'Mayor' is king at Cyclones' C.R. stop

Hoiberg adds a 7-foot-1 Greek to his court

Fred Hoiberg at the Cedar Rapids Marriott on Monday
Fred Hoiberg at the Cedar Rapids Marriott on Monday

CEDAR RAPIDS — It was smart of Iowa State to hold its annual Cyclone Caravan stop in a hotel ballroom here this year.

The Cedar Rapids Marriott was stuffed with Cyclone fans who came for the annual visit of ISU’s coaches.

“Very festive,” said Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard. “A lot of kids. A lot of cardinal and gold.”

A lot of kids — and adults — in cardinal and gold waited in a long line to get photos taken with ISU men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, a fellow who is portrayed by some as a candidate for every open NBA head coaching job.

Monday, ESPN’s Bill Simmons tweeted that he was hearing the Memphis Grizzlies would try to acquire coach Tom Thibodeau from the Chicago Bulls, and the Bulls would hire Hoiberg if they let Memphis hire Thibodeau.

A few days ago, it was the Golden State Warriors who reportedly had preliminary talks with Hoiberg before they hired Steve Kerr as coach. Maybe tomorrow it will be the Lakers or Knicks, who both have openings.

“I’ve tried to just make the decision to not comment on any of it,” Hoiberg said. “It’s hard not to pay attention with social media the way it is.”

But as Pollard is fond of saying, it’s a lot better to have a coach everybody wants than one nobody wants.

The Cyclone loyalists weren’t talking NBA here. Rather, the news of the day was the signed commitment of a 7-foot-1, 17-year-old from Greece named Georgios Tsalmpouris.

“One of the guys I worked with in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves is one of the top European scouts in the world,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve remained very close to him and he hooked me onto (Tsalmpouris).

“We were very fortunate we got him when we did. A lot of really good schools were trying to get in there after he’d made the commitment and tried to talk him out of it. But he stayed true to it.”

Hoiberg compared the Greek to his former ISU teammate, Julius Michalik, a 6-10 forward in the 1990s. He said Tsalmpouris “is good at facing the basket and shooting the ball. He’s left-handed just like Julo. He’s probably a little better rim-protector than Yulo was.

“He’s probably got a little way to go with skills, but he’s 7-1 and can shoot it. That’s a pretty good place to start.”

So you add Tsalmpouris to returning veterans Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long. Then there’s wing player Bryce Dejean-Jones, a senior transfer from UNLV who will be eligible to play immediately and will fill the role played so well last season by Deandre Kane.

“He gives us an experienced scorer,” Hoiberg said. “He’s extremely athletic, so he really fits our fast style of play.”

And there are other transfers in post player Jameel McKay (Marquette) and forward Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois). There’s freshman guard Clayton Custer, Kansas’ prep Player of the Year.

It could be a better team than the one that went to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 two months ago.

Hoiberg may invite derision from non-Clones, but he unabashedly says he thinks Iowa State could have won it all had Niang not broken a foot in the first weekend of the tournament.

“We all play the what-if game,” Hoiberg said. “The previous game, Georges was averaging over 21 points. He had 24 in 26 minutes, five on a broken foot in that last game against N.C. Central. He was playing in as good a rhythm as anybody in the nation. He was our closer.

“Connecticut’s big guy had a huge impact on the (Sweet 16) game early, and a lot of that’s because Georges wasn’t in the game.

“There’s no guarantees. I’m not saying it’s 100 percent absolute (a championship run) would have happened, but we would have had a chance. There’s no doubt about it.”

Hoiberg said the 2014-15 Cyclones “will be our deepest team, it’ll be our biggest team.”

Niang will be back next season. So will his coach.

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