Catching Up With Chelsea Poppens

We caught up with Chelsea Poppens, who was recently playing professional basketball in Puerto Rico. Poppens rode out hurricanes Irma and Maria and recently made it back to Florida, where she is finishing up her online MBA program with the University of Florida. We talked about Puerto Rico and the hurricanes and got a rundown of what she has been up to since she signed her first overseas contract in 2013 with the Melbourne Boomers. 

How did you end up in Puerto Rico?

My agent last year got me set up with a Puerto Rican team, but I was only there for 48 hours before I tore my ACL.  They liked me enough as a person and as a player that they said, ‘When you get healthy, we would love to have you back.’  So I ended up going back there this year because of the short season since I’m currently doing my MBA program. I have finals in December and I have to be around for that.  So I went back and I was just as unlucky. The season hadn’t even started, because Irma came five days after being there and then after a week or so we were able to have two games and then Maria hit and the season was obviously cancelled.

How did you make the decision to stay in Puerto Rico for both Irma and Maria?

For Irma, people wanted me to leave, but everyone on the island was very casual about it because we weren’t supposed to get hit directly.  They were like, “Yeah, you can just stay in your homes.  You don’t need to go to a shelter.  The houses in our area are built for hurricanes and made out of cement.”  We were kind of nervous and didn’t really understand why everyone was super casual about it.  But for Maria, I definitely considering leaving, but my teammates wasn’t, so I didn’t want to leave her there alone to go through it all.  I could have gotten out the day before it hit, but it was better for a lot of aspects to stay there with her.

How was it riding out hurricane Maria?

We stocked up on water, batteries, candles, and made sure we had food.  During the hurricane, we lit candles, read a lot of books, played some music and just rode it out.  Irma was only four hours of the winds and everything, but Maria was 20 hours.  It was a very long day.  It went from 4 a.m. Wednesday morning to late in the evening.  It was rain and wind forever.

What was the aftermath like? We all saw the news reports, but what was it like being there?

I’ve been down there this entire past month.  Five days into it, Irma hit and that took out the power for a little less than a week.  There was a little bit of destruction, but nothing compared to what Maria did.  So two weeks after Irma, Maria hit and pretty much wiped out everything.  Power and cell service were out.  We still had water, thankfully, but a lot of people around us didn’t have water.  There was some flooding that went down after a few days.  We stayed in our house for a few days after because we couldn’t leave and then we went out and ventured and it was chaos everywhere.  People trying to stock up on water after seeing how bad it is, just trying to get situated because they know the power is going to be out for the next few months and they don’t know when they are going to get water back.  They don’t know when or where their next paycheck is going to come from.  They have families to take care of.  It was mass chaos.

Now that you’re back in Florida, what are your plans for the future?

This week is my get-my-life-situated week, because I’ve been cut off from the world for a month.  I need to play catch up on my schoolwork.  I’ve also been talking to journalists and reporters from back home.  Hallie Christofferson is helping design a T-shirt that I can put up on my blog for people to purchase in order to help people affected by the hurricane in Puerto Rico.  I’m just trying to help people back there while being here.  I’m still figuring out if I’m going over to Europe to play. My agent is still searching for teams, but I do have my finals in December that I’ll have to work around or work with them in order to accomplish playing again.

T-Shirt purchase links:

https://www.bonfire.com/unidos-por-el-787-1-1/

https://www.bonfire.com/unidos-por-el-787-2-1/

 

The last time we talked for a Cyclone Sidebar was 2013 during your season with the Boomers. Do you want to give a quick rundown of what you’ve been up to since?

I tore my ACL with the Boomers at the end of their season. I rehabbed in Ames all summer and then I went to Poland and had to come back early at the end of December because I had micro-fracture surgery on my knee (the same knee).  And then I rehabbed again and then I went to Switzerland, had a healthy season and we won the championship.  Then I enjoyed the summer and I went to Puerto Rico and tore my ACL again.  I rehabbed that this past year while working and doing my MBA.  I was working in medical imaging equipment sales for the past year.

 

After so many season-ending injuries, you still keep rehabbing and continuing to play basketball. What is it that keeps you going?

I just play it by ear honestly nowadays.  My plans never work out as planned, obviously.  I enjoy playing basketball and as long as my body actually feels good, I’ll try to keep doing it and get into what makes me happy.  To get paid to do something you love is a rare thing.  I enjoy it, and I enjoy the people I meet playing along the way.  I know I have lots of options, especially with my MBA and other job opportunities.  I’ll just keep playing it by ear, whatever feels right.

I saw you were in the Ivory Coast recently. What were you doing there?

