IOWA CITY — Greg Lansing grew up in southwest Iowa, coached high school basketball in Des Moines and worked under Steve Alford for seven years at Iowa.
As Indiana State’s head coach, Lansing returns to his native state at least twice a year to coach against Missouri Valley Conference foes Drake and Northern Iowa. But this trip is different for Lansing. He’s taking the Sycamores (18-14) to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the first time as an opposing coach, and he’s got mixed emotions about his return.
“We got the email from the NIT (Sunday) night and instantly I got a big smile on my face and I laughed,” Lansing said. “You look back at seven of the best years of my life. It wasn’t my choice to leave. We loved Iowa City. I’ve always been a Hawkeye fan. So getting to be a part of that family was a dream come true and a time that I’m very thankful for and I’ll never forget.”
Lansing was hired as an assistant by former Iowa coach Steve Alford in 1999. Lansing then was jettisoned in a staff shake-up in 2006 after the Hawkeyes won 25 games and the Big Ten Tournament title. Lansing served as an Indiana State assistant coach until 2010, when he was hired as head coach. He has taken the Sycamores to the postseason in three consecutive seasons, including the NCAA tournament in 2011. It’s the first time Indiana State had earned three straight postseason trips since Larry Bird graced the court in the 1970s.
“We have great respect for Greg Lansing and the job he has done there and throughout his career,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Lansing has kept recruiting tabs in the state. He went after Sioux City native Zach McCabe and Cedar Rapids Washington’s Josh Oglesby, but both ultimately chose Iowa.
“I’m a closet fan away from them,” Lansing said. “I want them to win all the games they play except for the one on Wednesday. Just very impressed with what coach (Fran McCaffery) has done over there. I knew when he got hired it was a tremendous hire.
“I know how people in Iowa are; they like to protect their own a little bit. Maybe get someone more from the Midwest but he’s as good of a basketball coach as there is in the country.”
Lansing also has a connection with Iowa’s current coaching staff. In the mid-1990s, Lansing was following in his father’s footsteps as a high school basketball coach. Dave Lansing won 434 games at Mount Pleasant and Harlan and earned a spot in the Iowa basketball coaches hall of fame. Lansing coached two seasons at Des Moines Roosevelt and expressed interest in moving on to college basketball. Iowa assistant Sherman Dillard led Indiana State from 1994-97 and hired Lansing in 1995 as an assistant. Lansing stayed with the Sycamores for four years before leaving for Iowa.
“I left a great job in a great town that I love a lot and made a difficult decision and I’m very happy that I did,” Lansing said. “It’s crazy how things happen in life, but that was a tough decision that worked out pretty well for me and I owe coach Dillard a lot for giving me the opportunity to get into college coaching.”
But this week is a business trip with little time for reminiscing. The Sycamore have to find a way to beat a team that finished the regular season 16-2 at home. Iowa’s home losses were to Indiana and Michigan State. Lansing is familiar with the current Iowa team and watched the Hawkeyes lose 59-56 in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal last week.
“When I watched them against Michigan State, and they lost that game I said, ‘Iowa’s going to win the NIT,’” Lansing said. “Now in the first round we’ve got to go over there and play them. I’m just very impressed with how well they’re coached and how hard they play.”