Nicole “Kidd” Blaskowsky: Redefining Family

Kidd BlaskowskyIt was April 15, 1994 and Farrah’s phone began to ring. As she glanced down and saw the number, she was immediately scared. It was her mom. She didn’t want her mom to know where she was and the thought of answering it and giving away her location was terrifying. She sat back in the hospital room and answered the phone and prayed the hospital intercom didn’t give her away.

She elicited a long sigh of relief as she hung up the phone. She was in the clear. In some ways she figured the hardest part of her day was over after the phone call despite the fact she was in labor and about to give birth to her first child.

She met the child’s father, Zach, when she was 15 years old at driver’s education. They began talking as they both sat outside on the curb waiting for their families – who were both typically late each week – to pick them up after the class.

The decision to keep her pregnancy from her family was a difficult one, but one she felt was necessary. Her family was not a fan of Zach, the baby’s father. Their dislike had little to do with his character, but much to do with the color of his skin. Zach was black and Farrah was white, and though it was something that didn’t matter to Farrah, she knew her family’s feelings and she felt it was best to remain mum about the pregnancy. She also knew they wouldn’t be keen on their teenage daughter having a child out of wedlock.

It was April 15, 1994 when Nicole came into the world.

Farrah sat back in the delivery room as her best friend’s mother, Jan, scooped the baby girl up right after she was delivered. She wouldn’t see the baby girl she gave birth to that day. Farrah knew Jan was only trying to protect her by taking the baby so quickly since she had made the decision to give Nicole up for adoption. She didn’t want to make it harder on her.

She made the best decision she could at the time. She put Nicole up for adoption not because she didn’t want her or that she didn’t love her, but because she wanted her to have a better life than she could provide at the time.

“I didn’t know how to support her and I didn’t know how to tell my parents and I was scared to tell my parents,” she said.

She was fresh out of high school and neither her nor Zach were in a place to care for a child, so Farrah sat down with a case worker and looked through biographies of families looking to adopt. She found two families she was interested in, one was a couple from Ohio with no children and the other was a couple from Sugar Land, Texas, which is where she lived, who had adopted several other children.

Farrah chose the couple from Sugar Land, Texas. As she looked at their biography she felt like it was the right fit. She could picture her baby girl living with them and having a happy life, and that is what she wanted most.

A New Beginning

It was just a few days before April 15, 1994 when Doug and Carol Blaskowsky got a call from the adoption agency that there was a baby girl about to be born, and the young mother had selected them as her adoptive parents. It would be their first daughter together and they were overjoyed. They had been waiting for over a year between filing the paperwork to actually receiving a call to adopt the newborn and they were eager to meet their newest addition.

They had both dealt with adoptions before, as they had adopted two biracial boys previously and Doug had adopted another daughter in a previous marriage. They were initially surprised the young mom chose them since they already had several other children, but they were ecstatic nonetheless.

Upon adopting Nicole, the Blaskowsky’s learned that one of the stipulations with the adoption was they would have to meet with her birth parents shortly after the adoption. The birth parents had made the request because they wanted to meet the couple that would raise their daughter in hopes of providing a sense of closure. To them it didn’t seem out of the ordinary, after all, they were giving the Blaskowsky’s something very precious to them.

Though this practice was uncommon for a closed adoption, they saw it as a way to get to know Nicole’s birth parents. The Blaskowsky’s would meet Farrah and Zach when Nicole was about 5-6 months old at the adoption home.

“We were a little apprehensive because you don’t really know what to expect when you go in,” Doug said. “We basically sat down and met with both of them and they explained a little bit about their high school and how they met and what they were doing now. They said they were just wanting some, I guess closure is the way to say it, and to have an idea where their child went to.”

While at the adoption home, Farrah and Zach had the opportunity to hold Nicole and feed her. There were more smiles than tears as both sides kept it lighthearted. Though Farrah and Zach would not find complete peace about the situation, their minds were more at ease after meeting the Blaskowsky’s for the first time.

They would leave knowing Nicole would be well taken care of.

 Growing Up Blaskowsky

Nicole grew up in Sugar Land, Texas. She was a happy child who always had smile on her face. You wouldn’t catch her inside the house much as she spent most of her free time playing sports. She dabbled in softball, tee ball, skateboarding and of course basketball. With two brothers in the house, she wasn’t going to be left out when they played outside.

Kidd-Adopted FamilyTo please his children, Doug put up a basketball hoop in the driveway and Nicole and her brothers would play daily. They would play pick-up basketball with the neighborhood kids. It was usually 3-on-3 with the three Blaskowsky children on the same team. They would usually win.

There came a point where Nicole had to choose one sport to commit to and it wasn’t a hard decision. It was basketball that she loved the most. It was always basketball despite being naturally talented at softball.

“A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that adopted children are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities as school-age children (85 percent of adopted children vs. 81 percent of children in the general population).”

Nicole played basketball in middle school and it was there that the high school coach at Austin High School, David Kubicsek, saw her play. He reached out to Doug and asked what high school she would be attending next year and if it was OK if he enrolled her in the varsity PE class for basketball. It was then that she became a starter on the varsity team as a freshman.

Her basketball career took off as she pursued AAU basketball in the offseason. Her dream was to play in the Big 12 and she vowed to commit to whichever Big 12 school offered her first. Iowa State was the first to pull the trigger and she committed before ever taking an official visit, much to the surprise of Doug.

Nicole picked up the phone after verbaling to the Cyclones to let him know the big news. He came home from work and sat her down to talk things through.

“Well, are you sure you want to do this?” Doug said.

“Yeah,” she responded.

“Well, do you know where Iowa is?” he said.

She paused and contemplated the question before replying, “Well, I know it’s in the United States.”

“Well, let’s get a map out and I’ll show you where it is,” Doug said.

As Doug pulled out the map, she got the picture rather quickly that Iowa and Texas are vastly different climates.

“So, she realized where it was and realized it was going to be a little bit different as far as the weather went,” he said.

The easygoing exchange was typical for the pair, who share a very close bond. Nicole prides herself on being a daddy’s girl through and through.

Doug fits the role of a supportive father well. He is a fixture at the Iowa State road games cheering on Nicole, along with her stepmom, Jill. He makes his work schedule around her basketball schedule and tries to get to as many as he possibly can.

“He just loves it,” Nicole said. “He loves to see me be successful. Obviously he raised me, so it’s not like I got this far by myself. He paid for my AAU tournaments and teams and took me where I needed to go. I think over the years, you just kind of get into that zone. Jill also travels to a lot of my games. She shows me a lot of support and has helped me become a better person.”

Doug has also never missed a first practice during her time at Iowa State.