“I went to the Ivory Coast with Athletes in Action, which is a Cru affiliated organization.  It was basketball and church.  We ran clinics, held youth clinics, coaching clinics, and played some games against the national team there.  We provided some humanitarian aid to some of the people in the Abidjan area.  We got to experience and interact with people there firsthand.  It was nice, because I know how to speak French, so I was able to actually communicate with some of the people there. 

How did you get Involved with Athletes in Action?

“One of my friends had done it with volleyball and I’ve always wanted to go on a mission trip. It’s always been on my bucket list.  This was the first time I didn’t have basketball interfering with it.  It was a good way to test my knee after rehabbing all this time.  It just worked out perfectly.  They reached out to me after I barely started the application and it just went from there.  I said, ‘Okay, why not?’  Honestly, everything went so smoothly with the fundraising to support me going.  I enjoy it and being on that, I would definitely try to help Puerto Rico and try to help them rebuild and go on some kind of mission trip there if possible.

Since leaving Ames, Iowa, Poppens has traveled and played in Australia, Poland, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, Puerto Rico and China. Below are a few additional photos of her travels. 

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Catching Up With Cyclone Great Angie Welle

I sat down with Cyclone great Angie Welle to talk about her time at Iowa State and upcoming induction in the Athletics Hall of Fame. Welle still holds six career records at Iowa State including the most points (2,149) and most rebounds (1,209). 

Can you tell me a little about your recruitment process and how you landed at Iowa State?

“Coach Fennelly and his staff; Coach Frese at the time, I felt like they really wanted me. This wasn’t just sending out a token letter. I was getting handwritten letters in the mail, they were coming to volleyball and they would come during blizzards. I felt like they really wanted me to come, and that’s what separated them early on from the rest of the schools, which in the end that’s a huge part of why I came. That makes sense because they have such a family atmosphere here.

What other schools were you looking into at the time?

When I think of who I was narrowing it down to, looking at Iowa State, Penn State, Iowa, Georgia and Creighton were the last five I narrowed it down to.

What about Coach Fennelly made you really want to play for him?

He was very relatable and personable, and he had those unique touches that made my parents and I comfortable. He just seemed to really care about me, so that’s what is so unique about him.

What was your most memorable game as a Cyclone?

There could be a long list of them. It could be when we beat Connecticut, and how we were all racing to the payphone to tell our parents. We beat Oklahoma at Hilton when they were No. 1 in the nation. Above all is the Big 12 Tournament. I can’t pick a game or a year, it was just the dynamic of how it was set up when we played there. We were there, the men were there, and we were good and the men were good. Everybody came because both teams were winning championships. We looked forward to getting to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament every year.

What is your relationship like with all of your former teammates?

I always am so grateful to Coach Fennelly. He brought us all together, kind of by chance, and now I have these lifelong friends through basketball. We keep in touch. We are all kind of scattered. Some are in Minneapolis, Iowa and Texas. Thank God for social media, because we can all stay in touch that way.

How does it feel to be strongly regarded as the best women’s basketball player?

I’m going to tell the players the same things former alumni told us; it goes so fast, but you never think about the position I’m in today. When you’re playing, you do what you do and you try really hard, try to help your team out. That’s just what I did, and we won a lot of games, but you don’t think something like this is going to happen; where players are going to remember you for what our team did and how I helped that. I’m totally overwhelmed as you can tell, but it brings back a lot of pride having played for Iowa State.

What does it mean to be officially inducted into Iowa State’s Hall of Fame?

Well I joke and say it’s a sign of old age because you have to be so far out of college to receive an honor like this, but I am excited to have this whole weekend at Iowa State. I have 20 family members coming from Fargo. I thought it was just going to be my husband, Lily and Fletcher, and the four of us were going to come for the weekend. We would do our thing and make memories, but now I have this whole crew of family coming to celebrate, which I am most excited about.

Do you keep in touch with the coaches?

I do. Coach Fennelly probably the most, because he is kind of the patriarch of the bunch. I follow Coach Frese dearly. Coach Pingeton is at Missouri now. I thank God for social media because we can stay in contact. Coach Abrahamson-Henderson, Coach Harris is still here, which I love. She beat the heck out of me for four years. It’s fun to stay in contact and watch the successes of the assistant coaches who are now head coaches with their own programs.

What would you say to someone considering playing for Coach Fennelly?

There is something just so unique about him. He wears so many hats, that when you play for Coach Fennelly, you feel like you really want to. Sometimes he wears the dad hat, the coach hat or the friend hat. I don’t think you get that a lot of places. I think that some other coaches just want you to come there and be a great basketball player for them, but I never felt like Coach Fennelly treated any of his athletes as just a coach. I remember my car breaking down during a snowstorm and the highway was closed. I called him and cried to him like I would’ve called my dad. I think that is the most unique thing about him.

