city center economy much. However, the people watching of was my involvement. The most notable shopping experience of Milan is the “Golden Triangle”. Inside this three-block area are the biggest brands of Italy and the world at their most expensive: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Giorgio Armani, etc. If you judge your books by the cover, this is what you want them dressed in. I stayed away, but people’s curiosity is as interesting to me as the latest in fashion (I had a professor at TCU who once described my fashion sense as “predictable”. She was doing it to make a point, but there are worse things that can be said about a person).

Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton. Be ready to spend.

Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton. Be ready to spend.

Once we reassembled as a team, we enjoyed our “Last Supper” (a bad reference to da Vinci’s world famous painting located in Milan that you have to buy tickets to see up to five months(!) in advance) at Fresco and Cimmino. We then went for gelato as a team at Riva Reno before returning to our hotel.

Because this is our final blog, we want to put out some thank you notes to people during the trip who have been very important to our journey. The first, and most important, one goes to our tour guide who was with us every step of the way, Heni. She was extremely busy, balancing her responsibilities with the Hungarian National Teams (both men’s and women’s) and helping manage our trip all while being away from her two children. Heni got along with our players greatly and always worked to keep their best interests. It is going to be weird waking up tomorrow and not having Heni there to show us around and what we have to do.

Thanks to Tim, who has been with us off and no during our journeys through Italy. Tim has played an important role in planning and managing many teams’ trips who are currently in Europe, including Cal, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. He has had a great handle on the Italy leg of our trip, which was the one area Heni was not as familiar with coming into it and he also helped arrange our one match in Italy after some last-minute changes. On that note, thanks to Christina, who was with us for that match in Tim’s place and was incredibly supportive.

Back in Slovenia, thanks to Cory for showing us all the wonderful things Maribor has to offer. It would be a challenge for any other first-timer in Maribor to arrange all the cool things we got to do and we were very fortunate to have Cory on our side. He helped us get the very most out of a place that did not excite many on paper.

Heading all the way back to Prague and the Czech Republic, thanks to Jirka. His knowledge of Prague was amazing and he knew all there was to know. He played an important role in helping arrange and manage our matches there, and he made sure we saw all the sites that Prague had to offer.

Thanks to all of our bus drivers who have had to navigate the tight European streets and highways to get us where we needed to be. Special shout out to the one driver who got Jon Newman-Gonchar his neck pillow back, he would have never lived it down (and he probably still won’t). Thanks to all the teams who came to play us, some on very late notice, we hope you enjoy your Iowa State volleyball shirts! Thanks to all the restaurants who dealt with us Americans in a very polite and respectful manner, especially when there was a communication barrier.

There are probably many, many more we have forgotten to thank, but we are all indebted to those who have helped make this trip a success.

We head back home tomorrow. If all goes as planned (/knocks on all the wood of the planet), we will be back in Ames before midnight tomorrow, or just after. From there, the team will have some time off before June 16, when the June semester of summer school kicks off.

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