MEN’S BASKETBALL: Still hard at work

Iowa State’s Justin Hamilton blocks a shot against Colorado on Jan. 30. Iowa State returns home Wednesday to face Oklahoma State. File photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State’s Justin Hamilton blocks a shot against Colorado on Jan. 30. Iowa State returns home Wednesday to face Oklahoma State. File photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Chris Cuellar

Coach Greg McDermott walked into Monday’s weekly press conference in a pleasant mood. Even with Iowa State’s (13–12, 2–8) schedule since the start of the 2010 calendar and a beat up, depleted roster, the towering coach is staying positive about the prospects of his squad and the good things they can take from last week’s two losses.

“We’re really excited to come back home,” McDermott said. “Last week, I thought we played some very good basketball at times.They have to know that we, as a coaching staff, believe in them, and we do.”

Through 10 Big 12 games, Iowa State has traveled away from Ames for six, and in four home games against conference competition, three of the opponents have been ranked in the top 10 at game time. The players aren’t resigned to losing in the midst of a four game losing slide, and are looking forward to Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State, rather than in the rear view mirror at No. 1 Kansas at the rowdy Allen Fieldhouse.

“I’m glad we’re at a span where we can try and win some games at home, and the crowds on our side,” said forward Craig Brackins.

Iowa State wasn’t at the lead of roster shake-ups around the state this weekend, as Northern Iowa’s center Jordan Eglseder was suspended from the Panthers for a suspicion of drunk driving arrest and the Iowa Hawkeyes’ leading scorer from last season, Anthony Tucker, was released from the Hawkeyes on Friday. Despite this news taking attention away from the Cyclones for a weekend, there remains transition in the program in Ames.

Hamilton’s Rise

Iowa State’s competition has been top-tier since the start of the Big 12 schedule, and sophomore center Justin Hamilton has been one player on the depleted roster that has risen to the challenge. A role player in McDermott’s system, the 6-foot-11-inch starter has taken advantage of the increased playing time and game-planning around Craig Brackins, averaging 8.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in his last five games.

“I just really want to do my best, and hopefully give the fans what they paid for,” Hamilton said. “It’s been a lot of fun out there.”

That mindset has shown up on the stat sheet, as Hamilton has totaled 7.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in conference play, a drastic increase from the 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds he was snagging as a freshman in his 14 Big 12 starts.

“Justin Hamilton’s progress is off the charts — he’s just really elevated his game and continued to work,” McDermott said. “There’s a level of confidence there that has never been there. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Hamilton didn’t play competitive basketball early in school in Park City, Utah. A start Wednesday against Oklahoma State would mark number 43 in a Cyclone uniform.

“I said early in Ham’s career that the bad news was that he didn’t have a lot of basketball instinct because he hadn’t played a lot,” McDermott said. “The good news was that he didn’t have bad habits. It’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t have to think about it.”

Gilstrap’s Appeal

Guard Marquis Gilstrap is still working towards coming back to Iowa State for another season, even though his transfer from Gulf Coast Community College. He is listed a senior for the Cyclones this season, but with his basketball career in jeopardy after a leg injury back in his days in Florida, McDermott and his staff are working to appeal to the NCAA for what would be a sixth year.

“We’re still waiting to make sure we can supply all the information they need. It’s an on-going process, something we’re working on every day,” McDermott said.

Gilstrap is averaging 14.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in his first year in Ames, and his highlight dunks are something Hilton crowds are getting used to seeing.

“I think we can state a good case,” McDermott said. “Having said that, when there is sixth year granted, often times it’s because of injury. For Marquis, that’s not the case, but there are some other factors, family factors. Whether the NCAA will look at that favorably or not, I don’t know.”

Dendy’s Return

Junior forward LaRon Dendy missed both the Missouri and the Kansas road games last week due to a funeral, and the key bench player isn’t scheduled to return to Ames until a tentative flight on Monday night. The funeral Dendy was supposed to attend was rescheduled after Iowa State had purchased a return ticket with the NCAA Needy Student Fund. Because Dendy missed the flight purchased for him and didn’t inform Iowa State or the airline of the schedule change, he had to find his own finances and flight to return to the team.

“He made a decision to go home early and stay home too long in my opinion, but as a result he’s on his own to get back,” McDermott said.

The coach also said that Dendy’s return to the lineup likely won’t happen on Wednesday.

“He hasn’t practiced for a week. We’ll see about that,” McDermott said.

A junior transfer from Indian Hills Community College and originally from Greenville, S. C., Dendy is averaging 7.2 points per game in his first season with the Cyclones.