ISU Has Rich Olympic Tradition

3 Olympians-3

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will begin August 5 and three former Cyclone athletes have solidified a chance to compete for medals on the world’s stage.

Hilary Bor (United States, steeplechase), Betsy Saina (Kenya, 10,000 meters) and Mohamed Hrezi (Libya, marathon) will represent Iowa State at the XXXI Olympiad. Current ISU women’s hoops star Bridget Carleton is also still fighting for a spot on the Canadian Olympic women’s basketball roster.

Iowa State has a rich history of success in the Olympic Games, accumulating a total of 13 medals in Olympic history. At least one Cyclone has competed at the Olympic Games since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

There are plenty of stories of Cyclone Olympic success and listed below are some highlights of Iowa Staters making their mark with the world’s elite.

Jon Brown: The Marathon Man
Jon Brown never earned a medal in the Olympics, but the former Cyclone national champion could be considered the “seasoned veteran” of Cyclone Olympians by appearing in three different Olympiads (1996 in Atlanta; 2000 in Sydney; 2004 in Athens).

Brown, along with Sunday Uti (track & field) and Curt Bader (kayaking), are the only three Cyclones to compete in three different Olympics. Representing Great Britain, Brown competed in the 10,000-meter in 1996 and ran the marathon in 2000 and 2004.

Brown earned the distinction as one of Iowa State’s top distance runners in school history while competing for the Cyclones from 1989-92. In his final season as a Cyclone, Brown posted one of the greatest seasons in ISU’s storied track & field program. He recorded five Big Eight titles, one NCAA crown (5,000-meter Indoor) and finished second at the Big Eight Cross Country Championship.

Brown experienced incredible success in the marathon on the international level, twice narrowly missing out on a medal by placing fourth at the 2000 Olympics (Sydney) and the 2004 Olympics (Athens).

Without a doubt, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles was a shining moment for the Iowa State track & field programs. Eight members of the Cyclone men’s and women’s track teams competed in L.A., three earning medals.

Nawal El-Moutawakel, who was the national champion in the 400-meter hurdles that same year, won the Gold Medal and set an Olympic record in the 400-meter hurdles. A native of Morocco, El-Moutawakel became the first Cyclone track & field athlete, first African woman and the first Arabic woman to capture an Olympic Gold medal. El-Moutawakel is currently one of the highest-ranking officials on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is the Coordination Commission chair for the Rio Olympics.

On the men’s side, the Cyclones received outstanding efforts from Danny Harris and Sunday Uti. Harris was coming into his own as an elite 400-meter hurdler. He only lost twice in 1984, both times to the legendary Edwin Moses. He collected the Silver Medal in 1984 and eventually ended Moses’ 122-race winning streak in 1987.

Uti joined Harris on the medal stand by earning a Bronze Medal in the 4X400-meter relay as a member of the Nigerian team. It was the second of three-straight Olympic appearances (1980-Moscow; 1988-Seoul) for the eight-time All-American.


Sunday Uti (left) and Danny Harris pose with their Olympic medals in 1984.


Nawal - Medal Stand - 1

Nawal El-Moutawakel receives her Gold Medal in 1984.

Wrestling Glory
The Iowa State wrestling program was at its peak in 1972 and its all-star lineup was on display at the Munich Olympics that summer. The Cyclones were fresh off their third NCAA title in four seasons and four Cyclones were competing in Germany in Dan Gable, Ben Peterson, Chris Taylor and Bob Buzzard.

Gable firmly cemented his legacy by capturing the Gold Medal as a lightweight. He did it in dominating fashion by not surrendering a point the entire tournament.

Peterson also earned Gold, winning as a light heavyweight. It was the first of two medals for the Cyclone national champion, as Peterson claimed a Silver Medal four years later at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Peterson also qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but didn’t get a chance to wrestle because of the United States boycott.

Taylor earned a Bronze Medal at super heavyweight, but not without controversy. Taylor lost to two-time Olympic champion Alex Medved when a Turkish referee deducted a point against Taylor for passivity, allowing Medved to come away with the victory.

Despite Taylor’s loss, the Cyclone wrestling program made Iowa State proud by bringing home three medals.

Peterson, Ben Olympics

Ben Peterson is one of ISU’s most decorated Olympic wrestlers.


Basketball Elite

Earning a spot on the United States Men’s Basketball Olympic team is considered one of the top achievements in hoops. Iowa State All-American Jeff Grayer proved his worth by making the U.S. Olympic hoops team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, becoming the first and only Cyclone to make the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Grayer was on the last Olympic team which solely used college players. Four years later the world would be introduced to the Dream Team in Barcelona.

The Big Eight for years had fought the stereotype of just being a football conference, but the 1988 Olympic team proved that myth was false with three players from the league making the team in Grayer, Danny Manning (Kansas) and Mitch Richmond (Kansas State).

Grayer helped the U.S. team win its first six games before suffering a semifinals loss to the Soviet Union, 82-76, the U.S. team’s only second loss in Olympic competition. The squad defeated Australia, 78-49 to win the Bronze Medal the following day.

Grayer played in all eight games at the 1988 Olympics, averaging 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds.