Are there any other fond memories about your time at Iowa State?

It’s funny to think about the stories during basketball. We left a manager at a truck stop after a bathroom break. A plane broke down and we had to bus to Oklahoma in one night. We scored nine points in one half against Texas Tech one night. It’s funny how you don’t remember these amazing games that well, but you these silly little details stick with you, which Coach Fennelly warned us about.

 

Rapid Fire Questions:

Favorite Coach Fennelly saying – Irregardless

Favorite road trip location – Kansas City

Favorite part of traveling with team – Denise picking awesome places to feed us.

Favorite restaurant in Ames – Hickory Park/Wallabys

Favorite class at ISU – Student Teaching

Funniest locker room personality – Desiree Francis

Other sport than basketball – Gymnastics, but not realistic. Volleyball more so.

Best player you played against – Post player from Baylor

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Stewart Ends 60-Year Service With ISU Athletics

Bill Stewart

It all started in 1958 with a phone call to Dr. Harold Nichols, one of the most legendary figures in Iowa State athletics history.

That was the year that Bill Stewart, a 29-year-old, who was employed at the Iowa State Highway Commission while working on his civil engineering degree at Iowa State, asked Nichols if he needed help on the scoring bench at Cyclone home wrestling matches in the Armory.

When Nichols said yes, it started a memorable, 60-year service for Stewart assisting at various Iowa State athletics events in a multitude of roles.

Now 88 years old, Stewart is calling it quits, walking away from the front row seat where he witnessed so many historical Cyclone moments.

Stewart’s incredible journey almost didn’t happen.

“I made the mistake of calling him Dr. Nichols,” Stewart laughed. “He stopped me and said, ‘No, call me Nick.’”

Nichols gave Stewart the assignment as official scorer/timer for wrestling matches. It’s a meticulous job requiring focus and concentration. It also helps if you have a passion for wrestling, something Stewart developed during his time as an undergraduate at Iowa State.

Stewart met Olympic Gold medalist and Iowa State national champion Glen Brand at the 1948 Olympic Trials at State Gym. Stewart talked with Brand often as he started working at wrestling meets, further piquing his interest in the sport.

“When I first came to school, I really didn’t know much about college sports,” Stewart said. “I had never been to anything more than a high school game when I graduated from Leon High School in 1947. I started helping out at wrestling matches and I met Glen Brand, who was one of the greatest wrestlers in Iowa State history.”

What Stewart didn’t know at the time was he was on the verge of watching a wrestling program become a dynasty under Nichols.

By 1965, the Cyclones won the first of their six NCAA titles under the Hall-of-Fame coach. Stewart still reflects fondly on the man that touched so many lives in his 32-year (1954-85) career with the Cyclones.

“He (Nichols) was a great man,” Stewart said. “He could analyze and he knew who he could push or who needed pushing. That’s what great coaches do.”

Word started spreading of Stewart’s excellent work on the scoring bench and he was offered the opportunity to assist at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. Beginning in 1959, Stewart attended 47 NCAA Wrestling Championships in his career, including a string of 44-straight from 1970-2013.

Stewart called in reports to Iowa media and worked 15 tournaments as an official scorer.

Stewart was a spectator at one of the most famous wrestling matches ever in 1970. The NCAA Tournament was held at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Iowa State legend Dan Gable was aiming to cap off another national championship season with an unblemished record.

Over 9,000 fans crammed into McGaw Hall to watch Gable take on an underdog from the University of Washington named Larry Owings in the 142-pound title match.

Nobody thought Gable could be beat, including Stewart, who watched Gable routinely destroy opponents throughout his Cyclone career.

Stewart noticed early on that this wasn’t going to be a typical Gable match.

“Gable was the prohibitive favorite, so a lot of the crowd was rooting for Owings,” Stewart remembered. “When people started to realize that Gable was going to lose, then it got a little quiet. We all sensed we were witnessing history, you know? After the match ended, everyone stood up to give Gable a round of applause, except one person. He was the Michigan State coach, and he was right across the aisle from me. I never liked him after that.”

Stewart rubbed elbows with all of the Cyclone wrestling greats. One of his all-time favorites was Chris Taylor, the 400-pound, heavyweight behemoth who thrilled Iowa State fans with his personality and quick pins from 1972-73.

“Chris was a sensational wrestler and a very kind person,” Stewart said. “I ran into him at the 1972 NCAA Championships in Maryland and I asked him if I could see if I could lock my arms around him. I’m not a very big guy, but I thought I could reach around his chest, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get my arms around his middle, that’s how big he was.”

As the years flew by, Stewart was eager to begin helping out at other Iowa State sporting events. In 1976, he started working as a scorer at home men’s basketball games in Hilton Coliseum.

