AMES - Facing his first full-court trap in a Cyclones uniform, Will Clyburn didn't seem the least bit flustered.
Encircled by an army of reporters at the Iowa State men's basketball media day Oct. 10, the 6-foot-7 swingman spoke about his upcoming senior season with a big grin, seemingly right at home in his new yet familiar surroundings.
Only two years ago the Detroit native played just 40 miles down the road at Marshalltown Community College. Leading the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference in scoring and rebounding during his sophomore year with the Tigers, Clyburn took his talents to the Division I level heading over 1,100 miles west to Utah.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Former Marshalltown Community College standout Will Clyburn poses during the Iowa State men’s basketball team’s media day Oct. 10 at the Sukup Basketball Complex in Ames. After two years at MCC and another at Utah, Clyburn is preparing to play his last season of collegiate basketball with the Cyclones after sitting out last winter.
While the Cyclones were among his top choices after completing his career at MCC, a return to hoops in the heartland seemed improbable after signing his national letter of intent with the Utes.
"I had no idea that I was going to be coming back to Iowa State or the state of Iowa period. It just, I guess it just happened," said Clyburn, when trying to piece together his basketball journey that came full circle.
Retracing his steps, there were multiple factors that played a part in the Romulus High School grad's decision.
Though Clyburn flourished in his junior season at Utah - leading the squad in scoring and rebounding on his way to second team all-Mountain West honors - he had a change of heart when Utes coach Jim Boylen was fired following a 13-18 record during the 2010-11 season. Boylen had recruited Clyburn at MCC and the two had established a relationship in Clyburn's prep days when Boylen was an assistant coach at Michigan State.
After Utah severed ties with Boylen, Clyburn called upon his connection with another coach, Cyclones' assistant T.J. Otzelberger.
"I've known T.J. since my freshman year in high school. We always kept a great relationship so when it came to me transferring (from Utah), I already knew that Iowa State would be a spot for me," said Clyburn.
Along with being closer to his family, a return to the Midwest allowed Clyburn to be a source of support for his younger brother, Terrell, who redshirted last year on the MCC basketball team.
"I wanted to be close to (Terrell) for his freshman year of college, so I can help him out," said Clyburn.
Nurturing that relationship was another outlet for Clyburn who found it challenging at times to watch from the sidelines while sitting out with the Cyclones last season.
"It was very hard. Me being a competitor, I wanted to help as much as I can. I just had to be patient. It was tough though."
The time off the floor allowed the first-team All-ICCAC honoree a chance to improve his strength and as well as multiple facets of his game.
"My shooting has improved. My ball handling has improved. And just my body altogether," said Clyburn.
A 40.3 percent three-point shooter (62-154) at Utah, Clyburn's versatile skill set will allow Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg to use him in a variety of spots on the court.
"Will is a kid that can hurt you from all over the floor. He's a guy that can facilitate the offense, you can post him up against smaller players, and you can put the ball in his hands in different isolation situations," said Hoiberg.
Well known for his scoring prowess - Clyburn once scored 54 points in a game at MCC - the fifth-year senior is making his defensive play a top priority.
"I want to become a better defender," said Clyburn before quickly correcting himself.
"I want to become a great defender."
Averaging 17.1 points per game for the Utes, the fifth-year senior also has picked up where he left on the glass after grabbing 7.8 boards a contest at Utah.
"The thing I've most been impressed with Will is his ability to rebound," said Hoiberg.
"Will is getting everything. Our last practice he got every rebound. That's something that we're going to need. Plus when he rebounds it, I'm going to expect him to push the ball down the floor."
Clyburn will look to take to the ground running as the Cyclones open the season with an exhibition against Minnesota State Sunday, Nov. 4 in Ames, before officially kicking off the 2012-13 campaign at home against Southern Friday, Nov. 9.
Though Clyburn's basketball journey has been long, challenging and unpredictable, he's once again feeling right at home in central Iowa.
When one reporter inferred that things have probably changed quite a bit since his days at Marshalltown Community College, Clyburn responded with a laugh.
"No, not really man, things are still the same."