Grayer, Jeff-1988 US Olympic team

ISU All-American and former NBA star Jeff Grayer in action at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.


Glen Brand: ISU’s First Olympic Gold Medalist

The person who holds the distinction as the first Cyclone to medal in the Olympics is Glen Brand, who was a national champion wrestler in 1948.

A native of Clarion, Iowa, Brand began his Iowa State career when he was 22 years old after serving in the Pacific Theater (Guam) in World War II as a Marine. He enrolled at Iowa State in 1945 and quickly became one of the best wrestlers in school history.

Brand was the runner-up national champion in 1947 and won the national title at 174 pounds in 1948, capping off his Cyclone career with a 54-3 mark.

Brand immediately set his sights on Gold, making the Olympic team in London in 1948. He accomplished his goal by winning the Gold Medal as a middleweight, becoming the first Iowan to graduate from a high school in the state to win a Gold Medal.

Brand, Glen006

ISU wrestling legend Glen Brand was the first Cyclone to earn a medal in the Olympics, claiming a Gold Medal in 1948.

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Cyclone Fan Leaves A Mark


Iowa Staters show their love for their athletic teams in unique ways. For Jeff Fox, maybe his passion for the Cyclones could be categorized as fanatical.

Fox, a 1991 graduate of Iowa State, may have elevated his fandom status with his recent act of zeal for the Cardinal and Gold. It’s a story that will make most Cyclone fans stand up and applaud.

It all started innocently with a recent vacation to Europe with Fox and his girlfriend, Samantha. Samantha is a converted Cyclone fan, who, along with Fox, counts Georges Niang as their favorite athlete. One of the stops the couple made was to Prague, Czech Republic, and the city’s John Lennon Wall was a sight-seeing must. The wall has become a tourist attraction because of its Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs.

After perusing the wall for a short time, Fox noticed something that ticked him off. It wasn’t a quote from Lennon. It was art that didn’t belong there in his mind.

“It just jumped off the page to me,” Fox remembered. “We were there visiting the wall and I see the words Rock Chalk painted on it. Those are offensive words to me, so I immediately thought I had to do something about it.”

Prague Wall1

The Lennon Wall with Rock Chalk on it.


Fox’ brain started to grind. What should he do about this? Is it even worth it? The answers to both of these questions was a definite yes. Fox began concocting a plan.

“I decided to go big,” Fox said. “I came up with the idea to find the best graffiti artist to paint an Iowa State logo over the Rock Chalk.”

Procuring a graffiti artist to perform the task was Fox’s next mission. He started asking around. He sought the concierge at his hotel for assistance. It was his lucky day.

“The concierge told me it was one of the most interesting requests they have ever had,” Fox said with a chuckle. “They notified me that they found someone and set me up this guy named Kaer, and he is one of Eastern Europe’s most famous graffiti artists. This guy even had his own agent.”

Prague Wall2

Kaer begins his art.


After printing off an Iowa State logo from the internet as a guide, Fox sat back and watched Kaer do his thing. As each letter of the logo slowly appeared on the concrete slate, Fox couldn’t help but grinning.

Kaer’s work turned out better than he ever thought.

“This guy was serious,” Fox said. “He put time in this painting, making sure the outlines were correct and everything. It took him about an hour and a half to paint this thing. I told him to make sure the Iowa State logo is put right over top of the Rock Chalk.”

To cap off the finished product, Fox needed one more item added. This was for Samantha.

“The last thing I asked was to put Georges’ (Niang) No. 31 at the bottom,” Fox said. “Samantha and I love Georges.”

Fox felt proud when he gazed at the Cyclone mark on the famous European wall. He stuck around for a while to kibitz with tourists about what the logo means to him.

“I was so proud when Kaer finished it,” Fox recollected. “It was so well done. I just love it. It seems like I took a 1,000 pictures of it.”


Kaer poses with the finished product.


A native of Riceville, Iowa, Fox eventually returned from his European vacation to his current home of Houston, Texas where he makes his living as a successful commodity trader.

Despite the distance in miles, the die-hard Cyclone fan still tries to attend as many games as he can. He has men’s basketball season tickets, and the 2016-17 season can’t get here soon enough.

“I am really excited for both football and basketball, but I have always been a little bit psychotic about Iowa State basketball,” said Fox. “We went to Denver and Chicago for the NCAA Tournament last year and had a blast.”

A piece of Cyclone Nation is now a part of the John Lennon Wall thanks to Fox. Although Fox doesn’t want to admit it, he’s also thankful for that mysterious Kansas Jayhawk fan who once scribbled his allegiance on the wall.

“It totally came to me right on the spot,” said Fox. “If I hadn’t seen the Rock Chalk, I would have never of thought about it.”


Samantha approves.



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Learning More About The 2016-17 Non-Conference Opponents

MBB Nonconference Schedule
Iowa State announced its 2016-17 men’s basketball non-conference schedule Thursday. Times and television will be announced at a later date, as will the Big 12 Conference schedule.

2016-17 Non-Conference Schedule Breakdown
Sunday, Nov. 6 – Sioux Falls (Exhibition)
2015-16 Record: 17-13
Coach: Chris Johnson (9th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Mack Johnson (Sr.), 17.5 ppg
The Cyclones will face Sioux Falls in an exhibition game. The Cyclones and Cougars have never met. Iowa State is 48-4 in exhibition games dating back to the 1983-84 season, with the last loss coming in 2005-06. USF returns its top three scorers. 