“My first practice that he came to, I was really homesick my freshman year, and he came and I cried,” Nicole said. “It’s always good to see him.”

Finding Farrah

Nicole has always been open about how much she loves her family and the way her parents raised her. It was that happy childhood that nearly prevented her from ever desiring to contact her birth parents.

It wasn’t until late in the summer of 2011 when her mother, Carol, asked her if she wanted to meet them that she even considered trying to locate them.

“I was always the youngest in my family so I always thought, maybe I have younger siblings or something,” Nicole said. “There was one letter they wrote that had their names on it, and one of my friends that I grew up with found his parents on Facebook. He just searched their names. So, I was like ‘Screw it, I’ll just search.’”

It didn’t take long for her to locate Farrah, who was active on Facebook. As she pulled up the profile she was startled as she looked through photos on her page. She saw pictures of Farrah, Zach and two children and she knew immediately they were still together. The similarities between her and the children were striking. She knew they were definitely siblings. The same round face, nose and welcoming smile stared back at her through the computer screen.

She decided instantly not to waste any time and she began to type a message to Farrah.

 Reuniting the Greenwoods

It was a regular work day in the middle of August in 2011. Farrah looked down at her phone and saw she had a Facebook message. She was about to be in a meeting, but she clicked on the message and her heart stopped momentarily. It read (sic):

“hey, this is Nicole blaskowsky you and zach greenwood are my birth parents carol and douglas are my parents and I am about to be a senior in high school I go to Austin high school and play basketball and am verbally committed to iowa state university :) I was just messaging you to get in contact please message back.”

“According to the Adoption Congress, 65 percent of adoptees want to meet their birth parents.”

She had hoped this day would come. She was nervous, excited, anxious and ready all at the same time. She sent her a quick response since her meeting was about to begin and she knew she didn’t want to wait. Needless to say she wasn’t concentrating on the meeting much.

She wondered what Nicole would think. Over the years she and Zach would contemplate whether she would be angry. Angry they gave her up for adoption. Angry they ended up getting married. Angry they had two other children together.

She debated what she would tell Zach and when she would tell him. She knew he would take it very hard. Putting Nicole up for adoption had been difficult for the two of them despite the fact they knew it was the best thing for her. She decided to wait until the next morning to tell him as she dropped him off for work.

Still unsure what the appropriate way to break the news to Zach was, she pulled up Nicole’s Facebook profile, handed him the phone and watched as he became overcome with emotion. She let him know that she had made contact and that a meeting was imminent.

Zach could hardly concentrate at work the entire day. He had waited 17 years for this moment.

“It’s not easy knowing that there’s a piece of you out there that you have no idea where or how or if things are going the way they should,” he said.

“Research shows that 95 percent of birth parents who are contacted want a reunion.”

Over the years, Zach had done research on adoption and he knew that it was typical for adopted children to contact their birth parents in their teenage years. The last 17 years were difficult and the decision to give Nicole to the Blaskowsky’s had constantly weighed on Zach.

A few days after making initial contact with Nicole, the Greenwood’s made plans to go over to Carol’s and meet Nicole. First they sat down their two children, Ryen and Boston, and told them about their big sister. The conversation wasn’t nearly as complex as they thought it would be. They had elected not to tell Ryen and Boston about her over the years out of fear of confusing them.

They almost had to explain to Ryen about her older sister when she saw a picture of Nicole from first grade sitting on Zach and Farrah’s dresser. She, ironically enough, thought it was a picture of her. The two look strikingly similar and Farrah and Zach just played along with it.

As the Greenwood’s pulled up to Carol’s home, Nicole opened the door and Ryen, who was Kidd Blaskowsky5 years old at the time, greeted her big sister with a hug. Zach also followed suit with a long-awaited hug of his own.

“I always wanted to hold her again after the first time I held her, and I never got the opportunity to, so I think I picked her big old butt up,” he said.

The initial meeting went well. Nicole spent most of the time getting to know her younger siblings as Farrah and Zach talked with Carol. They decided they would begin a relationship, with neither party really knowing what it would look like.

They started casually and slowly with Nicole coming over to the Greenwood’s home to play with her siblings and chat with Zach and Farrah. She would come over frequently and dance with Farrah and her siblings, a hobby they both enjoy. Before they knew it, they had made Nicole a house key.

“I always kind of assumed that there would be some bitterness on her end because of the decision that we made,” Zach said. “Right off the bat, she revealed to us that she thanks us and there was not any bitterness in her heart about us giving her up for adoption. She didn’t want that to be an issue, and it hasn’t been. Kind of from that point on, everything has been natural.”

For Nicole, bitterness wasn’t even a thought.

“I mean I never regretted what they did because I think my dad and mom raised me well,” Nicole said. “It’s cool now that they can look back on it and see actually who I am and how far I’ve come.”

Family Ties

“I never stopped thinking about her, never,” Zach said. “Every birthday, every April 15th that went by was a depressing day. Now that’s not the case anymore.”

Kidd-MixedNicole is now preparing for her senior season at Iowa State, looking to make her fourth NCAA Tournament and help guide the Cyclones to their 10th in a row. Her support system is as wide and vibrant as ever. The Greenwood family has been welcomed by the Blaskowskys, two families joined by one common thread. This presence of families also makes the transition to the arenas of the Big 12, as the Blaskowsky and Greenwood families have made trips together to see Nicole in action when she is playing in the state of Texas. They also make an annual trip to the Big 12 tournament to cheer on Nicole and the Cyclones.

On March 1, 2016, Iowa State will play West Virginia at Hilton Coliseum. It will be the final home game of Nicole Blaskowsky’s Cyclone career. For the Blaskowsky family, it will be closure to a basketball life, and seeing a dream and an ambition of a child reached. For the Greenwood family, it will be a moment they could have never possibly considered on April 15, 1994 when Nicole came into and left their lives in the blink of an eye.

For Nicole, it will not just be her final game in Hilton Coliseum, or her Senior Night. It will be a chance for her to be joined arm-and-arm with her families, in front of a fan base that has become her family over the years in Cardinal and Gold. This is her reality, she would not want it any other way.

Posted in Women's Basketball | 3 Comments

Marcus Fizer Is Coming Home

Fizer, Marcus_3

Marcus Fizer’s presence and impact on the Iowa State basketball program cannot be disputed. The burly 6-8, 265-pound forward was not only the most dominant player in the Big 12 Conference by the end of his collegiate career, he was arguably the best player in all of college basketball on a team that ranked among the best as well.

Fizer’s final campaign as a Cyclone (1999-2000) ranks as one of the best in school history (Runner-up National Player of the Year by the AP, Consensus All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year, single-season scoring mark at ISU with 844 points). It might be safe to say that no ISU player ever conjured up as much fear as Fizer did for his opponents.

