NEW YORK — Ask former Michigan State star turned CBS Sports Network analyst Mateen Cleaves about Iowa State freshman Monte Morris and he smiles.
Both he and Morris have thrived under the glare of a spotlight.
“He likes the bright lights,” Cleaves — one of the villains in the Cyclones' 2000 Elite Eight run — said of the point guard nicknamed ‘Man-Man.’ “He’s been a big lift for them. When (ISU Coach) Fred (Hoiberg) put him in the starting lineup, I liked the flow of the offense a lot better.”
Easy — it frees up ISU’s current headliners to do their thing.
“(DeAndre) Kane doesn’t have to do as much,” Cleaves said. “You can take him off the ball and let Monte initiate the offense. Just his decision-making ability, the job he’s done, not making mistakes — I think it’s been huge for Iowa State.”
But back to the villain part.
Cleaves delivered a key alley-oop pass to a backdoor-cutting Morris Peterson in that crushing, from the Cyclones’ perspective, 2000 Elite Eight loss.
Peterson dunked for a 64-61 lead — and the rest, including a Coach Larry Eustachy rant and ejection, is painful ISU history.
“We felt going into that game that whoever won that game was probably going to win the national championship,” said Cleaves, who celebrated a title two wins later. “We thought that was going to be a dogfight and it was. With (Marcus) Fizer and (Jamaal) Tinsley; I watched Tinsley on tape and was like, ‘Woo-ee, this guy is good, this guy can play.’”
As for Eustachy’s ejection — which stemmed from disputes over several late calls and non-calls — Cleaves sympathized.
“It’s the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Everybody wants to go to the Final Four and play for the national championship, so he was into it. And we didn’t take it as disrespect or anything like that. He was fighting for his team. As a coach I would probably do the same thing. He stuck up for his team.”
Cleaves has stuck by Morris, working with him the last few summers and always stressing two things the most: Playing the game the right way and playing within himself.
“You look at Kane and (Melvin) Ejim, they don’t mind having the ball in his hands because they trust his decision-making,” Cleaves said.
Morris said Cleaves is like a father figure to him.
They both represent Flint, Mich.
Cleaves first reached out to him, he said, after a state tournament loss his sophomore year.
Morris led Flint Beecher to two straight titles after that and remains on track to breaking the NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio (5-to-1).
“He looked at me like his own son,” Morris said. “He pushed me through a lot of workouts. I look up to him as a mentor.”
POLLARD ON HOIBERG
Iowa State’s Director of Athletics, Jamie Pollard, is sick of hearing about speculation that Fred Hoiberg is a hot NBA coaching commodity.
Sick or not, it surfaces plenty — here, back in San Antonio, and even in Ames.
““I’ve said from the git-go that the NBA and college are two separate things. The day Fred — if and when he ever wants to do that, he’ll go do it. And it won’t matter what anybody’s paying. That’s not my sense of Fred’s value system. It’s either going to be, ‘I want to go do it, or I don’t want to go do it.’ In the meantime, as long as he wants to be the Iowa State coach, we’re going to continue to do whatever we can to be able to treat him fairly.”
As for Hoiberg, talk’s just talk.
“I don’t even pay attention to it,” he said.
Pollard said the athletic department’s allotment of 1,250 tickets was gone in roughly two days. “But I’m sure there’s more than that that are going to be here,” he added. “It’s pretty neat, because this is not a cheap place to come, not an inexpensive place to come.”