Friday, Nov. 11 – Savannah State
2015-16 Record: 16-16
Coach: Horace Broadnax (12th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Troyce Manassa (Sr.), 12.4 ppg
Iowa State opens its 110th season of men’s hoops hosting Savannah State. It will be the fourth meeting between the schools, with the Cyclones holding a 4-0 edge in the all-time series. This will be the first time the schools have faced off since the 2006-07 season, which resulted in a 70-59 win for the Cyclones.

 Monday, Nov. 14 – Mount St. Mary’s
2015-16 Record: 14-19
Coach: Jamion Christian (5th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Junior Robinson (Jr.), 12.5 ppg
Mount St. Mary’s comes to town for a family affair as Nazareth Mitrou-Long and younger brother Elijah Long, a sophomore for The Mount, play for the first time. This will also be the first meeting between the Cyclones and Mountaineers.

 Sunday, Nov. 20 – The Citadel
2015-16 Record: 10-22
Coach: Duggar Baucom (2nd year)
Top Returning Scorer: Warren Sledge (Sr.), 10.3 ppg
Another first-time meeting for the Cyclones as The Citadel comes to Ames. The Bulldogs play at a fast pace, ranking second nationally last season with 86 points per game. They allowed 92.6 points, however, while finishing 10-22 overall. 

Thursday, Nov. 24 – vs. Indiana State (AdvoCare Invitational – Orlando, Florida)
2015-16 Record: 15-17
Coach: Greg Lansing (7th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Brenton Scott (Jr.), 14.6 ppg
The Cyclones head to Orlando for a Thanksgiving Day showdown at the AdvoCare Invitiational. It will be Iowa State’s first Thanksgiving Day game since falling to Southern Illinois at the 2001 Las Vegas Invitational. The ISUs have met just once before in 1992, with the Cyclones winning 84-69 behind 24 points from Julius Michalik.

 Friday, Nov. 25 – vs. Miami or Stanford (AdvoCare Invitational – Orlando, Florida)
2015-16 Records: Miami, 27-8; Stanford, 15-15
The Cyclones will face either Miami or Stanford in the second game of the AdvoCare Invitational. Iowa State is 0-1 all-time against Stanford, while the Cyclones and Hurricanes have never met. 

Sunday, Nov. 27 – vs. Quinnipiac/Florida/Gonzaga/Seton Hall (AdvoCare Invitational – Orlando, Florida)
2015-16 Records: Florida, 21-15; Gonzaga, 28-8; Quinnipiac, 9-21; Seton Hall, 25-9
After a day off in Orlando, Iowa State plays one of the following on the final day: Quinnipiac, Florida, Gonzaga or Seton Hall. 

Thursday, Dec. 1 – Cincinnati
2015-16 Record: 22-11
Coach: Mick Cronin (11th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Troy Caupain (Sr.), 13.0 ppg
The Cyclones get a return visit from Cincinnati on the heels of last season’s 81-79 win on the Bearcats’ home floor. The Bearcats still own a 3-2 edge in the series, but this will be the first meeting in Ames. 

Monday, Dec. 5 – Omaha
2015-16 Record: 18-14
Coach: Derrin Hansen (12th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Tre’Shawn Thurman (Jr.), 13.9 ppg
Iowa State welcomes Omaha back to Hilton Coliseum for the seventh meeting against the Mavericks. ISU owns a 4-2 edge in the series, having won the last three meetings that date back to 1982. Omaha won two of the first three meetings in the series in the 70s.

 Thursday, Dec. 8 – at Iowa
2015-16 Record: 22-11
Coach: Fran McCaffery (7th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Peter Jok (Sr.), 17.3 ppg
The 2015-16 version of the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series provided one of the most memorable moments of the campaign, with Iowa State storming back from 20 down in the second half to win. Monté Morris’ floater with seconds remaining proved to be the difference and Hilton Coliseum erupted into pandemonium. It was an instant classic. This will be the 70th game in series history, with Iowa owning a 43-25 edge. But the Cyclones have been in control recently, with wins in six of the last seven meetings.

 Saturday, Dec. 17 – vs. Drake (Hy-Vee Classic – Des Moines, Iowa)
2015-16 Record: 7-24
Coach: Ray Giacoletti (4th year)
Top Returning Scorer: Reed Timmer (Jr.), 16.8 ppg
The Cyclones and Bulldogs meet for the 174th time. Iowa State leads the series 108-65, including wins in four of the last five games. ISU is 3-1 in the Hy-Vee Classic.

 Tuesday, Dec. 20 – Mississippi Valley State
2015-16 Record: 8-27
Coach: Andre Payne (3rd year)
Top Returning Scorer: Marcus Romain (Sr.), 18.6 ppg
Iowa State heads into the holiday break with Mississippi Valley State, as the Delta Devils visit Ames for the fifth time in the last nine seasons. The Cyclones are 5-0 all-time against MVSU and 22-0 against SWAC opponents.

