McKay returns to postseason play as Cyclones attempt back-to-back Big 12 tournament titles


Redshirt junior guard Jameel McKay blocks a shot during the game against No. 15 Oklahoma at Hilton Coliseum on March 2. The No. 17 Cyclones defeated the Sooners 77-70 after a rocky 18-point first half.

Max Dible

Jameel McKay has been waiting for this opportunity for more than two years.

No. 13 Iowa State has played its final home game, but it’s only a three-hour jaunt to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.— the site of the Big 12 tournament and a home away from home for the Cyclones, dubbed “Hilton South” by ISU fans.

For most of the Cyclones, the venue will be the site of a title defense, as they attempt to win back-to-back conference tournament championships. For McKay, however, it will be the first opportunity to play a postseason game since 2012 — his first year at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.

“I’m really excited,” McKay said. “I watched the run [Iowa State] made last year and just want to contribute to another run this year. It seems like the best players play the best in March, that’s how I go by it, so I’m looking forward to playing well.”

McKay was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA regulations after he chose to transfer to Marquette, then quickly changed his mind, joining former NJCAA teammate Dustin Hogue in Ames. That meant McKay would miss the entirety of the 2013-2014 campaign, including an absence from a second consecutive postseason.

Thus, McKay was forced to enjoy Iowa State’s torrent sprint to a Big 12 tournament title first from the ISU campus, and then from the couch at his home in Milwuakee, Wis.

“It was crazy,” McKay recalled. “The excitement throughout the campus, all in Kansas City, it was just crazy. I wasn’t even there, but I felt like I was there. The support that the fans show, I just can’t wait.”

McKay’s eagerness has been intensified even more by the strange circumstances that stopped he and Hogue from pursing a junior college national title in 2012.

“We got into an altercation with one of our rivals,” McKay explained. “One of our players got arrested and the president [of Indian Hills] bailed him out.”

The actions of Dr. Jim Lindenmayer, Indian Hills C.C.’s president at the time, were a violation of NJCAA regulations. The penalty was a postseason ban that may well have cost the school a junior college national championship, or at least a legitimate chance at one.

It is a feeling McKay has not forgotten, and one he said he will use as motivation. The feeling of hoisting the tournament trophy should provide adequate motivation for the rest of the Cyclones. 

“It was big. We just strung three wins down there and got great momentum going into the tournament,” said point guard Monte Morris. “A lot of guys [are] back from that team, and we know what it is and what’s at task down there in Kansas City.”

ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said that winning or even making a deep run in the Big 12 tournament can potentially function as a double-edged sword. He added that if the Cyclones do repeat, they will need to re-produce not only how well they played in the tournament, but how well they dealt with the victory in the mayhem’s aftermath.  

“Obviously, [your confidence] goes to a whole new level when you do win the conference tournament, but at the same time, playing three games in three nights takes a lot out of you,” Hoiberg said. “You have to get your bodies back and your focus back, which I thought our guys did a phenomenal job of last season.”

Iowa State will begin their title defense at 6:00 p.m. March 12 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.