By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane laughed at the proposition.
Smart vs. Kane, Part II?
Just an extremely important, intense Big 12 basketball game between Kane’s No. 17 Cyclones and Marcus Smart’s resurgent Oklahoma State Cowboys, one that begins at 1 p.m. today at sold-out Hilton Coliseum.
“I don’t know how he approaches it, but (today), it’s not a matchup between me and Smart,” said Kane, who nearly compiled a triple-double in the 98-97 triple-overtime win over the Cowboys at Stillwater. “I have nothing to prove to that guy. I’m just trying to play for my teammates, play for my fans and win the game.”
Kane, a first-year transfer and fifth-year senior, said the above on Thursday — moments before his coach, Fred Hoiberg, lauded him, fellow senior Melvin Ejim and others for shunning “personal agendas” and putting the team first.
So, mission accomplished heading into what’s certain to be an emotional senior day at Hilton.
Kane’s conjured a blast of brilliance in his one season and stands 19 points from 2,000 in his career.
Ejim’s been, in Hoiberg’s words, “The Rock.”
He stuck with ISU (22-7, 10-7) more than four years ago when Greg McDermott left to coach Creighton and a man with no coaching experience — Hoiberg — took over the program that had made him “The Mayor.”
“It was an easy sell,” said Ejim, who with one rebound will become the fourth player in conference history to record 1,500 points and 1,000 boards. “And it ultimately worked out the best for me.”
It also more than worked out the the Cyclones, who went from Big 12 bottom feeder to one of the league’s top handful of teams the past three seasons.
“It’s one of the best things that has happened to this program, is having Melvin Ejim in a Cyclone uniform for four years,” Hoiberg said. “It will be emotional, I know, for him. It will be emotional for me, his family, and certainly all the Cyclone fans.”
Ejim’s family arrived late in the week from Toronto. He expected about 20 family members and friends to be at today’s game.
He said his little sitter spent her first night in a hotel.
“For a lot of them, it’s going to be their first time going to an NCAA basketball game, or even just a basketball game,” said Ejim, who hopes to help his team end a two-game skid. “I just want them to soak it all in and enjoy it.”
“We’ve still got to win the game,” Ejim said. “We’ve still got to play Oklahoma State, (a team that’s) on fire and playing well. So we’ve got to take care of business.”
The Cowboys (20-10, 8-9) have won four straight games — including a triumph over league champion Kansas — since Smart returned from a three-game suspension that stemmed from a confrontation with a fan.
“They’re playing great basketball,” Hoiberg said.
And that’s been the rule, with a few exceptions, for Kane and Ejim, too.
Kane expected his contingent of family and friends to arrive Friday in a caravan of small buses.
They trekked to Ames from Pittsburgh, Pa., and elsewhere for him.
Not “Kane vs. Smart.”“It’s fun,” Kane said of his experience as a Cyclone. “It’s all love.”