 Saturday, Jan. 28 – at Vanderbilt (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
2015-16 Record: 19-14
Coach: Bryce Drew (1st year)
Top Returning Scorer: Matthew Fisher-Davis (Jr.), 9.7 ppg
As previously announced, ISU heads to Nashville to face Vanderbilt, who will be in its first season under the direction of new head coach Bryce Drew. ISU owns a 4-3 edge over the Commodores, with wins in the last two meetings. The Cyclones are 2-1 all-time in SEC/Big 12 Challenge games.

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Cyclones In The NBA Summer Leagues

I am going to do a running blog here that includes the schedules, stats and other relevant information of the Cyclones playing in the NBA Summer Leagues with hopes it will make keeping up with our former players easier for everyone. Hope you’ll follow along, comment on the bottom if you see any interesting stories or information. Enjoy the season!

We’ll post key stats, click on the score for the box score.

Games will be shown on NBAtv, ESPN Networks and

Las Vegas Summer League
League Stats | League Standings

Jameel McKay – New Orleans Pelicans
July 8, 9:30 p.m. (CT) – vs. Los Angeles Lakers – L, 85-65 – 4 pts, 6 rbs, 2-5 FG
July 10, 7 p.m. (CT) – vs. Utah – L, 79-72 – DNP-Coaches Decision
July 11, 9 p.m. (CT) – vs. Sacramento – W, 70-66 – DNP-Coaches Decision
July 13, 3:30 p.m. (CT) – Playoffs – vs. Miami – L, 81-77 – 2 pts
July 15, 3:30 p.m. (CT) – Consolation – vs. D-League – L, 88-76 – 16 pts, 13 rbs, 4 blks, 7-10 FG

FINAL STAT AVERAGES: 15.3 minutes, 7.3 points, 6.3 rebounds

Abdel Nader – Boston Celtics
July 9, 5 p.m. (CT) – vs. Chicago – L, 71-62 – 12 pts. 3 rbs, 4-8 FG
July 10, 9:30 p.m. (CT) – vs. Phoenix – L, 87-74 – 13 pts, 6 rbs, 6-13 FG
July 12, 5 p.m. (CT) – vs. Dallas – W, 88-82 – 10 pts, 4-6 FG, 2-2 3FG
July 13, 7 p.m. (CT) – Playoffs – vs. Cleveland – L, 98-94 – 13 pts, 5 rbs
July 15, 7 p.m. (CT) – Consolation – vs. Portland – L, 80-75 – 16 pts, 6-11 FG, 3-4 3FG

FINAL STAT AVERAGES: 18.5 minutes, 12.0 points, 3.8 rebounds


Orlando Summer League
League Stats | League Standings

Georges Niang – Indiana Pacers
July 2, Noon (CT) – vs. Orlando Blue
W, 93-66 – 17 pts, 12 rbs, 5 assts, 2 stls, 6-8 FG, 3-4 3FG – POSTGAME INTERVIEW
Niang draws rave reviews in his first professional appearance
July 3, Noon (CT) – vs. Charlotte – L, 80-70 – 6 pts, 5 rbs, 2 assts, 2 stls, 3-6 FG,
July 5, 4 p.m. (CT), (live)/NBAtv (tape delay 8 p.m.) – vs. Detroit – L, 80-76 – 14 pts, 6 rbs, 3 assts
Niang one of just two Pacers with a positive +/- in the game.
July 6, 4 p.m. (CT) – vs. Oklahoma City – L, 89-70 – 8 pts, 4 rbs, 3-6 FG
July 8, 1 p.m. (CT) – vs. Orlando Blue – W, 85-79 – 6 pts, 4 rbs, 3 assts

FINAL STAT AVERAGES: 23.8 minutes, 10.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 57.1 FG%

Photo credit: Indy Star

Photo credit: Indy Star

Utah Summer League
League Stats | League Standings

Abdel Nader – Boston Celtics
July 4, 6 p.m. (CT) – vs. Philadelphia – W, 102-94 – 3 pts, 1-3 FG, 1-1 3FG – NADER THREE
July 5, 6 p.m. (CT) – vs. Utah – W, 89-82 – 6 pts, 5 rbs – NADER DUNK
July 7th, 6 p.m. (CT) – vs. San Antonio – W, 87-86 – 7 pts, 3-3 FG

FINAL STAT AVERAGES: 10.3 minutes, 5.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 50.0 FG%

Recent news/stories:
Pelicans Honoring Bryce Dejean-Jones With Jersey Patch
Matt Thomas told his story and then re-wrote it caught up with Monte Morris after he returned from Chris Paul’s CP3 camp
Former Cyclone Melvin Ejim will try to help Canada qualify for the Olympics

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Matt Thomas Told His Story And Then Re-Wrote It

Thomas, Matt_Iowa_2015-16_4

AMES, Iowa – It’s the afternoon of the biggest non-conference game of the season. Dec. 10, 2015. Iowa is coming to town. In just hours, Iowa State will hold its pre-game shoot around as it prepares to face the Hawkeyes.

A tweet rolls out from the fingers of CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb. In it is a link to a story about Cyclone junior Matt Thomas, who to this point in his career had been a solid role player.

