Welcome back, basketball.
When last we left, I was on an airplane coming home from a weekend trip to San Francisco. My buddies and I had found a neat little dive bar there that happened to be hosting an Iowa State watch party for the Connecticut game. I ordered nachos and Anchor Steam and the Cyclones lost, albeit valiantly.
And that's fine.
In fact, it's more than fine. As I tried to make abundantly clear in the hours that followed, we enjoyed the ride. We were thankful, not upset. Proud, not disappointed. And those feelings still remain.
But now, all eyes are on 2014-15. And honestly, it's probably been that way since the second the horn sounded inside Madison Square Garden, where Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane laced up their sneakers for the last time as Cyclones.
Now, all eyes are on this group of guys.
For Dustin Hogue and Monte Morris, it's about picking up where they left off — Dustin, with a 34-point performance on the biggest stage of his life, before God and his hometown; Monte, with a rapidly maturing game and a likely insurmountable assist-to-turnover record — the most quantifiable results of spending an entire year under DeAndre Kane's tutelage.
For Matt Thomas, it's about exorcising demons. Despite recording the second-most three-pointers in program history for a freshman in 2013-14, Thomas was plagued by occasional cold spells, resulting in fewer minutes than we all probably expected. Of course in the offseason, he drove drunk. "This isn't me," he begged his Twitter followers to understand. "I'll learn from this mistake and be a better person from it." And we know that's true.
For Naz Long, it's about being godlike. After all, he's already been crowned "Threesus" by his disciples. He's worshiped in Ames like the Messiah himself, for playing some of the most clutch Cyclone basketball in recent memory. But it's about more than just being the savior twice a year against Oklahoma State. Ejim and Kane are long gone. Should there ever be a single set of footprints in the sand this season, it's expected that those will be the times that Long carried us.
For Bryce Dejean-Jones, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, it's about writing their own stories. Dejean-Jones could be a troubled journeyman defined by his bad attitude and notoriously poor shot selection... Abdel Nader could be that high-volume shooter for a terrible Northern Illinois program who just never meshed as a role player... Jameel McKay, having never played a second of Divison-I basketball in his life, could fail to meet expectations as that never-before-seen piece of a Fred Hoiberg frontcourt...
The trio could simply be three more notches on the transfer bedpost, hauling away the same baggage they dragged with them to Ames, unable to achieve the kind of "second chance" success had by their predecessors.
Then again, they could be born-again all-conference superstars.
For Georges Niang, it's about being the next man up. Expectations have skyrocketed for the junior about as fast as his baby fat melted off this offseason. On every website, in every magazine, on every college basketball preview show, another Player of the Year endorsement; another "coulda, woulda, shoulda" recollection of the NCAA Tournament exit defined by a freak broken foot.
They could have been champions.
Niang has unfinished business, and that's probably putting it pretty mildly. In the absence of his graduated all-conference brethren, Niang has the spotlight all to himself — and it's white hot.
For Fred Hoiberg? Just highlight, copy and paste
Disrespect and Kansas reloading and big ol' chips on big ol' shoulders and Big 12 refs and CAN THEY WIN ON THE ROAD... All of it is back.
And we welcome it with open arms.
Come here, you son of a bitch.