Stewart calculates he’s maybe missed one or two home basketball games in the last 41 years.

During this time, Stewart saw the birth of “Hilton Magic” under the colorful Johnny Orr.

“Orr was a character, as you know,” Stewart said. “Anything that came out of his mouth was funny. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

As the official scorer at basketball games, Stewart wore the familiar striped shirt that referees don on the bench.

One time an Iowa State student told him after a game what a poor job he had done in the game. Stewart responded, “Wait a minute, I live here in Ames.” He later sent an apology, which Stewart very much appreciated.

Stewart’s job at basketball games was a little more high profile, and a little more stressful. With games on television and over 14,000 fans in attendance, one minor mistake was more noticeable, and could potentially figure into the outcome of the game.

Stewart had his fair share of moments with coaches in his 40 years on the bench.

One incident stands out over the others.

At the end of the famous Iowa State-Iowa men’s basketball game in 1987, the one where Lafester Rhodes scored a school-record 54 points in a 102-100 overtime ISU victory, there was an altercation after the game between Orr and Iowa assistant Gary Close.

The spat was over the game clock, and Stewart was caught in the middle.

“Very close to the end of the game the ball went out of bounds on the sideline,” Stewart recollected. “It’s the timer’s job to wait for the official to blow the whistle before you stop the clock, but the official couldn’t see it right away, so he was a little late. You have to wait for the official’s signal to stop the clock. The coaches from Iowa complained that we rigged the clock, which wasn’t the case.”

Two months later, Norm Stewart (no relation) and the Missouri Tigers rolled into town to play the Cyclones.

During warmups, Norm Stewart walked over to the scoring bench and approached Bill with a postcard. “Here you go. This doesn’t do me any good,” Stewart said.

The letter was addressed to Norm Stewart and it read:

When your team plays at Ames, watch the timekeeper. If the game is close and Iowa State is ahead, he will run the clock. He did it against Iowa and Kansas.

             -A Hawkeye Fan

Stewart still has the card as a keepsake. More than anything, it reminds him of the difficult job officials have in a game. He’s grown to appreciate the men in stripes over the years.

“My daughter complimented me one day by saying, ‘You’ve taught me a lot about the referees and how they are working as well as they can in whatever sport it is.’”

The decision to step away after 60 years was tough for Bill. He doesn’t move around as well as he used to, and getting up and down Hilton Coliseum grew to be tiresome.

After talking it over with this family, it was time.

Iowa State Director of Facilities and Events Brian Honnold has been dreading this day for a while.

Honnold has worked in the Iowa State Athletics Department for over 10 years and having someone with experience and wisdom like Stewart on the bench is immeasurable.

“Bill is the epitome of Iowa State,” Honnold said. “He has worked his tail off for any event we asked him to be at, whether it was wrestling, basketball or football, the guy did everything for us. This was his decision, because we would love to have him back. We will miss him quite a bit. He has so much knowledge and everybody has always relied on him. He just knew how to do everything and it certainly won’t be the same without him.”

Thank you Dr. Nichols, I mean Nick, for answering that phone call in 1958.

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Catching Up With Camber

Sophomore forward Adriana Camber spent the summer in Sweden competing for Sweden’s U20 team. Camber took some time to talk about her summer abroad and her upcoming season at Iowa State.

How did you first get into playing  with Sweden basketball?

In Sweden when you’re under 15, you play for your region, so I was region South. Then we play a tournament against the other regions, and from that they pick the 15 best players and you go to your first camp, and that’s how you get involved. The first championship for me was the U16 European Championship, and then I kept playing for the U17, U18, U19, and U20 teams in Sweden.

 How was playing for the U20 team this summer?

It was good and we had a young team. That was the first time I played with kids who were born in 1998. I was born in 1997. It was new for me, and it was a completely new coach, but I think we did decent. We had a hard group and some tough games, but we did well. You also play seven games in 10 days, so it’s kind of intense. You can play three games, then rest one day, then play three games, rest one day. I was gone from about the end of May to the middle of July. And you go back and forth. You go back home for two days, then you go to another camp, and then more preparations and stuff like that.

 Where did you travel for the U20 tournaments?

We went to Portugal. That was the European Championship. That was my third time playing there. It was the same hotel, the exact same rooms, so that wasn’t that new, but they do a great job of getting everything together. And Portugal is really beautiful. Then this year we went to Berlin, as well, for a tournament, and we had a tournament in Stockholm, Sweden, too.

What was your role on the team this summer?

I was kind of the go-to player. It was me and another girl, a taller girl. And I knew that coming into the summer, and that was a good transition for me to get prepared for this year here at Iowa State, because last year I didn’t play that much. This year I have to step it up. It’s my sophomore year. There are more expectations on me, so I think it was good to go back home, get some more confidence and just be able to do what I do.