Shoot around wraps up and Iowa State players head in different directions. Some to pregame meal upstairs on the second floor of Hilton Coliseum. Some continue to get up shots. Matt Thomas lingers in the locker room a bit longer than usual. He reads Gottlieb’s article and fires off his response.

A simple six word response that said so much.

“Thanks for helping share my story.”

It is a story of heartbreak. A story of successes. A story of mistakes. And now, a story of redemption.

With the world reading his story and the Cyclones the only top-25 team playing that evening, Thomas kept ISU in the game in a first half that could only be described as a nightmare for the home team.

ISU trailed 49-35 at the break, but without Thomas it would have been far worse, perhaps insurmountable. The Onalaska, Wisconsin native connected on 4-of-5 threes in the opening period to score 12 points. The rest of the team was 11-for-27 from the field and 1-for-8 behind the arc.

The Hawkeye lead swelled to as many as 20 in the second half but the Cyclones kept battling and it was Thomas’ sixth 3-pointer that pulled ISU within three with just over a minute to go. The Cyclones would win the game and in Thomas’ own words, it may have been the turning point in his career.

This Thomas three with just 1:00 remaining pulled ISU to within three. The Cyclones went on to win 83-82, capping an incredible 20-point comeback.

This Thomas’ three with just 1:00 remaining pulled ISU to within three. The Cyclones went on to win 83-82, capping an incredible 20-point comeback.

“After that story came out, I went out and had a big game against Iowa and we got a huge win,” Thomas said. “I’m not sure if it was a turning point in my season, even career maybe, but it was definitely a weight off my shoulders. A lot people didn’t know about my story, about my past, but it was good to have that information out there. It kind of allowed me to be myself and play my game.”

But as much as his shooting helped that night, it was another part of his game that may have played as much of a role in ISU getting the win. Another transformation of sorts for Thomas.

Iowa star Jarrod Uthoff hammered the Cyclones to the tune of 30 first-half points. The Cyclones seemingly had no answer. But they did, they just maybe didn’t know it at that point.

Thomas had never really been called upon to be the defensive stopper, but in the second half on that night he was. Drawing the primary assignment, Thomas helped hold Uthoff to just two points in the second half.

His story off the court was clearer and his narrative on the court, both offensively and defensively, changed that night as well.

“I find that if you’re locked in on either end of the floor it is going to help on the other end,” Thomas said. “If I’m locked in defensively, it is going to help me knock down shots on the offensive end and vice versa.”

Thomas became ISU's top perimeter defender, facing tough tasks like guarding national player of the year Buddy Hield.

Thomas became ISU’s top perimeter defender, facing tough tasks like guarding national player of the year Buddy Hield.

For the remainder of the season, Thomas took on the role of ISU’s defensive perimeter stopper and did so admirably. He also had his best offensive season, averaging 11.0 points while connecting on 89 3-pointers, tied for the fourth-most made in a single season at Iowa State. He was also extremely accurate, connecting on 43.2 percent of his tries.

Just a year removed from playing just 15.6 minutes per game, Thomas was an All-Big 12 honorable mention performer.

Thomas’ career to that Iowa game had been one of ups-and-downs. In 2013, he cracked the starting lineup in his first game as a freshman, one of just 20 Cyclone rookies to do so in the last 41 years. But soon thereafter he found himself struggling to find minutes.

He had his own personal struggles as detailed in the Gottlieb article and throughout his sophomore season saw his minutes reduced almost in half. It wasn’t the career he had envisioned for himself as a star for the Onalaska Hilltoppers.

Enter Steve Prohm.

“I think I just needed a change almost,” Thomas said. “That’s nothing against the old staff and Coach Hoiberg. I loved those guys and Coach Hoiberg. But more so mentally, I just needed something to get me going and Coach Prohm kind of provided that.”

As Thomas heads into his senior season, he looks to improve on the court and from a leadership standpoint.

“I think it will be important with me being a senior to help out the younger guys,” Thomas said. “Whether it’s Jakolby (Long), Solomon (Young) or even Simeon (Carter) since he’s just a sophomore. They are going to go through the same struggles that I went through when I was a younger player in this program and hopefully I’ll be able to help them through that like guys like Melvin (Ejim) did for me.”

No one doubts the Cyclones will be a different looking bunch, with replacing Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay a tall task for any program. But Thomas points to an experienced group of players as reason to believe a promising season is ahead.

“We are going to be incredibly experienced still,” Thomas said. “With Monté (Morris), Naz (Mitrou-Long) and myself in the backcourt and Deonte (Burton) up front as seniors. We’ve played in a lot of games. You throw in a pair of grad transfers (Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden) and you’ve got six seniors right there with a lot of experience playing in big games.

“We understand that some people are probably sleeping on us and that gives us a little chip on our shoulder, but we want to go out and prove people wrong and I think we have a group of guys that can do that.”

Thomas believes that despite the significant losses, Iowa State is built to succeed over the long haul. It is a culture of hard work.

“I think it is a culture we’ve built here,” Thomas said. “It really rubs off on everyone. These new guys see the senior leaders in the gym and they know that they’ve got to get into the gym just to keep up. The culture we have built means that guys are going to get into the gym, get that extra work, so that we are ready for the next season.”