Fizer, who now lives in Las Vegas, is among six former Cyclone greats being inducted into the 2015 Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 16.

We had the chance to talk with the Cyclone legend on his memories of Iowa State and what the school means to him.

The story of how Marcus Fizer came to Iowa State in the first place is an interesting one. Fizer grew up in Detroit and moved to Arcadia, Louisiana when he was 14 to live with his guardians Robert and Sheila Frazier. He quickly emerged into one of the best prep players in the nation. The high school hoops ranking systems in the late 1990s wasn’t as sophisticated as you see today, but Fizer’s name was on virtually every recruiting experts top-50. He is still to this day the only McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Cyclones out of high school, scoring 11 points in the nation’s top prep all-star game. Tim Floyd, Iowa State head men’s basketball coach at the time, heard about Fizer from his wife Beverly. Beverly’s grandmother, Ruth Hudson, was being taken care of at a retirement center by Fizer’s guardian Sheila. That relationship and a Cyclone basketball media guide were big assists in luring the greatest recruit in ISU men’s hoops history to Ames.

You were recruited by most of the top basketball schools in the nation. How did you end up at Iowa State?

Fizer: Well, it all started off by meeting Beverly Floyd when my mother was working at the retirement home that her mother was at. There has been a lot of talk and a lot of speculation about how a McDonalds All-American became interested in coming to Iowa State. It’s really dumbfounding to me to still be the only McDonalds All-American to come to Iowa State because I know we definitely have the facilities and tradition to get recruits of that caliber. My freshman year in high school I wasn’t even eligible to play basketball because I moved to Louisiana from Detroit and my biological parents didn’t make the journey with me, so by the high school regulations of Louisiana I had to sit out a year. I met Beverly when I was taking my mother to lunch when she was at work. I was maybe 6-5 or 6-6 at the time and she just looked at this tall basketball player and happened to have an Iowa State basketball media guide with her at the time. We spoke and she gave me the media guide as a gift and I looked through it. That was when (Shawn) Bankhead, (Dedric) Willoughby and all those guys were getting ready to play and everything. I already had researched Iowa State, and when I became a basketball star and everything, my heart was already on Iowa State. I guess it was fate.

Fizer had a solid freshman campaign in 1997-98, earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year accolades after averaging 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. The Cyclones struggled in his first year, finishing the year at 12-18 as the team was dogged by rumors of Floyd leaving for the Chicago Bulls. Floyd eventually did leave for the Bulls, opening the door for former Utah State head coach Larry Eustachy to take over the reins of the program for Fizer’s sophomore season in 1998-99. Fizer improved his game, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors, while averaging a league-best 18.0 points and 7.6 boards. Fizer and Eustachy often didn’t see eye-to-eye, however, and the transition wasn’t easy.

After your freshman season, you got a new coach in Larry Eustachy. It seems you two got off to a rocky start. How tough was it for you to deal with a new coach in your second year?

Fizer: Well, it was predominately my immaturity, without a doubt. I knew Coach Floyd brought me in, and I knew Coach Eustachy knew what he was doing. He was a great and excellent coach, definitely a great teacher. It was just my immaturity. You could say that I was a little upset in the way Coach Floyd left, there’s no question about that. I think I was more reluctant to accepting Coach Eustachy in, and I wouldn’t have been won over by him had he not taken the hard and stern approach that he had taken with me. He didn’t come in and treat me special and didn’t let up on me. He was harder on me than anybody and I responded from that. Once I grew up and became receptive to his coaching, we found success. To this day I’m totally grateful.

If there was a sign of better days to come for Fizer and Iowa State, it was in the final regular-season game of 1998-99. The Cyclones knocked off Kansas 52-50 in Hilton Coliseum and it was Fizer’s dunk in the final minute that sealed the deal.

Marcus Fizer breaks free for a dunk to defeat Kansas in 1999.

Marcus Fizer breaks free for a dunk to defeat Kansas in 1999.

Beating Kansas at home in the final game of your sophomore year was kind of your first taste of success at Iowa State. What do you remember from that game?

Fizer: What I remember most was (Kansas) Coach (Roy) Williams trying to congratulate me, but I was so wrapped up in everything that was going on I didn’t notice him. I thought he was just someone from the court trying to say something to me and I really wasn’t paying attention to him. I was so enamored by everything that was going on with the fans and celebrating. He congratulated me and we walked off the court. If you’ve ever been a part of it, being a basketball player, a fan, or an opponent, you definitely understand what Hilton Magic means to us.

Iowa State was still an unknown nationally heading into Fizer’s junior season in 1999-2000. Not much was expected out of the Cyclones. Most preseason magazines had the Cyclones finishing in the bottom tier of the Big 12 Conference, including one publication forecasting ISU to finish dead last. However, the backcourt problems which had plagued the Cyclones in Fizer’s first two years were to be solved with two huge additions in junior college transfers Jamaal Tinsley and Kantrail Horton. The new Cyclones would quickly bond with the solid core of returners in Fizer, Michael Nurse, Stevie Johnson, Paul Shirley and Martin Rancik. Perhaps the addition of Tinsley was the greatest. The future All-American was a wizard with the ball and could make passes on a dime. It didn’t take Fizer long to figure out he was playing with somebody special, a player who could elevate his game to elite status.

When did you figure out how good Jamaal Tinsley was?

Fizer: I knew from the moment that we first practiced and worked out together. I knew the potential of our team because he wanted to win just as bad as I did.

That team had a special bond and appeared to really enjoy playing together. Was that the case?

Fizer: It was no surprise to us as a ball club. We were just having fun as kids playing college basketball. We were looking forward to any and every test that they put in front of us, and the bigger they came the harder they fell. We were just looking to carve out our own niche. We weren’t trying to prove anyone wrong, we weren’t trying to be the David against Goliath. We were just trying to play college basketball. We knew the talent that we had, from myself to Paul Shirley, Stevie Johnson and Martin Rancik, and down the line to guys like Mike Nurse, Jamaal and Kantrail Horton. We definitely accepted the role of being the unknown. We took losses very, very hard and they were very devastating because we knew for a fact we were one of the most, if not the most talented team in the nation that year. We challenged each other. Anytime you can have a guard like Kantrail, who was maybe 4 or 5 inches shorter than me, but was as strong as me, you would get a lot of battles in practice. There’s never been a question about Stevie Johnson’s toughness. We even had a walk-on named Clint Varley that came in and should have been a football player. He came in and knocked guys around in practice. Even guys that weren’t bigger in stature, like Paul Shirley or Martin Rancik, still came out and gave 100 percent. We challenged each other every day in practice and made sure everyone was accountable for what was expected from the coaching staff.