 Did you do anything else over the summer?

I went to see my family. I’m originally from Croatia, so I went there for like three weeks, and that was real nice to see everybody. Then I went to Spain with my sister over a weekend, just to hang out with her.

 What things did you work to improve on this summer and what goals do you have personally for the upcoming season?

Definitely getting my confidence back, and just knowing what type of player I am. I think I kind of stepped away from that last year. Just believe in myself, shoot the ball, be aggressive, and play good defense. I did a lot of work on finishing through contact. I worked on that a lot back home. One of my goals is definitely to play more, and be more of a leader. We are a young team this year with only two seniors, so the rest of us have to take a bigger responsibility. We lost a lot of great players, but I don’t doubt that we can fill those spots up like a good team. But definitely score the ball more, and be aggressive all the time, and I know that I need to shoot the ball.

 What has the transition been for you looking back, coming from Sweden to Ames?

I definitely miss Sweden, I’m not going to lie, but I’m getting more used to the culture and everything. Basketball is starting to come together. I understand Coach Fennelly and what he wants from us, and how we work as a team. Just all of our responsibilities, it’s definitely hard being a student-athlete, with a lot of school and not a lot of time to do your homework. I’m also still struggling with the food. I miss the European food, but I’m getting there.

 What was your recruiting process like? And what made you want to come to Iowa State?

I started talking to coach Billy (Fennelly) in the middle of May I think, coming into my senior year of high school. It kind of went pretty fast, because my coach back home knew Coach Billy. I liked what I heard from them, so my mom and I came here for a visit, and I just fell in love with the place. Hearing everything about the fans, seeing Hilton, walking on campus, meeting my teammates, everything just felt like home, and that was very important for me. Since I’m so far away from home I wanted to find a place where I felt safe, I have people I can talk to and people care about me. That’s definitely something you get here at Iowa State, so that was the biggest factor for me.

 What do you see as your role on the team this year?

Definitely to be a scorer. We need someone to score. As I said, there are a lot of minutes that we need to fill up from last year, and I feel like I can be one of those players that’s going to be kind of the joker. I came in and saw some minutes last year, and people didn’t really know who I was, and I feel like it’s going to be like that at the beginning of this year too, so definitely take advantage of that and look to be aggressive and score.

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Five Things Worth Noting On Big 12 MBB Schedule

The 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule is now known, with the exception of a few times and TV networks. A full double round-robin Big 12 slate for the seventh consecutive season means no dodging a top opponent. You get your shot at everyone, both home and on the road. Gone are the days of the Kevin Durants of the world not visiting Hilton Coliseum. It is part of what makes the Big 12 Conference the nation’s premier basketball league, as evidenced by ranking first in conference RPI in three of the last four seasons.

Since the Big 12 went to the 18-game conference slate, Iowa State has won at least 10 league games each season. The Cyclones will aim to do so again.

Below are five things worth noting about the Iowa State’s Big 12 schedule.

Early Opener: The December 29 Big 12 opener against Kansas State will be the earliest conference opener in school history. This will be just the second time since the creation of the Big 12 that the Cyclones and Wildcats have played in the opening game, the other being a 72-70 Iowa State win at Hilton Coliseum in 2006.

Getting Off To A Good Start: Steve Prohm is 5-1 in conference season openers as a head coach dating back to his time at Murray State. The only loss was a four-point setback at third-ranked Oklahoma in his first season at Iowa State. Iowa State hasn’t opened the Big 12 season at home and lost since January of 2010.

Home Sweet Home: For the first time since the 2005-06 season, Iowa State will open conference action with two home games. Coincidentally, Iowa State opened that season with Kansas State and Texas at home as well and started 1-1. The two home games to start conference play could help a Cyclone squad that returns just four players that dressed a year ago.

A Familiar Foe: Iowa State will hold its Senior Night on February 27, and for the fifth time in the last six seasons, Oklahoma State will be the opponent on the emotionally charged evening. Iowa State is 4-0 in those games, but they certainly haven’t come easy with the Cyclones winning by an average of 4.5 points.

Iowa State will also look to run its win streak against the Cowboys to 11 games, matching the school record for consecutive wins against a conference opponent (also Oklahoma State from 1966-70). But don’t let the streak fool you, this has been one of the most competitive series on ISU’s schedule of late with those 10 games being decided by an average of 5.8 points and including a triple-OT and single-OT game, as well as multiple buzzer beaters.

Finish Strong: The old adage is that you want to be playing your best down the stretch of the season and that was certainly the case for last year’s Cyclone squad as it went 7-1 in February. In fact, since the 2013-14 season, ISU is 23-10 in February games. This season, Iowa State will open with a pair of road games at Baylor and Texas Tech before coming home for three of the next four. February could again prove to be a vital month for the Cyclones.

