Fred Hoiberg sat and watched. Each 3-point shot as deep as the next. Each time down the floor, a confident 6-foot-4 guard handled the ball, made a deft pass or launched a shot brimming with accuracy. The player’s expression never changed and neither did Hoiberg’s. It was as if success was expected, kind of like the day Hoiberg was hired.
In Ames, Iowa, when “The Mayor” made his return, the place was excited. One of their own was coming home. After 10 years in the NBA and stint as VP of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the guy who scored nearly 2,000 career points was back in Ames. It was a feel-good story.
In Ames, the story was extra large. While Cyclones fans couldn’t have felt better, the college hoops community took a wait and see approach. There’s a difference between being a pro and college coach. Recruiting and coaching on the college level are different, mainly recruiting. When you take a guy from the NBA game, the NBA lifestyle and dump him into the grinding world of 12-month-a-year coaching and recruiting, one never really knows the outcome.
Well, it’s been two years and change since “The Mayor” took over in Ames, and now we know. After a nine-win improvement in the Big 12, Hoiberg’s Cyclones danced. It happened quicker than expected and following the summer of 2012, the program looks to be quite healthy.
Gene Keady said it best when he opined: “Recruiting is like shaving. If you don’t do it everyday you look like a bum.” Hoiberg’s no bum and his current recruiting class looks outstanding.
The first pledge came from Monte Morris (Flint, Mich./Beecher). In the spring, opinions on Morris ran the gamut. He was a considered a Top 100 player but was he good enough to be someone’s No. 1 backcourt option? Especially at the point? Iowa State never wavered and won a tempered recruiting tussle for his services.
Morris closed out July riding shotgun next to Derrick Walton (Detroit, Mich./Chandler), as their Michigan Mustangs captured the adidas Super 64 championship. Iowa State’s got a good one in Morris, that was confirmed last month.
They may have a great one in Matt Thomas (Onalaska, Wisc./Onalaska). Heading into July, Thomas was ranked No. 83 on the ESPN 100. He’s going to shave considerable points off his ranking. It’s conceivable that Thomas is the best shooter in high school basketball. When you watch a player with his skill set drop in 3s, your mind goes to guys like J.J. Redick and John Jenkins. Thomas is cut from the same cloth. He’s got the size, range and temperament to have an outstanding career in Ames.
Just as Wisconsinite Sam Dekker rose last summer, it’s Thomas on the move this time around. Dekker flew past higher-rated players in his state to emerge as a national Top 25 prospect. Thomas will also jump ahead of his peers prior to his signing in the fall with Iowa State.
Gut feelings are part of the business of recruiting. Watching Hoiberg babysit Thomas last week I couldn’t help but think “The Mayor” wondered the same thing I did. Can Thomas get close to the 1,993 points that Hoiberg scored in Ames?
Thomas knows the deal. He wants to walk in Hoiberg’s shoes. “[Hoiberg’s] been where I want to be. There’s no other guy I would leave [my development] up to.”