Marcus Fizer rejects Kenny Gregory's dunk attempt in the 2000 win over Kansas in Hilton Coliseum.

Marcus Fizer rejects Kenny Gregory’s dunk attempt in the 2000 win over Kansas in Hilton Coliseum.

Despite an inexplicable loss at Drake in the second game of the season, Iowa State quickly began to pick up steam. The Cyclones appeared in the national rankings for the first time in early February with wins over Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri (twice) and Kansas under their belt. Iowa State was 21-3 overall and 9-1 in Big 12 play heading into a top-20 showdown at Kansas on Feb. 16. The Cyclones hadn’t won in Allen Fieldhouse since 1982. Fizer had his national coming out party that night, registering a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. ISU was down 59-53 with under three minutes remaining, but the Cyclones didn’t give up. Tinsley converted two steals for layups to jumpstart a 10-0 ISU run. It was Fizer who made the final statement with a highly-contested, fadeaway baseline jumper with 10 seconds left and the shot clock winding down to provide ISU with a 63-59 cushion. Game over. Streak over.

The shot you hit in the final seconds against Kansas was one of the most memorable in school history. What do you remember from that game?

Fizer: Going into that game, we knew it was going to be a grind. We just tried to stay poised. In terms of the shot, I still remember it like it was yesterday. Being on the post and sitting there when Kantrail was dribbling the ball and I was thinking he was going to shoot it. Then we locked eyes, and when you lock eyes with somebody, you know what they’re going to do. I said, “My God, this boy is going to pass me the ball.” So, he was still dribbling and then he passes me the ball. I knew I had to get a shot off. Honest to God, I was aiming to go glass because of the angle. The way I was shooting it from, and I guess the way the trajectory was from me trying to get it over the defender and the fadeaway, it just worked out perfectly where it went straight in. I’m not going to argue with the result (laughs). As long as it goes in the hole and we get the victory that’s all that I’m concerned about.

The upstart Cyclones couldn’t hide any longer. Now ranked 17th nationally and holding a 22-4 mark and a 10-2 Big 12 record (the only two losses were road overtime setbacks to Oklahoma and Colorado), the Cyclones were now aiming for their first conference regular-season title since 1945. The buzz around Ames was at a fever pitch. Next on ISU’s schedule were home games vs. No. 14 Texas and No. 10 Oklahoma State. A pair of victories would give the Cyclones a stranglehold on the Big 12 crown, and Fizer and company didn’t disappoint the sold-out Hilton Coliseum crowd.

The build-up of those two games against Texas and Oklahoma State was incredible. What was the psyche of the team at the time?

Fizer: I can just remember at that point in the year saying to myself, “Whoever comes into this place has absolutely no chance.” The way that we were playing and the way that I was playing, we were peaking. The only thing we were focused on was playing and winning the basketball games and knowing that these guys have absolutely no chance. I don’t care if you put those two teams together and made an all-star team between the two of them, they still wouldn’t have had a chance. That’s the roll that we were on and that’s the only thing that I was focused on. We knew Hilton Magic was called Hilton Magic for a reason. We knew the importance of that place, we knew the fan base and the support we got there, and each and every time that I stepped out on that court, I always had to compose myself. I would get chills before the game started.

In the Texas win, you had a posterizing dunk over future NBAer Chris Mihm. Do fans still bring that play up to you?

Fizer: Pretty often. There’s a lot of Cyclones out here in Las Vegas and I was just in the grocery store the other day and a guy brought up the Chris Mihm dunk. I don’t really know what Chris is doing. I don’t really talk about it much personally, but it’s something that happened at that moment. I knew I had to score and I didn’t think he wasn’t going to jump. The fact that he did jump made it worse on him, I guess.

Iowa State’s 55-year drought of not winning a league title ended when the Cyclones trounced Baylor, 75-54 in Waco, finishing the conference season at 14-2. Fizer was now the talk of college basketball. Beginning with the Texas game, he recorded the greatest five-game offensive scoring outburst in school history. His five-game scoring output went like this: Texas (35 points), Oklahoma State (29 points), Texas Tech (35 points), Baylor (34 points) and Baylor (38 points). Iowa State was the top seed at the Big 12 Conference Tournament in Kansas City and still had unfinished business to take care of. Fizer showcased his drive and determination when he was handed the Big 12 Player of the Year trophy prior to the first round game vs. Baylor.

You mentioned that when you were awarded the Big 12 Player of the Year Trophy prior to the Baylor game at the Big 12 Tournament it upset you. How so?

Fizer: Once we won the Big 12 title outright, we still went into the Big 12 Tournament with people thinking we didn’t have a chance despite having the No. 1 seed. I was given the Big 12 Player of the Year trophy and I turned and immediately gave it to the guy standing beside me. I was pissed. The only thing I was focused on was playing that basketball game and I was trying to get that trophy and pass it to whoever so I could get back to warming up because we had business to take care of. They actually had to hand it back to me so I could hold it up and acknowledge the crowd. Even that wasn’t on my mind. My mind was on facing Baylor and winning that championship. At the end of the Big 12 tournament I was finally able to celebrate. My face was hurting from smiling and just proving everyone wrong about us and we were very happy at that point.

Marcus Fizer accepts his 2000 Big 12 Player of the Year trophy prior to ISU's first game at the Big 12 Tournament.

Marcus Fizer accepts his 2000 Big 12 Player of the Year trophy prior to ISU’s first game at the Big 12 Tournament.

The Cyclones completed the sweep by winning the 2000 Big 12 Tournament title with two hard-fought victories over No. 13 Oklahoma State (68-64) and No. 21 Oklahoma (70-58) in the semifinals and finals, respectively. When the Cyclones made the trek back to Ames Sunday afternoon, they learned they were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a throng of Cyclone fans waiting their arrival in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclone women’s basketball team also completed the sweep with Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, and the ISU Athletics Department honored both teams for their historic achievements with a championship celebration in Hilton Coliseum. It was a special moment in ISU athletics history, and a memory Fizer still treasures.

The celebration in Hilton Coliseum for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs winning all four conference titles has to be one of the greatest moments in Iowa State athletics history. What do you remember from that night?

The Iowa State men's and women's basketball teams celebrate their four Big 12 championships at Hilton Coliseum.

The Iowa State men’s and women’s basketball teams celebrate their four Big 12 championships at Hilton Coliseum.

Fizer: It means so much. It means so much to be the underdog and come out as champions. Stacy Frese was the leader of the women’s team and to be able to see them come home with the championship, and us came home with the championship, that was humongous. The feeling is so surreal to be a part of something special like that. You can’t really put it into words how special that was. In terms of popularity, we aren’t like Duke, Kentucky or UCLA. We’re the Cyclones. We’re the underdogs each and every time we step onto the floor and to be able to go out there with powerhouses like that and be the victors, it’s very, very special.