To get a look at the entire schedule, click here.

Mobile wallpapers:

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Jackson, Weiler-Babb Ready To Lead

AMES, Iowa – In 2016-17, when Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm needed to settle down his team he would look to Monté Morris. Or Nazareth Mitrou-Long. Or Matt Thomas. Or Deonte Burton.

The 2017-18 season will have a different feel to it for Prohm. Gone are 330 games of experience from the aforementioned players. He’ll instead look towards a court that features just 109 games of experience returning. TOTAL.

Among the players he’ll look to as leaders are senior Donovan Jackson and redshirt junior Nick Weiler-Babb, who recently attended the Athletes In Action Basketball Captains Academy in Xenia, Ohio.

The AIA Captains Academy’s purpose is to help college basketball programs grow their student-athlete leaders.

For Jackson and Weiler-Babb it was a life-changing experience.

Among the activities that the duo participated in were team-building exercises that built trust and taught the student-athletes about opening up to others. They also heard from speakers, which included author Tim Kight and college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg.

For Weiler-Babb, among the number of things that he took away was a message from Kight.

“He told us about a formula, E+R=0, which is the event plus your response equals the outcome,” Weiler-Babb said. “You just have to realize that no matter what event was thrown at you, it is your response to that situation that determines the outcome. That is something that can be used in so many different areas of your life, including on the court.”

Jackson reflected on day two of the four-day leadership camp.

“We were doing a high ropes course where you had a partner and the main key was developing a trust in your partner that he will encourage you and be there for you,” Jackson said. “I’m the senior on this team, I’m the head guy right now and the one I want them to look to for leadership. I’m trying to lead these guys and I want everybody to trust me and I’m going to trust in them.”

Jackson knows that trust can be gained if he leads by example.

“You have to have the work ethic, you have to be relentless in a lot of areas,” the Milwaukee, Wisconsin native said. “You want your guys to look up to you. If you are slacking off, they aren’t going to see you as a leader.”

Weiler-Babb also spoke of building trust with a team that includes just four returning players from last year’s NCAA Tournament and Big 12 Championship team.

“Donovan and I have talked about how we can use what we learned to help this year’s team,” said Weiler-Babb, a native of Arlington, Texas. “Maybe it is getting the guys together and opening up, letting everyone know your life story so that everything is on the table. With so many new guys, you maybe don’t really know everything about your teammates that you should at this point. If that is the case, how do you really trust them or how do they trust you? We need to build that trust if we want to achieve our goals.”

The current edition of Cyclone basketball will certainly need new leadership on the court this season, and Jackson and Weiler-Babb feel more ready than ever to steer the ship after attending the academy.

“It was a blessing that Nick and I were allowed to attend this camp,” Jackson said. “I learned a lot of important things that I can apply to not only basketball, but to my everyday life.”

Weiler-Babb echoed his thoughts, even if there was a time he was hesitant about attending.

“I’ve got to admit that I didn’t really want to go to the event at first,” Weiler-Babb said. “We arrived there and we threw ourselves into it and wanted to get the most out of it that we could. You start to realize how you can take this and use it for your team and in your life. I’m grateful to the administration for allowing us to do this. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We know that if we want to have a good season, Donovan and I need to take some of the things we learned and put them into play to build this team together.”

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Cyclone Stars From The 1940s Highlight Reunion

Gordon-Block

AMES, Iowa – This past weekend, Iowa State men’s basketball letterwinners spanning nine decades congregated to Ames to reminisce with teammates/friends/colleagues at the Cyclone Basketball Alumni Reunion.

The event was organized by head coach Steve Prohm and Assistant Athletics Director for Special Events/Letterwinners Club Lindsey Long. The duo spent hours on the phone calling former players to personally welcome them back to Ames.

Prohm is keenly aware of the importance of keeping former Cyclone stars connected to the program. The concept of an alumni reunion was something he envisioned when he took over the reins of Cyclone men’s hoops in 2015.

“We have great tradition here at Iowa State,” Prohm said. “It’s so important for our staff and athletics department to pay tribute to our former players, just to let them know how much we appreciate them.”

The turnout was amazing, with 90 alumni attending the social/dinner Friday evening and the Johnny Orr Basketball Alumni Golf Classic on Saturday.

Many of the letterwinners who returned are among Cyclone Royalty, which this list below affirms.

