Bill Fennelly put this week’s in-state basketball games with Iowa in perspective Monday at Iowa State’s weekly news conference.
“These are the kind of weeks that get everyone excited and it’s great for our state,” Fennelly said. “It’s a great way to celebrate what these two universities are about and it’s an honor for (us) to be a small part of it.”
When Fennelly took the reins of the ISU program in 1995-96, the Hawkeyes weren’t on the schedule. He was told the omission was because the Cyclones weren’t competitive. That’s no longer the case and Fennelly has enjoyed the annual tug-of-war since.
Fred Hoiberg’s feelings about the rivalry are based upon a playing and coaching career.
“It’s a fun game to be a part of,” Hoiberg said. “I loved playing in this series and it’s fun to be coaching in it as well.”
Players underlined the excitement and importance.
“Every time this game comes along – whether it’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, women’s basketball – it’s an anticipated game no matter what the sport is,” ISU sophomore Naz Long said.
Long is a native Canadian, but he understands what is at stake. So, too, does Georges Niang, another out-of-stater.
“When you get a chance to play a quality program like Iowa, it’s a big game,” Niang said of Friday’s foe, who will enter Hilton Coliseum with the label of college basketball’s best team (mathematician Jeff Sagarin has the Hawkeyes ranked No. 1 this week).
The build-up is just beginning and it’s not just in the respective fan bases.
“The athletes care about it, too, and we’re as eager as everyone else,” Long said as the countdown to the tip-offs continue.