Flint, Michigan and Ames, Iowa. The two cities seem worlds apart. Flint with over 100,000 people. Ames with around 60,000. One in the heart of Iowa. One just an hour from Detroit.
But on the basketball court, the two fit together perfectly. They’ve celebrated some of the same great athletes. They both proudly consider these guys one of their own.
Flint has produced the top two scorers in Iowa State history in Jeff Grayer and Barry Stevens. No. 9 on that list is Justus Thigpen, also a Flint native.
In 2013, Monté Morris became the next great player from Flint. All he did was break the NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman.
So what is it about guys from Flint having success in Ames?
Both cities are immensely passionate about their hoops according to Morris. And both are there for you.
“Here in Ames, the fans stick with you through the ups and downs and that’s just like Flint,” Morris said. “Flint sticks with you just like Ames does. When I got here it just felt like home and I was able to feed off the energy because I knew what it was like.”
In Flint, there are obstacles. A lot of times, it is basketball that keeps youngsters on the right track. Morris used the game he loves to stay on the straight-and-narrow.
“It’s so easy to get strung out in the wrong lane,” Morris said. “That could be dealing drugs or gangs or anything really. You could get into fights. But the other lane, that is just going to school and being around the right people, with that basketball or football in your hand.
“People knew that because of basketball I had a chance to go somewhere,” Morris adds. “They look out for you and keep you on the right track. Basketball is that important to people.”
That focus on basketball in Flint has benefited Iowa State to the tune of more than 6,400 points from Grayer, Stevens and Thigpen. Morris took the first step toward continuing the legacy with his better-than-solid freshman season.
“I knew of those guys, knew what they did here,” Morris said. “When I finally got here I started looking into it. Now I am getting older, more experienced. I’ve seen the tradition going on and the legacy the Flint guys left and it’s pushing me to leave one also. If they can do it, why can’t I? I want to be a part of that.”
Morris realized he had a chance to make a name for himself in basketball after talking to another Flint guy, one that played a role breaking the hearts of Cyclone fans in 2000. That guy was Mateen Cleaves.
“After my sophomore year, we were playing at Michigan State and lost in the semifinal game,” Morris said. “We lost in OT and after the game he brought me to the back of the Breslin Center and told me he knew I could play at a high level. He asked me to give him the chance and let him show me things and work me out. I spent time with him and he got me ready. It’s a tradition now, I go home, call him up and we go from there.”
It isn’t about a Michigan State guy helping an Iowa State guy. It’s about a Flint guy helping a Flint guy. That’s the pride of Flint basketball.
It’s a pride that, fortunately for Cyclone fans, has continued to grow in Ames.
Follow Matt Shoultz on Twitter, @mjshoultz.