Passing the test of time

Iowa State's steadfast seniors have proven themselves through talent, toughness

AP Photo

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, center, stands with seniors (left to right) Merrill Holden, Stuart Nezlek, Matt Thomas, Darrell Bowie, Deonte Burton, Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long on Tuesday night in Ames.

AP Photo Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, center, stands with seniors (left to right) Merrill Holden, Stuart Nezlek, Matt Thomas, Darrell Bowie, Deonte Burton, Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long on Tuesday night in Ames.

Statistically speaking, Iowa State’s senior class has already secured its spot among the very best in program history.

For as successful as they’ve proven to be both individually and collectively, though, the four outgoing Cyclone starters — Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton — may be remembered for their perseverance above all else. They stand together today as a symbol of resilience; proof positive that sheer hard work and a penchant for overcoming adversity have cemented their legacy of achievement despite having nothing guaranteed along the way.

Here are the cursory details: Morris, Mitrou-Long, Thomas and Burton have combined to score 4,808 career points. The 2017 Cyclone senior class has been a part of 96 overall victories, which ranks behind just the ’15 and ’16 groups (99 each) all-time at ISU. A win on Friday at West Virginia would be their 46th conference victory — a four-year program number reached only by the ’15 seniors.

Considering the last quarter-century of Cyclone basketball alone — a .610 win percentage, 14 NCAA Tournament bids and the same number of 20-win campaigns, six conference regular season or tournament championships, 11 All-Americans — the consistency of the current seniors is no small feat. And revisionist history may someday make it look like the success was natural — almost inevitable.

A deeper analysis shows this Cyclone quartet has been much more chip-on-their-shoulder than blue chip.

Before he molded himself into the most efficient point guard we’ve ever seen at the collegiate level, Morris was a rail-thin, unheralded point guard from Flint, Mich. Before he surfaced as a steady leader and 1,000-point scorer, Mitrou-Long had to overcome multiple hip surgeries that forced him to the sidelines during his first stint as a senior last season and left his career in doubt.

Before he became the sharp shooter who swished seven three-point baskets and had 25 points on Senior Night Tuesday, Thomas fought for court time as a struggling defender who had to erase the disappointment of a 2014 OWI arrest. And before he emerged as one of the most versatile players in the Big 12, Burton had to find his way as an enigmatic transfer from Marquette University.

Their overall body of work is impressive now in retrospect, but it’s taken a tremendous amount of patience and loyalty — both to the program and each other — for these seniors to look like a finished product. As recently as Feb. 1, their final chapter — with a 13-8 record and 5-4 mark in the Big 12 — was in relative doubt. They were 1-4 in games decided by four points or less at the time.

Then came the three-point win at Kansas, and after a hiccup at Texas, six consecutive victories — including three in a row by a single possession. They’ll start a final march in March as a Top-25 squad, according to both human polls and computer rankings. Also, as per numbers guru Ken Pomeroy, Iowa State’s offensive and defensive efficiency both rank in the Top-50 nationally against the seventh-toughest schedule in the country.

We have no idea what this month will bring. In college basketball, it’s always best to expect the unexpected. I will say this, however: having four senior starters, in theory, gives the Cyclones a tremendous leg up on the competition. Only Butler, Xavier and Dayton have rosters with both comparable experience and similar resumes.

I wouldn’t bet against Iowa State the rest of the way. The battle-scarred Cyclones have been through the wringer, absorbing the criticism and questions while handling the pressure and expectations. They’re still standing — in a lot of ways, stronger and taller than ever before.

It’s the kind of telltale mettle only seniors can provide.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net

COMMENTS