Heading into the 2000 NCAA Tournament, Sports Illustrated picked Fizer to grace its cover previewing March Madness, the first and only Cyclone to appear on the cover of the magazine. He was also named to the Associated Press’ First-Team All-America squad. Behind Fizer’s 27 and 22 points, the Cyclones defeated Central Connecticut State and Auburn to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Perennial power UCLA was next in the Midwest Regional semifinal at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. UCLA was considered one of the hottest teams in the tournament after throttling No. 2-seed Maryland. The Bruins then ran into a ferocious Cyclone.


What were your memories of the 80-56 win over UCLA to go to the Elite Eight?

Fizer: That game was so special to me because of my floor general Jamaal Tinsley. Earl Watson, who was a childhood friend growing up, was the floor general for UCLA, and I know he had a monstrous game vs. Maryland. Tinsley had a humongous game (14 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds) and destroyed everyone. We came out of the locker room and we knew that Iowa State had never beaten UCLA. They (UCLA) were chanting in the hallway about how they were going to keep the tradition alive and that pissed us off. I mean, that’s as mad as I’ve seen Stevie Johnson ever in my life. We went out there with a vengeance and a purpose and the end result definitely showed. I told them in the press conference we were very, very focused on doing what we had to do and we had one goal and that was winning.

Most Cyclone fans want to forget the controversial Elite Eight game vs. Michigan State, and so does Fizer. Questionable calls down the stretch aided in ending Iowa State’s magical season with a school-record 32 wins. Michigan State was the eventual national champion and Fizer still feels anger on what transpired in the final five minutes of the game.

How often do you think about the Michigan State game?

Fizer: Not often. Honestly, I have probably only watched a couple of clips because my kids were checking it out on YouTube the other day and they asked me, “Dad, do you remember it?” I told them I remember some of it. I don’t really remember much of it at all because it was definitely one of the lowest points of my life, the way things took place in that game. I just really try not to think about it a lot. I can accept being beat, but I can’t accept being cheated, and that’s the way I felt after the game. Honestly, up until three weeks ago, it had been 15 years since I had watched anything from that game.

Fizer, now a consensus All-American, had a difficult decision to make. With one season of eligibility left at Iowa State, Fizer knew his NBA stock couldn’t rise much higher. He ended the year averaging 22.8 points and 7.7 rebounds, breaking ISU single-season marks in scoring (844) and field goals (327), records that still stand today. He loved Iowa State and knew the Cyclones could possibly be preseason favorites to win it all in 2000-01 if he returned. He also had to think about his family, which ultimately was the reason for his decision to turn pro and enter the 2000 NBA Draft.

How tough of a decision was it to turn professional after your incredible junior season?

Fizer: It was extremely tough because I don’t think people totally understand the reason that I did go pro. The reason I turned pro is because my parents’ house had burned down because of electrical problems. That happened in the end of January and my parents told me absolutely nothing about it. We went through the rest of the season and went through the tournament and everything, and I had no idea about it. I was actually sitting at home after we had returned from Detroit and I’m sitting on my couch watching TV in total disgust and I got a phone call from my dad and he told me everything that was going on. They had been staying in a hotel in our local neighborhood because their house had burned down. Right then and there I knew what my decision was going to be. I was leaning toward returning with the team that we had coming back and I was looking forward to coming back to finish my career. When we had that talk, I prayed about it and it was just the thing I had to do at that moment.

Fizer made the correct decision, as the Chicago Bulls made him the fourth pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, the highest selection in school history. However, Fizer’s NBA career was mired by unfortunate injuries. He had multiple knee surgeries, depleting his quickness and bounce. He played six seasons in the NBA for four teams.

NBA commissioner David Stern congratulates Marcus Fizer on being the fourth pick of the 2000 NBA Draft.

NBA commissioner David Stern congratulates Marcus Fizer on being the fourth pick of the 2000 NBA Draft.

Unfortunately, you suffered numerous injuries during your NBA career. How tough was that for you?

Fizer: I blew my knee out my third year and blew my knee out the last game of the season in my fourth year. I guess it was just some bad luck, and that’s the thing that really bothers me the most. When you talk about players not living up to their potential or being busts or whatever, you can never see what’s going to happen in terms of players who could have become stars, who were stars or good players and unfortunately were injured. It happened to Grant Hill, it happened to Penny Hardaway, it happened to Brandon Roy and it definitely happened to Greg Oden. You do have players that were selected extremely high but played their entire career and didn’t even have as much as a twisted ankle. You never know what’s going to happen. If it would have happened to Michael Jordan, you never know what would have happened with him. Even though I was injured, I always worked my way back. Even though I played in the NBA, I also played over in Europe. I still played professionally for 16 years. It’s not like I got injured and I just laid down and didn’t do anything for the rest of my career. Playing overseas and playing in different countries is much harder than the NBA. Now, people always look at me strange when I say that. I’m not saying that the talent in the other countries are better. I’m talking about in terms of physicality, preparation, in terms of taking care of your body the next day, it is a lot harder, a whole lot harder. In terms of being injured and things like that, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s just something that unfortunately happened to me. I’m not bitter about it, but it helped me learn about myself as a person.

How excited are you to come back to Ames for your Hall of Fame Induction?

Fizer: I’m just totally speechless. I don’t think people understand how special Iowa State is to me. It’s such a mystical place. There is a family feeling of being a part of Iowa State University. It is definitely one of my fondest memories of my lifetime.

How emotional will you be when you see Hilton Coliseum again?

Fizer: Oh my god. I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of days. I told my wife I am going to need a handkerchief or a lot of tissue around. I know I’m a very emotional guy, especially with things that are dear to me and I hold close to my heart. Just to be back in Ames again. It’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster without a doubt. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Marcus Fizer will return to Ames for the 2015 Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony.

Marcus Fizer will return to Ames for the 2015 Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony.

It’s not too late to purchase tickets to the 2015 Iowa State Hall of Fame ceremony, Oct. 16 at the ISU Alumni Center by clicking here.


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Head It Like Haley: A Determined Senior

Haley Albert, NDSU

By Alex Bodermann:

This season marks as an important one for Haley Albert as she is making a final run with the Iowa State soccer team. After tearing her ACL three times before graduating high school, there came a point when she didn’t even know if she would still be playing soccer at this time in her life, but here she is. The 6 foot 1 inch senior is coming off a 2014 season in which she was the team MVP for the Cyclones and finished a season without injury for the first time in her career. Her freshman and sophomore seasons were both riddled by injury: another ACL tear and a broken foot, respectively. It would have been easy to give up, but Albert uses her injuries for everyday motivation.

