Nearly six years ago a former NBA Assistant GM came to Ames to coach his alma mater. His opening press conference spoke of the mentors he had over the years and how he had every NBA GM on speed dial. Early on in his tenure, he spoke of establishing his culture and how his biggest mentor, Johnny Orr, had told him to establish what he wanted his program to be from day one.
From the onset it was apparent that Fred Hoiberg was going to coach the up-tempo, exciting brand of basketball that Orr was known for in Ames and that he was going to be a safe haven for transfers who needed a new place to play. The transfer recruiting strategy also had another motive: to inject talent in to the Iowa State men's basketball program as quickly as possible.
Although most of those transfers sat out the 2010-2011 season it was very clear that Hoiberg was not going to compromise his strategy and culture due to lack of talent. The man who only inherited two starters and 25% of returning scoring established his up tempo offense in his very first game against Northern Arizona. The wins didn't come a lot in the first year, but the team gave maximum effort and was entertaining to watch. Year one was culture building and it came at a time when no one was watching the program and seemingly any minor improvement was a step in the right direction after the dark years of the Greg McDermott era.
That culture building year was a precursor to Royce White running coast to coast against both Connecticut and Kentucky in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and proclaiming himself to be "the best player on the floor." It was Iowa State's first berth in the Big Dance since the 2005 season and marked a return to relevance for a once proud program.
Royce's leadership gave way to the arrival of Georges Niang, the maturation of Melvin Ejim, another NCAA tournament berth, and in 2013 the arrival of the baddest motherfucker to hit Ames since Marcus Fizer, Big Daddy DeAndre Kane. It all culminated in that year's Big 12 tournament championship and Sweet Sixteen berth, only the fourth in Iowa State's history.
However, none of it was possible without Hoiberg establishing his culture from the very first day he returned to Ames. He wanted talent and he wanted that talent to play with as much freedom as he did during his playing days. It worked and it spoke to players like Niang, who became only the 3rd Cyclone in school history to top 2,000 career points and passed Hoiberg in the process.
Yet all of this culture building was done in the quiet recesses of a fan base who expected little of Hoiberg and even less of the basketball program in 2010. Hoiberg's arrival was met with skepticism, but also an air of "what's the worst that could happen?" Iowa State fans had already seen the worst, and they knew anything was going to be better than that.
Hoiberg was afforded patience by the most patient fan base in the country and he paid them back faster than anyone could have imagined.
Six years later, we're once again talking about culture building, but those quiet recesses have turned to outright pandemonium as a fan base was awakened from a deep slumber due to the quick success of Hoiberg and the program.
Steve Prohm has not been afforded the luxury of building the culture of his program in a sleepy community who just wanted basketball to be painless six years ago. Instead, Prohm inherited a squad that was ranked in the preseason top five and had Final Four aspirations after coming off two straight Big 12 tournament championships.
To say that he inherited a different program than Hoiberg might be one of the biggest understatements ever associated with Iowa State basketball.
There are things we know about Prohm that make him markedly different than Hoiberg. He's more intense in practices and on the sidelines. He emphasizes defense more. His offensive sets aren't steeped in NBA philosophies, but those of someone who has been part of the college game for 20 years.
Yet he does have one similarity to Hoiberg: he's trying to put his mark on the program in his first year
Unfortunately for Prohm, he's under a microscope that might as well be a telescope for the man who one year ago was residing in Murray, KY. Every move that Prohm makes on and off the court is met with a wayward eye and concerns over what it means for the program. That certainly isn't Prohm's fault. Nor is it Hoiberg's.
This web site is guilty of it. Cyclone Fanatic, The Des Moines Register, The Ames Tribune, and a large portion of the national press is guilty of it. You and I individually are guilty of it. Guilty of placing exceedingly high expectations on a team of late teen, early 20 something kids who are going through one of the biggest transitions of their lives on the basketball court.
We all underestimated the impact that losing a coach would have on these players. We also underestimated the impact of that coach leaving in June would have on these players. We underestimated how the one and done recruiting strategy would affect the depth of this year's team. We underestimated how important it is for a coach to establish his culture from day one and what the short term ramifications are of that culture change.
In the end, we forgot what it was like to go through growing pains, because when Hoiberg had them, most of us weren't paying attention.
I don't know where this team is going the rest of the season. I do know they have five regular season games left to prove all of us wrong. I know that they are giving as much effort as their bodies and brains will allow. And I most certainly know that their goal of reaching Houston has not changed.
I also know that I'll be watching every step of the way. Cheering loudly when necessary, shaking my head in disbelief at another turnover, and remaining devoted to a program that has captured my attention. This team might not reach the expectations heaped on them to begin the season, but it doesn't mean they won't set the tone for a bright future.