11– 1,000-point scorers

5– Players who played in the NBA for 27 years of experience

4– Iowa State Hall-of-Famers (Gary Thompson, Zaid Abdul-Aziz, Fred Hoiberg, Andrew Parker)

4– Academic All-Americans (Fred Hoiberg, Julius Michalik, Paul Shirley, Jake Sullivan)

3– Players whose jersey number is retired and hangs in the Hilton Coliseum rafters (Gary Thompson, Zaid Abdul-Aziz, Fred Hoiberg)

Virtually all of the greatest teams in school history had representatives at the reunion, which included at least one member of 12 of ISU’s 13 conference championship teams (regular season & tournament).

However, maybe the most astounding note of the weekend was there was at least one representative from all 20 of Iowa State’s NCAA postseason squads.

This was possible because Fred Gordon, a starter on ISU’s 1941 Big Six champion and NCAA District Qualifier team, and Bill Block, a starter on ISU’s 1944 NCAA Final Four and 1944-45 Big Six champion squads, were back in Ames over the weekend.

Gordon, at 99 years old, is one of ISU’s oldest living basketball alumni. He was 23 years old in 1941 when the Cyclones made history by defeating Phog Allen’s Kansas team, 41-29 in State Gymnasium to clinch just the second conference title in school history.

Harris Bob and Gordon Fred 1938

Fred Gordon, pictured on the right, was a starter on Iowa State’s 1941 Big Six Championship and NCAA District Qualifier team.

Hilton Magic wasn’t born yet, but there was plenty of “Magic” inside the tight corridors of State Gym that night. Gordon was ISU’s defensive specialist, and his assignment was to guard KU’s star guard Howard Engleman, who was the second Consensus All-American in the school’s storied history.

Engleman came into the game boasting a 16.5 ppg scoring average, an astronomical clip for its time. Gordon did his part, holding the All-American to a mere five points.

“I remember Coach Menze telling me I was going to have to guard Engleman,” Gordon recollected. “The year before, Kansas made the national championship game, and he was a really good basketball player. But on that particular night, competing for the conference championship, I scored seven points and Engleman scored five. In other words, I outscored their best player, and I wasn’t one of our top offensive players. I guarded him tough that night, and we came out fine.”

Maybe the Cyclones didn’t celebrate the championship like the 2017 squad did in Kansas City last March, but they certainly understood the significance of the win.

“Oh, we celebrated like everybody else does,” Gordon said. “We were giving each other hugs and patting each other on the back. It was a big deal. The only time that Iowa State, to my knowledge, had won a conference title at the time was in 1935 with Waldo Wegner. So it was a big deal for us and the school.”

1941 starting five

Iowa State’s 1940-41 starting five. Gordon is on the far right.

The 1941 Cyclones had plenty of talent. Gordon teamed with Al Budolfson, who was a two-time first-team All-Big Six selection and later an ISU Hall of Fame inductee.

“He was a real competitor, and really quick,” Gordon said about his teammate. “He was tall for those times and very quick, and very, very determined. He was our star, so if you did something wrong, he would let you know about it. The whole team was determined that year.”

The NCAA Tournament was only in its third year of existence, and by winning the league title, the Cyclones were invited to play in the Fifth District NCAA Qualifying game, the first time a Cyclone team was selected for postseason competition.

Two weeks after the big win over KU, the Cyclones traveled to Kansas City to face Creighton for a chance to play in the eight-team NCAA Championship.

The Cyclones lost to Creighton, 57-48, but Gordon, who scored six points in the contest, can still remember that historic game in ISU hoops history.

“Creighton was a good team and some of us got the feeling Al (Budolfson) didn’t want to play in that game,” Gordon said. “Neither did Nick (Gordon Nicholas), but I was excited for it. I don’t think we were ready to play, but Creighton was probably the better team.”

Gordon, who graduated from St. Ansgar High School, will forever be a Cyclone. Fans will remember Gordon at the age of 90 playing in the Iowa State Century Celebration basketball game in 2008.

He scored the first basket of the game, with an assist from a ladder.

“It wasn’t as exciting as it was funny,” Gordon laughed. “One of the coaches stopped the game and he cleared everybody off of the floor except me. He came to me and said, ‘Now Freddie, you’re going to get a chance to score. Those guys are going to stay off the sideline and all you have to do is dribble down and make a layup.’ Well, I dribbled down and missed the damn thing. I was wide open, but I grabbed the ball and thought, ‘I’ll get it this time and make up for my error.’ I missed it again. I shot four times and missed them all. Finally, they bring out a step ladder and I got one to go in.”

Fred Gordon-NU

Fred Gordon celebrates scoring the first bucket at the 2008 Iowa State Century Celebration basketball game at the age of 90.

The 1944 Iowa State NCAA Final Four team is, without a doubt, one of the greatest units in the history of Cyclone basketball, and Block, who is 92 years old, was a key player in their success.