“I think every player in any sport understands that once you get [the ability to play] taken away, you notice how good you had it and that you took playing for granted,” Albert said. “So every practice, I take it as you never know what’s going to happen. Especially this being my senior year on top of that, I just want to enjoy it and that’s only going to happen if I’m playing at my best and giving it all I have.”

Albert played in 13 games as a freshman in 2012 and was named the team’s Newcomer of the Year, but she wasn’t satisfied. After tearing her ACL for the fourth time in her life, trainers told her that it might be a good idea to stop playing soccer. They had no luck convincing her.

“The reason why I kept playing was that I knew I still had stuff left to do here at Iowa State. I wanted to become a captain, and I wanted to continue helping my team reach the Big 12 [Championship] and go farther if we could.”

 The decision to keep playing has definitely paid off for Albert in 2015 as she has indeed been named captain, and has already scored three goals in nine games this season—matching her career total). In addition, Albert was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week.

“It’s good to see, but it’s not satisfying, because there are things I still want to do here. We want to make it to the Big 12 [Championship], but first we need to focus on every game we have. But, at the end of the season if I can look back [at my accomplishments] and be like, ‘Heck yeah’ then that’ll be great.”

 The honor of Big 12 Player Offensive of the Week came after Albert had scored two goals in just as many games to start the season. Both of her scores that weekend came off of corner kicks from her teammates, something she is very used to. Out of her six career goals, five have come from corner kicks and four being by way of a header.

 “My head is used a lot during the games, that’s one of my strengths,” she said. “So when my teammates work hard to give me a good pass, I try to pay them back and work as hard as I can to get a goal.”

 Everyone has heard of the phrase, “Bend it like Beckham”, but I like the sound of, “Head it like Haley.”

 Albert has a unique advantage over a majority of soccer players around the world. She stands at 6 foot 1 inch, which makes her one of only three players in the Big 12 Conference who are six-feet or taller; and compared to the U.S. Women’s National Team, she would be the only one able to make this claim. Albert views her height as a major advantage.

“I’ve been blessed [with my height] because I’m not really fast. If you ask my coach she’ll mention it a lot,” she laughed. “But I am taller, I am stronger… So I use that to my advantage. I win balls in the air, and I can body people off.”

 Albert’s height isn’t the only advantage she has on the soccer field as she has a high IQ for the game. It translates into the classroom as well, something that has always been a priority for her. She has been named Academic All-Big 12 the past two years, as well as being selected for the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2013.

 “If you don’t have your school work under control, then on the field you’re not able to fully commit and concentrate on that.” She went on to say, “If you get [your school work] done, then soccer is your time to just have fun and not have to worry about anything else.”

Whether on the field or in the classroom, Albert definitely shines and makes Cyclone Nation proud. From her determination to come back from her injuries, to her unique and exciting ability to be successful on headers, Haley Albert is certainly easy to root for. The Cyclone soccer team is currently 5-4 on the season, and is led by Albert and fellow senior, Lindsay Frank. They open conference play this Friday, September 25th, against TCU and return home to face Baylor on October 2nd. With five home games left this season, there is plenty of opportunity to watch Haley Albert in her final season with the Cyclones.

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Shirley Shares His Experience With ISU Athletes


AMES, Iowa – When former Iowa State basketball player Paul Shirley enrolled at Iowa State in the fall of 1996, he never would’ve expected where his Cyclone journey would take him.

Almost 20 years later, Shirley was back on campus to tell his story to Iowa State student-athletes about his life experiences as a professional basketball player and writer.

“Obviously, it was really exciting to be invited back,” Shirley said. “Mostly, I was excited to see what Ames looks like these days. I hadn’t been there in like five years. The last time I was there it looked like it had grown by about fifty percent.”

Shirley spoke at the Iowa State Student-Athlete Services Cyclone Speaker Series Monday night, offering his humor and insight.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity for our student-athletes to bring Paul back and have him share his experiences,” said Amanda Hernandez, the student-athlete affairs coordinator at Iowa State “He understands the student-athlete experience. It was great to have him share with us his life experience and to share his enthusiasm of Iowa State.”

In 2007, Shirley penned a popular book “Can I Keep My Jersey?,” a rollicking tale of his life playing for 11 professional basketball teams in all parts of the world, including the NBA. The book became very successful and it led to his current career as a writer and instructor.

Shirley got the writing bug when he was playing professionally in Greece. Alone, bored, and in a foreign country, Shirley started writing friends back home comical anecdotes about his lonely life playing basketball overseas. He later became one of the first NBA bloggers, providing weekly updates of life in the NBA when he was a member of the Phoenix Suns.

Paul Shirley played for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05.

Paul Shirley played for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05.

All of these stories became the impetus for his first book.

“It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up loving to write,” Shirley said. “I was very alone, very lonely and also had a little time on my hands, so I started writing these emails to like thirty people at a time and quickly realized that if I made them funny then people would write back, which would make me feel less lonely. So I developed kind of a shtick and just kept doing that. I discovered I found it therapeutic and cathartic to write down all the things that were happening to me. I had no shortage of material because of the weird life that I was living.”

Writing is now an integral part of Shirley’s world.

“I assumed that when my career was over, that I would get to write a book,” Shirley added. “Then of course after a couple of years I ended up in Phoenix, where because I was the coherent looking dude at the end of the bench, they asked me to write for their website. It was just a blog, which at the time was new. Because I had been doing it for a while I kind of knew how to construct it so people wanted to read it and that’s what led to the book deal and the sense that maybe I had a future in writing.”

The 6-10 power forward from Meriden, Kansas, always had dreams of playing Big 12 basketball, mostly at Kansas, where he grew up idolizing the highly successful Jayhawk program.

His offers were mainly from mid-majors, and he remembers the day when former KU head coach Roy Williams told him he wasn’t good enough to play Big 12 basketball.

“It is hard to describe because I grew up such a fan of KU and was so devastated when Roy Williams said I couldn’t play,” Shirley recollected. “It drove me, pushed me and pushed me. I would visualize his face while shooting a hundred free throws after practice.”

Kansas’ loss turned into Iowa State’s gain. Shirley was a key player on some of the greatest teams in Iowa State history. In his final two seasons as a Cyclone, Iowa State won back-to-back Big 12 regular-season titles (2000 and 2001), as Iowa State won five-straight games against the Jayhawks, including two-straight in Allen Fieldhouse.

Shirley will be the first to admit he was surrounded by outstanding players at Iowa State, and he certainly was. He was fortunate to play with three All-Americans in Dedric Willoughby, Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley, and a slew of other Cyclone fan favorites.