It is no surprise that the culture of hard work has translated into a culture of success.

Thomas scored 16 points in ISU's win against Little Rock as it advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in his career.

Thomas scored 16 points in ISU’s win against Little Rock as it advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in his career.


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Jack Trice Stadium, Star Wars Create Incredible “Movie Night”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins on the Jack Trice Stadium video board.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins on the Jack Trice Stadium video board.

Editor’s Note: There are no spoilers in this article, I would not want to ruin Star Wars for Matt Shoultz when he finally relents and watches all of them in one sitting.

This story is almost a perfect storm for me, involving two things which I know way more about than the typical person should: Iowa State Athletics and Star Wars.

I have worked at Iowa State for seven years as either a student intern or a full-time employee, been to (literally) thousands of Iowa State athletics events all over the world and it is awesome and an honor which I love every single day. I have seen Star Wars … a lot. While my memory at the ripe old age of 27 fades me, I know I had seen the originals before the Special Editions came out in theaters in 1997, Star Wars has become something I love.

While I do not consider myself a stereotypical “Star Wars nerd”, I am guilty of some offenses to being a nerd, such as skipping History 318 my senior year at Iowa State to buy the Star Wars Saga on Blu-Ray … and only watch the special features, reading the entire Luke Skywalker entry on Wookiepedia (that is not a typo) and preparing a plan to see The Force Awakens in Omaha in case the volleyball team made the Final Four the weekend it came out.

Cy somehow snuck that lightsaber past security.

Cy somehow snuck that lightsaber past security.

So when we announced that The Force Awakens was going to be the Jr. Cyclone Club (JCC) Movie Night film this year I was pumped. Obviously, Movie Night’s target audience is not mid-20s Iowa State Athletics employees, but I was not going to point that out. Either watching a movie one likes, or to play FIFA soccer video games on the Jack Trice Stadium video board is one of those things males who have watched TV or played video games in the last 20 years talk about, and never expect to actually happen.

Not pictured: emotional author crying tears of joy.

Not pictured: emotional author crying tears of joy.

Except this time it did. I was based out of my office in the Jacobson Building helping cover our track and field team out at the Big 12 Championships, so it was a short walk outside to see what was happening right when the gates opened. While people were staking out their territory to watch the movie, another thing I noticed was that a lot of kids brought balls to play catch on.

Like the dream of seeing a movie on the video board, it made me reflect on how many kids just loved the opportunity to be on the field of Jack Trice Stadium. When I was a kid, and we visited my parents’ families in Carroll and/or Fort Dodge, my dad always made it a point to make a “pilgrimage” to Jack Trice Stadium on the way back home to West Des Moines. Most of the time it was just to drive past the stadium, sometimes we walked up to the gates to the field just to see it. It always made my dad’s day, just to see the field and the stadium and know that football season would soon be here, no matter if it was December, April or July.

The crowd at Jack Trice Stadium ready for The Force Awakens

The crowd at Jack Trice Stadium ready for The Force Awakens

The stadium still holds that kind of pull. Most days, I see people pulling up to the stadium or coming into the Jacobson Building, just to say they were there. They know they are not getting on the field, or in the stadium, but just being there does it for them. In May 2011 when Osama bin Laden was killed, the night-long celebration eventually went to the stadium. The plan was not to go into the stadium, but people just felt the celebration that had already been taken from The Knoll, down Lincoln Way, up Welch Ave. and through Greekland needed to stop by the stadium, too.

I am lucky. I get to see the stadium, and by being in the Jacobson Building, more or less be in the stadium every single day. While that does not enter my mind every day (I have to get to work!), when it does it allows me to appreciate what I do and who I get to work for.

"Go deep!" "Nice catch!"

“Go deep!” “Nice catch!”

Then I think about those kids at the movie tonight. For many of them, Movie Night is the one night a year they get to take the field at Jack Trice Stadium, just like their heroes on Saturdays. Getting to tell your friends at school that you played catch in a college football stadium, and saw Star Wars at the same time is a double whammy that will give them bragging rights for a while.

When I visited Texas A&M for the first time in 2010, I snuck into Kyle Field (the hole in the fence was probably not an “entrance”), and went right to the corner where Todd Blythe caught his third touchdown against the Aggies in 2005, just hoping Bret Meyer would magically show up and toss one up for me to go after.

So while tonight was about getting to see Star Wars at Jack Trice Stadium, it was also creating memories, even if they do not all involve Han Solo, Rey and Kylo Ren.

The satisfied (and probably cold) moviegoers head home for the night.

The satisfied (and probably cold) moviegoers head home for the night.

Posted in Iowa State Athletics | Leave a comment

Reconstructing One’s Identity After Injury

Nelson, Crystal_NCAA Midwest Regional2013-14-5

Crystal Nelson of Iowa State finishes in first place at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Midwest Regional in Ames, Iowa on November 15, 2013. Photograph by Wesley Winterink.

Story written by Iowa State Athletics Communications student assistant, Kevin Horner

It started as shoulder pain, a defining characteristic of a runner returning back to form. She was a runner, after all.

This particular shoulder soreness, however, didn’t recede. It expanded. The pain, which was initially thought to be a broken rib, crept dangerously over the front of her shoulders toward her heart — and maybe her soul.