The Cyclones recorded a 14-4 overall record and a 9-1 league mark in 1944, claiming a share of the Big Six crown and earning ISU’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

It was a tumultuous time in the United States in 1944, as war was ravaging in Europe and the Pacific. The majority of the young males in the U.S. were serving their country and it was no exception at Iowa State, where enrollment dropped significantly.

Because of its strong engineering programs, ISU was one of several schools that offered Naval training programs. The Navel cadets could train under ISU’s V-5 and V-12 engineering curriculum and be eligible to participate in athletics for the Cyclones regardless of age or previous college graduation.

Block, a native of Muscatine, was among the Navy cadets, as well as one of the most colorful characters on the 1944 Cyclone team, a guy named Price Brookfield. At 23 years old and eligible as a V-5 cadet, Brookfield had already graduated from college, earning All-America honors at West Texas State.

Block remembers Brookfield being a man among boys.

“He was probably the best basketball player I had ever seen at the time and a really nice guy,” Block said.

Block, Bill-1940s

Bill Block in his playing days at Iowa State (1944-47).

How the Cyclones made the NCAA Tournament in 1944 is a fascinating story. Because many members of the team were involved with Naval responsibilities, it looked like Iowa State couldn’t participate because the cadets couldn’t be away from their base longer than 48 hours.

The Cyclones eventually got permission to go, and was one of eight teams to make the NCAA Tournament.

“Well, we thought we were pretty good,” Block said. “It was really exciting to go and play for the whole thing in ‘44.”

With an NCAA bid secured, the Cyclones traveled to Kansas City to face Pepperdine in the Western Regional Championship. Pepperdine was a fast-paced, high-scoring team for its time, but the Cyclones put the clamps down, holding the Waves to a season-low 39 points in a 44-39 triumph.

Pepperdine was led by 6-7 All-American Nick Buzolich, who had 22 of the team’s 39 points. Even though Buzolich proved his mettle in the paint, ISU head coach Louis Menze felt the Cyclones were far superior in the backcourt and could win that battle.

“Pepperdine had a player named Nick Buzolich, who seemed like he was like 8-foot tall,” Block remembered. “We weren’t used to playing against someone that size. We just felt we could beat them by running, and we did.”

Utah was ISU’s next opponent, as the Cyclones were now a win away from the national championship game.

ISU was again confident heading into the matchup with the Utes. Utah first accepted a bid in the NIT, and after bowing in the first round, added a NCAA invitation when Arkansas had to decline when two players suffered injuries and a staffer was killed in an automobile accident.

ISU’s luck ran out vs. Utah, falling 40-31, as Block chipped in with five points in the loss.

Block remembers the Cyclones being plagued by foul trouble and having one of their worst performances of the season.

“I remember our coach Louis Menze said, ‘You know those big tall slim guys from Utah? We’ll just cut their legs off of them.’ As it turned out that’s what they did to us. They had two good guards in (Arnie) Ferrin and (Wat) Misaka. I remember we had the lead in the second half. Then I fouled out and Ray Wehde fouled out. Next was our star player Brookfield, who also fouled out.”

If the Cyclones had any chance to beat Utah, they had to have Brookfield at the top of his game. It didn’t happen, as Brookfield fouled out with six points on 3-of-17 shooting.

“He (Brookfield) was thinking more about going out the night before,” Block remembered. “He had his dress uniform on, and we didn’t see him after the Pepperdine game. Coach Menze came to supper and said, ‘Where’s Brooky?’ He was completely gone, nowhere to be found. He shot 14 times in the second half and didn’t make a point. He was our star, and we felt he kind of let us down a little bit.”

Another issue arose before the game that probably led to ISU’s poor performance. The team was alerted they were required to return home after the game, meaning win-or-lose, the Cyclones wouldn’t be able to play in the national championship game because the Navy was going to enforce its 48-hour rule.

“After we beat Pepperdine, we got word since we were in the Navy, we couldn’t go to New York to play in the finals,” Block said. “The Naval people said we couldn’t be off the base for more than 48 hours, so we couldn’t play in the championship game even if we won. So that kind of hurt, you know?”

Block wasn’t done making his mark as a Cyclone, however, helping ISU win its second-straight Big Six title the following year in 1944-45.

1944-45 photo

The 1944-45 Cyclones won the school’s second-straight Big Six title. Block is seated third from the right.

Both Gordon and Block were thrilled to be a part of the reunion. The stars of yesteryear spoke highly of their former coach, Menze, who is an ISU Hall-of-Famer and one of the great leaders in the history of Iowa State Athletics.

“He was a very fine man,” Gordon said. “He was a strict person, and he liked to have us dress up. In other words, when we go on a trip we had a suit. He always had us looking sharp.”

“He was a great coach, and very likeable,” Block added. “No profanity. He never yelled at you, even though you might goof off every now and then. We all liked him very much.”

 

 

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