However, Shirley was darn good player, too. As a senior in 2001, Shirley averaged 10.0 points and 6.9 rebounds to earn honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and second-team Academic All-America accolades.

Paul Shirley cutting the net after winning the 2000 Big 12 title.

Paul Shirley cutting the net after winning the 2000 Big 12 title.

He finished his Iowa State career with 822 points and 552 boards.

“I was lucky that we ended up with a lot of great players around me, but it’s funny looking back at my career and how I behaved,” Shirley said. “I was always this mild mannered, very humble human being because I knew that’s the role that I had to play. On another level I always sort of assumed that I would be a pretty good basketball player and that someday I would play professionally. I remember practices or preseason conditioning experiences thinking I can’t believe this- I’m actually a basketball player on a Big 12 team. At the same time I also felt it should be someone else. For me, it’s also been a little bit of a bipolar disorder in that I had this weird inferiority complex about who I was. But I also thought it would probably work out in the end.”

To many, Shirley appears to come across as crass when reflecting back on his time in Ames. One of Shirley’s greatest traits is that he is brutally honest. He’s honest when he tells you he appreciated his years at Iowa State and what the school did for him. But, he also isn’t afraid to speak the truth and tell people it was extremely hard work being a basketball player. Sometimes it wasn’t all that much fun, either.

“It’s one of those things I would get myself into trouble because sometimes the way I talk about my years at Iowa State comes off as unappreciative,” Shirley said. “What people don’t seem to understand about college athletics is that it wasn’t much fun. We weren’t really having a good time in the midst of that, but I’m proud in that we were really successful and I got to play on great teams which led to a professional career of some kind.”

“But in a lot of ways I do regret the way that it happened, because it wasn’t much fun and we didn’t enjoy it,” Shirley added. “However, the experience of getting to play in front of 14,000 rabid fans was of course irreplaceable and at times almost impossible to believe. I always have been thankful for the fans and the amazing environment to play in, but internally, to the basketball team, it wasn’t exactly a healthy environment.”

Shirley calls Los Angeles home now and is enjoying the Hollywood lifestyle.

“I just paid $50 dollars for a haircut,” Shirley joked.

He continues to stay busy with all of his writing projects, which includes teaching writing at a prep school and running a pair of writers workshops. He also writes for El Pais, a Spanish newspaper which covers the NBA.

Shirley acknowledged he was honored and nervous for the opportunity to lecture to ISU’s latest crop of student-athletes.

“I was very nervous even though I do a little bit of these speaking engagements,” Shirley said. “They’re usually not in places with any expectations of me to knock it out of the park. So I felt a little pressure to do a great job. I hope I lived up to the standards I set for myself.”

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Tailgate Corner: Let The Games Begin

This football season Cyclone Sidebar would like to showcase our fan experience outside of Jack Trice Stadium. We’ve always known Cyclone Nation did tailgating right, but now we want to really put it on display, from vehicles, to food, to music and games we will showcase the best Cyclone Nation has to offer in our tailgating experience series.

By Alex Bodermann:

Cyclone Nation never disappoints when it comes to a tailgate turnout. That proved to be true on Saturday morning when thousands of Iowa State faithful pulled into the parking lots surrounding Jack Trice Stadium, eager for the anticipated match up against the in-state rival Iowa Hawkeyes. Kickoff wasn’t until 3:45 p.m. that afternoon, but fans dressed head to toe in Cardinal and Gold swarmed into the parking lots far earlier than Tailgate Games_2015-16_2that.

“We got here about 9:30 a.m.,” said Matt Mackley from Ankeny, Iowa. “Just for this game we came especially early, which gives us a lot of time to get prepared and enjoy ourselves.”

It’s never too early when it comes to Cyclone football in Ames, especially when it involves the Iowa Corn CyHawk series, but one question remains: How do you pass the time until kickoff?

Nathan from Granger says, “You can pass the time easy when you can play bags, play Jenga, and do whatever you want to do.”

Good friends, and even better food, spell a recipe for a good time, but where the real fun begins are tailgating games.

Tailgating games have been around for hundreds of years, but have taken their modern shape from the likes of football fans around the world. For example, cornhole (also known as “bean bag toss” or simply “bags”), dates back to nearly the 14th century, and now has become a nationwide favorite, even having national championships on ESPN. A local Ames resident, Matt Wyfield, says he has participated in cornhole tournaments in the past, but decided to take it easy this year.

Tailgate Games_2015-16_4“[Last year] during Pufferbilly days (in Boone, Iowa), which is actually going on right now, we decided to enter the tournament,” Wyfield said. “I think we got in the top five, but this year we just wanted to come and hang out [and play bags] for the Iowa-Iowa State game.”

Cornhole is a timeless classic that will forever be adored by tailgaters, but more recently new activities have been spotted around the lots. A new game called “Spike Ball” has made its way from the entrepreneurship reality show, Shark Tank, into tailgate lots around the country.

A combination of volleyball and four-square, this unique game is played with teams of two serving and hitting the ball off the net and into the air for a series of volleys until one team reaches 21 points. Once the ball is served, players can move anywhere they want in an attempt to hit the ball back onto the net. The rally continues until the ball is not returned properly.Tailgate Games_2015-16_1

Dalton Gustafson from Grimes, Iowa, says, “It’s a fun, competitive game that anybody can play. It’s a good workout as well.”

Its rise in popularity can even be found on campus, as students are trying to register Spike Ball as an intramural sport.

Gustafson adds, “My roommate, Jared, was trying to get it [as an intramural]; he emailed the intramural coordinator, and we’re waiting on a response.”

Both of these games provide enough entertainment to consume hours before kickoff, but some believe you cannot beat a simple game of catch.

Mackley [pictured right] was one of the many Iowa State fans spotted playing catch on Saturday and says, “I think it’s fun to just play catch. It’s relaxing… there’s nothing to it.”

It’s not always certTailgate Games_2015-16_3ain how Cyclone Nation will choose to spend their time tailgating, but what is for sure is that they will be there bright and early in preparation to cheer on the Cyclones. The electric atmosphere in the tailgate lots can provide a lot of excitement, which is then channeled into Jack Trice Stadium. That will be the case in several weeks when the Cyclones will be back in Ames on October 3rd, as they begin conference play against Kansas.

Check out other stories from our tailgate corner series:

Starting The Season In Style (Sept. 9)

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Tailgate Corner: Starting The Season In Style

This football season Cyclone Sidebar would like to showcase our fan experience outside of Jack Trice Stadium. We’ve always known Cyclone Nation did tailgating right, but now we want to really put it on display, from vehicles, to food, to music and games we will showcase the best Cyclone Nation has to offer in our tailgating experience series.