The pain returned to senior Crystal Nelson. It was worse this time, though. She couldn’t breathe. With every inhalation came a wave of sharp, debilitating pain.

“It was almost like someone was stabbing me in the chest,” Nelson said.

The doctors diagnosed it as pericarditis, heart inflammation, which for Nelson, a two-time All-American track and cross-country runner, meant at least six months of total rest — no exercise whatsoever. She was a runner who couldn’t run, but after all, she was still a runner.

Nelson had been a runner for her whole life, ever since elementary school physical education class. She was one of the few students who got excited when the mile test arrived. While some may have viewed the mile as an obstacle to get past, Nelson viewed it as an opportunity — an opportunity to beat the boys in her class.

And she beat the boys, but not always easily. Sometimes she’d run so hard that she’d have to throw up afterward. But it was worth it to beat the boys — to win the race.

She was a runner, after all.

Nelson carried her success with her to Ames, Iowa, to run for Iowa State. During her first three years as a Cyclone, Nelson earned All-American honors twice — among other accolades — and became just the second ISU cross-country runner to win an individual Big 12 title.

Nelson’s running career, since that elementary school P.E. class, seemed to have been building up until her senior year. Her level of success had increased from year to year, so naturally her expectations for her final year were high.

Then the pain came — in more ways than one.

The doctors didn’t know, and still don’t know, what caused the lining of Nelson’s heart to inflame. It could’ve been a virus. It could’ve been the hole in her heart that had been there since birth.

Nelson’s mind ran the gamut of emotions from shock to anger to depression as she tried to process the news.

“The entire cross-country season, I was seeing everyone doing the thing that I loved,” Nelson said. “And I wanted them to succeed, but at the same time, I was jealous because I wanted to be on the field with them, running for Iowa State.”

In her mind, Nelson was still a runner, but that mindset — the adamancy to remain something she couldn’t be at that time — began to have negative consequences. Her sole motivation was to return to her sport, her element, and, as a result, her grades began to drop.

“I felt like, ‘I’m [at ISU] for running,’” Nelson said. “I was recruited to run here. I felt like I wasn’t really here for academics, so I kind of let it go and didn’t really care.”

It made sense to Nelson. Nearly her entire life — her time, her money, her effort — had been dedicated to this sport. Now that running had been taken from her, the only logical option seemed to be to wait it out — wait until she could run again, be herself once again.

Nelson isolated herself from everyone around her. She was diagnosed and struggled with depression earlier in her career, and those thoughts began to amplify.

“My world just started crumbling,” Nelson said. “I felt like I was in this deep, dark hole that I could not get out of. I just felt hopeless. I felt like I wasn’t anyone.”


DeCosta, Kristen_Minnesota2013-14-4

Everything seemed to move a bit slower for Kristen DeCosta as she touched down in Iowa to begin her gymnastics career at Iowa State.

Ames didn’t have the pace of Dallas, DeCosta’s hometown.

The Midwest had DeCosta out of her element, but that’s what she’d expected. She knew she would have to make sacrifices. She knew it might be rough, but she chose it.

She had moved out of her geographical element to remain in her personal element — gymnastics.

She began her freshman season focused — focused on proving herself, on keeping her scholarship, on being a successful gymnast.

DeCosta’s hands released the high bar during her bars routine as she launched herself into the air during an early season practice. She was attempting a jaeger — a flip on the uneven bars — but when she reached out to catch the bar at the end of her skill, it wasn’t there.

With a thud, DeCosta smacked the mat below, face first, as frustration boiled to the surface of her emotions. It was still early, but she had yet to prove herself. At least she wasn’t hurt, she thought. She’d have another chance tomorrow.

DeCosta awoke the next morning with a headache. She’d had headaches before, but not like this. This one was more powerful, more consuming. She had trouble concentrating. She could hardly keep herself awake.

“It felt like I was in someone else’s body,” DeCosta said.

She had to push these physical obstacles aside, DeCosta thought to herself. This was her time to prove herself — to show that she belonged as a Division I gymnast. She needed to know that she didn’t move across the country for nothing.

DeCosta struggled to walk straight at practice. She couldn’t stay on the beam. She couldn’t flip through the air. A couple of times, she got “lost in a skill,” DeCosta said. During a skill — mid-air, mid-flip — her mind would shut down, her body would stop its motion and she would fall to the ground. It was as if a gap had been created in her memory.

After athletic trainers tested her, it was evident that DeCosta had suffered a concussion. This evidence wasn’t limited to the gym either. Light and noise were amplified inside of DeCosta’s head. Homework became almost an impossibility because she couldn’t focus for more than 20 minutes at a time. Those weren’t DeCosta’s main concerns at the time, however.

“As a freshman, it is really difficult to be out of competition,” DeCosta said. “You don’t know much about how the system works, so you believe that the sole reason you are here is for your gymnastics. When you get taken out of that, it becomes a really scary situation.”

Fears began to replace focus inside of DeCosta’s mind. Would she keep her scholarship amid her injury? Would she compete at all this season? Was she qualified to still be a gymnast?

