Usually the Cinderella tag isn't conferred upon a team until it
pulls off an upset in March. But last year Iowa State--a squad
that set a school record with 24 wins--finished second in the
Big Eight, won the conference tournament and advanced to the
second round of the NCAAs, living a fairy-tale existence from
Day One. Among the major elements of the Cyclones' story:
--The plain-looking girl and her wicked stepsisters. Iowa State
entered the '95-96 season as the Big Eight's consensus
last-place team. The Cyclones were an inexperienced bunch
playing in a league full of high-caliber programs, including
Kansas, the national preseason No. 1 pick. "We were fearing the
worst," says coach Tim Floyd. "We only had one guy, Jacy
Holloway, with any Big Eight experience returning."
--The beautification. Iowa State looked mighty ugly on paper,
but once the team hit the hardwood, it turned heads. Point guard
Holloway faithfully delivered the ball into the hands of
scorers. Shooting guard Dedric Willoughby, a transfer from the
University of New Orleans, finished second in the conference in
scoring (20.5 points per game) and was named Big Eight newcomer
of the year.
Floyd also got big seasons from forward Kenny Pratt, who
averaged 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds; center Kelvin Cato, who
finished fourth in the Big Eight with 7.7 rebounds per game; and
forward Shawn Bankhead, the team's top defender. All five
starters are seniors this year.
--The charmed life. Floyd is the first to admit that his team
caught a few breaks en route to its historic season. "I look
back at it and feel that we stepped over a lot of snakes," he
says. "Each time we played Nebraska, they had a guy missing.
When we played Missouri, Julian Winfield got hurt 41 seconds
into the game. When we played Oklahoma State, Maurice Robinson
got hurt at the shootaround. We won our three Big Eight
tournament games by a total of seven points. It's critical for
us to remember our humble beginnings." By and large, Iowa State
hasn't done that, which became readily apparent at...
--The stroke of midnight. After Iowa State advanced as far as
the second round of the NCAA tournament, things took a turn for
the worse. "I am a little concerned because the players are new
to their celebrity status here in-state," says Floyd. "They
didn't handle it particularly well in the off-season." Several
players stopped lifting weights and began cutting classes,
prompting Floyd to cancel a team trip to Europe in August. Pratt
has been declared academically ineligible for the first
semester, Cato will sit out three games for skipping classes and
workouts, and Willoughby and Bankhead have each been suspended
for one game for missing summer classes.
Floyd feels the worst is behind the team. "I'd rather handle
these problems in May than in January or February," he says.
Assuming he can get his squad's collective head on straight, it
looks to be another big season in Ames. With no significant
losses, the talent is certainly there. Cinderella does, after
all, live happily ever after.
COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER Willoughby is half of a fine backcourt. [Dedric Willoughby in game]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Tim Floyd
Career record: 209-103 (10 seasons)
Record at Iowa State: 47-20 (two seasons)
1995-96 record: 24-9 (final ranking: 20th)
Big Eight record: 9-5 (second)
PG *Jacy Holloway, 6'0", Sr.
Assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3-to-1
SG *Dedric Willoughby, 6'3", Sr.
Unanimous All-Big Eight first-team choice
SF *Kenny Pratt, 6'4", Sr.
Academically ineligible for first semester
PF *Shawn Bankhead, 6'6", Sr.
Averaged 7.7 ppg and 3.0 rpg
C *Kelvin Cato, 6'11", Sr.
Led conference with 2.6 blocks per game
Dec. 14 at Iowa
Hawkeyes won state bragging rights last season
Jan. 4 at Missouri
Swept Tigers last year for first time since 1967
Jan. 7 vs. Marquette
Golden Eagles won 58-56 last year in Milwaukee
Jan. 22 vs. Kansas State
K-State only team to sweep Cyclones in '95-96
Feb. 9 vs. Kansas
Late-season matchup could decide Big 12 title