By Brittany Mease:

If you walk around Jack Trice Stadium before any Iowa State football game, there’s no guarantee what you’ll see amidst the tailgaters, but what you can guarantee is that they will be tailgating in style.

ISU kicked off their first game against the University of Northern Iowa last Saturday and people from all parts of Iowa came to Ames in order to claim their tailgating spot prior to the game. Fans wasted no time in busting out coolers, grills and music to enjoy the beautiful weather before the game. From cars, buses and ambulances, Cyclone fans don’t slack when it comes to their set ups.

      ISU alum Steve Gust is one of the many people who pack up their friends, family, and a whole lot of fun into a bus to cheer on the team. Gust and others all gathered around his tricked out vehicle to celebrate the start of the season.

“This is our second year [with this bus]; I had a [different] bus before. We’re just huge Cyclone fans,” said Gust. “We just tried to get as much Iowa State color on it as possible, and we put the schedule on [the left] side.”

While it was a light atmosphere full of laughs and smiles, there was one thing that Gust’s tailgate crew was serious about: they came see a Cyclone win.

“I graduated from Iowa State and my wife is a UNI graduate,” joked Gust, “but she’s got an Iowa State shirt on today.” Something that proved favorable for Gust and his family as ISU would later beat UNI.

Gust isn’t the only alum who enjoys bringing vehicles that take fanatic to a whole new level. Ambulance owner Dan Heiderscheit of Ankeny and fellow alum DJ Sapp spent four days revamping an old rescue vehicle to bring to Ames.

“We’re season ticket holders; we’ve tailgated at least 15 years,” said Sapp. He and his fellow Cyclone lovers don’t miss a chance to gather together to cheer on Iowa State.

Sapp also noted that the vehicle tends to draw crowds in the years that they have brought it up to tailgate.

“[Heiderscheit] did a great job representing Iowa State; it grabs everyone’s attention,” said Sapp.

Not only does it grab attention of those roaming outside of Jack Trice just this season, but it has been used in a flash mob before. The flash mob was performed in 2011 outside of Jack Trice prior to the game against Iowa. The ambulance’s tailgating history is one that Sapp cherishes and believes makes it stand out in a crowd.

Many other ISU fans like Gust and Sapp go above and beyond when it comes to tailgating, proving that it really is a Cyclone nation.

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How A Pair Of Legends Shaped Two Cyclones

It was 2009, Iowa State guards Hallice Cooke and Monté Morris were both 14-year olds living more than 600 miles apart. Both with hoop dreams of their own, their lives were about to be forever changed by relationships built with a pair of basketball legends.

Morris first forged a relationship with Roy Marble as a freshman at Beecher High School in Flint, Michigan. Marble was the best player ever to play at Beecher, and later went on to become Iowa’s all-time leading scorer before being drafted in the 1989 NBA Draft.

Morris and the Bucs were facing Marble’s son, Roy Devyn, who was a senior at Southfield Lathrup. After the game, Morris met Roy Marble for the first time.

“When I was a freshman, we got a chance to play against his son Devyn,” Morris said. “He was at Southfield Lathrup and it was Roy’s first time being back at Beecher in a long time. After that game was the first time I met him and Devyn. We built a relationship there and they brought up Iowa because that was where Devyn was going. They were hoping we could play together. We exchanged numbers and our relationship grew from there.”

Morris eventually started hearing from Iowa State and decided to take an official visit to the campus. In an ironic twist, it was Roy Marble who accompanied Morris and his mother, Latonia, on the trip.

“He wanted to make sure it was the right spot for me,” Morris said. “He knew I wasn’t considering Iowa and he wasn’t forcing that on me. He wanted what was best for me and when he came on the visit, he was all about Iowa State and knew it was the right place for me.”

Morris returned to Flint last weekend and had a chance to see Marble again. Marble has Stage 4 cancer but still is inspiring Morris.

“When I got to see him last weekend at the Beecher reunion, I hadn’t seen him since he got sick,” Morris said. “Seeing him for the first time kind of messed me up a bit. He has lost a lot of weight and is in a wheel chair right now, but he was telling me to keep my head up and keep working. He said he’s been hearing great things about me and that it is in my hands to do it. He continues to give me great confidence.”

Around the same time Morris was meeting Marble, Cooke met a huge man named Darryl Dawkins. A self-proclaimed 14-year old hot-head, Cooke almost instantly recognized the impact that “Chocolate Thunder” would have on his life.

“I first met Darryl when I was 14 after our Sports U tryouts,” Cooke said. “He was such a positive energy guy. A really loving guy. He introduced himself to us and then a couple weeks later he came to our tournament and sat at the end of the bench. When you would come out of the game he would pull you to the side and talk to you, give you advice.”

Though he may not have recognized it at the time, Cooke admits now that he needed that guidance.

“When I was young I was a real hot head. Every little thing got to me. If a coach said something to me I would shrug my shoulders. My body language wasn’t good,” Cooke said. “When I would come out of the game, whether I had made a great play or a bad play, I’d be mad at the fact I was coming out. He would tell me to stay patient, that I looked good out there and so on. He was always so positive.”

Dawkins was around the Sports U AAU program from that point forward until unexpectedly passing away last week at 58 years old.

“He wasn’t a coach, he was more of an ambassador for the program,” Cooke said. “But it was funny, he’d come to a tournament and the next thing you knew he was up there coaching. You could really tell that it was his love of the game and his passion for working with kids our age. He really wanted to help us grow.”

Cooke last saw Dawkins in January, and nothing had changed. He was still impacting lives, and that was no different for Cooke.

“I was at a St. Anthony’s game and they were playing Roosevelt Catholic and he and I sat courtside together,” Cooke said. “He had his daughter, who has Down syndrome, there. The way he loved his kids was really special. I’ll remember that the rest of my life. To know they are without a father now really bothers me.”

Although Dawkins is gone, his message still resonates with Cooke.

“He made every person he talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Cooke said. “He just taught me to love everybody. He used basketball as an avenue to change lives. That is what I hope I can do.”

The world has loss a basketball legend today…Everyone knew "Chocolate Thunder" the basketball player…but not everyone got the opportunity to spend time with and get to know Darryl Dawkins the person..I was lucky enough to get to know Darryl Dawkins and be mentored by him on the bench of an AAU game, rides to AAU tournaments, or business meetings in NYC…He had a role in turning a knucklehead 14year old (me) with a bad attitude into a young mature man at 17…I will forever cherish our memories, laughs, and the hilarious stories you always told…Nothing but positive vibes when I was in his presence…He was truly a man who lit up literally EVERY room he stepped in! And will be greatly missed!! R.I.P Darryl 💔 #SportsUFam

A photo posted by Hallice Cooke (@hallywood_3) on

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