Her mind raced. She had moved here to stay within her element, but that’s not how she felt. She didn’t feel within her own mind and body, much less her element.

DeCosta’s concussion amplified seemingly small annoyances — like a homework assignment. This led to frustration, which led to more headaches, which delayed her recovery.

“I completely lost confidence in myself,” DeCosta said. “All I could remember was I did this, I messed up, I was out and it was my own fault.”

Doubts began to dominate DeCosta’s thoughts. She started to feel incompetent as a gymnast. Like Nelson, DeCosta felt isolated from the team as she couldn’t participate in practice or in meets. The team spent most of its nights practicing or competing while DeCosta spent most of hers alone in a dark room.

“Being injured, it is really easy to think, you know, ‘I’m not training. I’m not competing, and [the team] is doing just fine without me,’” DeCosta said. “‘Why am I even here?’”


Division I athletes often choose their paths almost immediately — because early is usually the only option. This path isn’t necessarily available later in life, or in high school even, said Jamie Pollard, ISU director of athletics.

A committed athlete can’t waste time, or he or she may be taken off course without enough time to return. There isn’t much time for anything outside of the particular sport.

“You can’t do [a Division I sport] part-time or ‘half-assed.’ You’ve got to go all-in,” Pollard said. “There isn’t time for study abroad. There isn’t time for internships. And that’s a choice you make.”

It’s a choice that may limit future choices, but it’s the same as any other commitment, Pollard said. If one wants to perform at the highest level, in any area of work, field or sport, one has to commit to that persona, that element, that identity.

With commitment naturally comes risk. The same may apply to student-athletes, Pollard said. If an athlete, who’s been training his or her entire life to compete at a Division I level, suffers a season- or career-ending injury, they might have nowhere to turn.

“[If an athlete suffers an injury], their identity is gone,” Pollard said. “It’s gone because their whole life they’ve been identified as an athlete. That’s unfortunate.”

For this reason, injuries, especially extended injuries, may be more difficult than an outsider might assume. These injuries don’t just postpone or end hobbies or fun activities. These injuries affect athlete’s entire lives and identities. Nelson fell into isolation and depression following her diagnosis. DeCosta questioned whether she should’ve even left Dallas to come to Ames.

“[Getting injured] is heartbreaking,” said Sammie Pearsall, ISU senior gymnast. “Whenever you see someone get injured in the gym, the whole team feels it. It’s like team heartache.”

Injuries don’t have to mean depression or heartache, said Jay Ronayne, ISU gymnastics coach. The injuries themselves don’t define the time away from the sport, but rather, it depends on the response. One might choose to sink into isolation, or one might choose to focus on the positives and new roles to take on the team.

“It’s an individual thing,” Ronayne said. “Probably the worst thing is that you have these plans. You’re making tons of progress, and then all of a sudden, the train comes off the tracks. Mentally, that’s a difficult thing to handle, but every athlete goes through it. How you handle it, that’s an individual thing.”

The response to an injury, however, depends on one’s perceived identity, Pollard said. To open oneself up to positive responses to injury, an athlete has to distinguish his or her identity outside of their sport. If they don’t do that, injuries can be much more than physically dangerous.

“I think most [athletes] are not defined [just by their sport], but some definitely are,” Pollard said. “Is Thomas Pollard [Jamie’s son], is his identity as a runner? I hope not, but it’s pretty hard not to be.”


The time away provided new perspective for both DeCosta and Nelson. These athletes realized they could no longer find their identities solely in their respective sports. They were more than athletes.

DeCosta suffered three more concussions during her ISU career and ended up making the decision to retire from gymnastics prior to her senior season. After her fourth concussion, she said she realized that her life extended past gymnastics. There was more to Kristen DeCosta than a floor routine or a run down the vault, she said.

DeCosta used her time to explore her identity beyond gymnastics. She got an internship, she worked for a campus magazine and she began doing television commentary for at the gymnastics home meets. She may have come to Iowa to pursue one path, but she discovered, perhaps the hard way, that she wasn’t limited to one element.

“As a senior, I’ve been able to see that this sport ends and there’s so much more to my life,” DeCosta said. “[Having a life beyond gymnastics] was more important to me than competing one more year.”

Nelson’s story played out differently than DeCosta’s, given she’s had three fewer years to cope with this time away. After slipping into depression, the “deep, dark hole” that she’d mentioned, her teammates and coaches took notice and surrounded her, Nelson said. She came out of that isolation approaching life in new ways.

“When [a sport] gets taken away from you, you start to question, ‘ok. Who am I?’” Nelson said. “‘Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Who really am I outside of a runner?’”

She refocused on her academics and developed a love for her major. She joined clubs, explored new relationships and changed her perception of her identity. Like DeCosta, Nelson discovered she was more than just an athlete — more than just a runner.

Amid this re-identification, Nelson’s condition improved as her chest pain began to recede — hope of running again. A light at the end of a deep, dark tunnel.

Now that six months have passed, Nelson has begun to run again. With the return of her strides, however, so the pain has also returned. That ominously familiar pain that threatened to claim much more than just Nelson’s ability to run.

But this time, things are different. The pain may creep toward her heart, but it can no longer reach her soul — her identity.

She’s more than a runner, after all.

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