AMES - Fred Hoiberg knows a thing or two about expectations. Exceeding them, setting them high, or in some cases, flat out ignoring them.
Picked to finish eighth a year ago in the Big 12 preseason poll, The Mayor guided the Iowa State men's basketball team to a third place tie in the conference, it's first NCAA tournament appearance in six years and a nine-win jump in conference play from 2010-11 - the best-ever one-year turnaround in the Big 12.
So when Blue Ribbon and Athlon Sports pegged the Cyclones to finish eighth in the conference this year, Hoiberg - last season's Big 12 Co-Coach of the Year - didn't bat an eye.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Iowa State senior transfers Will Clyburn, front, and Korie Lucious clown around during the Cyclone men’s basketball team’s media day event Wednesday at the Sukup Basketball Complex in Ames. Clyburn is a former Marshalltown Community College standout while Lucious transfered in from Michigan State. Both players sat out last season.
"The expectations from what we've seen national media wise - they're not real high for us again. But that doesn't bother me. I could care less about that stuff," said Hoiberg on Wednesday at the ISU men's basketball media day at the Sukup Basketball Complex.
"I know what these guys are all about and I'm excited for what they're going to bring to the table."
Coming off a 23-11 record and 12-6 mark in the Big 12, Hoiberg enters his third season at the helm with five seniors on board including two impact transfers. Former Utah and Marshalltown Community College star Will Clyburn and ex-Michigan State guard Korie Lucious highlight the veteran quintet and give Hoiberg reason to have high hopes for this year's squad.
"I expect big years out of both Korie and Will," said Hoiberg, whose high standards have trickled down to his star tandem.
"Those guys are eligible now and they're going to be the leaders of this team. They're expecting big things out of themselves."
Clyburn, a first team honoree on both the All-ICCAC and All-Region XI in 2009-10 with the Tigers, brings a versatile skill set to the Cyclones and can freelance anywhere from the 2 to the 4. Earning second-team All-Mountain West honors and first-team NABC All-District 17 accolades after one season with the Utes in 2010-11, the 6-foot-7 forward may even initiate the offense at times for ISU - similar to Royce White a year ago.
Fortunately, with Lucious on board, the Cyclones have a true floor general - something they sorely lacked a year ago. With experience from two Final Fours and a winning tradition at Michigan State to boot, the ex-Spartan's presence allows the Cyclones to employ a more conventional offense and push the tempo.
"We'll play more traditional this year. You'll see us have a point guard again. You won't see us with a 6-8, 270-pound freight train going down the middle of the court," said Hoiberg, referring to White, the 16th pick in this year's NBA draft, who facilitated the Cyclones' attack last season - leading the squad in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks.
"What that will allow us to do is to play a little faster."
Along with White, a first team all-league selection and honorable mention All-American, Iowa State also must replace fellow starters Scott Christopherson, an All-Big 12 third team selection, and Chris Allen, who garnered all-conference honorable mention. Christopherson and Allen were second and third on the team in scoring at 12.6 and 12.2 points per game respectively.
Iowa State returns a pair of starters from last season's March Madness run including three-point specialist Chris Babb and defensive stopper Melvin Ejim. Babb, a senior guard, contributed 7.8 points per contest last year, fifth-best on the team, and knocked down 64 three-pointers, third on the squad.
Ejim was the squad's fourth leading scorer at 9.3 points per contest and grabbed 6.6 boards per game - 7th in the conference, en route to Big 12 Honorable Mention. The junior forward expanded his perimeter game while competing on the Nigerian national team this summer.
Senior sixth man Tyrus McGee provides another outside threat for the Clones after knocking down 80 treys at a 42.6 percent clip and contributing 7.7 points a year ago. Senior Anthony Booker and sophomore Percy Gibson solidify the interior for Iowa State, while freshman Georges Niang should also see some quality minutes in the paint.
"I'm excited about our post players. I expect a big season out of Percy and Anthony gives us a lot of strength and muscle inside," said Hoiberg.
While Clyburn and Lucious will make their respective debuts in a Cyclone uniform this November, the pair has had an entire year to grasp Iowa State's system and forge a close bond.
"I feel like me and Korie clicked right away. We (were) always close. When the road games happened, we were always in the gym together - working out and watching the games together," said Clyburn, who found it tough to watch from the side but found solace in having a teammate to share the experience with.
"We were always keeping each other in high spirits, making sure we're doing the right thing. And now we're almost like best friends."
Along with establishing a great chemistry, the off-court time allowed the duo to set goals for the upcoming season.
"It was tough (sitting out). Having Will on my side going through the same thing, we were able to talk to each other everyday and say 'hey, next year is our time. Let's just keep working hard right now and next year when the time comes, we'll be able to get on the court and perform.' Having someone to go through that (with) - those tough times, that thick and thin, it's a lot of help," said Lucious.
Along with losing their top three scorers, the Cyclones face a challenging slate that features 18 teams that reached postseason play and 13 games against squads that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing White and their top three scorers from a year ago, Lucious, Hoiberg and the rest of the Cyclones have a similar destination in mind.
"We all still want to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Last year - that's not where it stops. We've all been working hard all summer to get back," said Lucious.
Coming off a 16-2 record at home, including an 8-1 mark in conference play, Hoiberg believes Cyclone fans will likely have plenty more Hilton Magic to enjoy with this year's squad.
"We're very excited about this team, we're excited about this season. The guys know how hard they've been working and they want to get back (to the NCAA Tournament), because they saw how fun it was," said Hoiberg,
Regardless of the preseason polls and prognosticators, when it comes to setting the bar, Hoiberg and the Clones share a singular mindset.
"That's the great thing about this group. I have expectations for them, but they have their own expectations for themselves and they're very high," said Hoiberg.