Iowa State will begin official team practices in just a few days, but the lead-up to the preseason for the Cyclones has involved something new-age. Forty-minute weekly sessions of steaming, hot yoga, something the program has taken to doing the past three summers.
You have to wonder how a horde of hoopsters could embrace something so unalike to basketball prep. The Ames Tribune dug in and endured the heat and humidity for a recent sesssion with the team -- inside a reported 100-degree room.
“Yoga's been great for us,” senior Melvin Ejim said. “Physically, we're getting a lot of stretching in, a lot of exercise that we don't necessarily do in the weight room. And then mentally, it's challenging for a lot of guys.”
Evidenced by Hogue's apparent exhaustion, the session is physically taxing for the players, whose balance and flexibility are under constant duress. While executing runner's pose, which resembles a sprinter settling into starting blocks, Georges Niang makes the pained expression of someone attempting to squat 400 pounds. DeAndre Kane, stretching his arm back to grab his extended leg in an attempt to do the dancer's pose, loses his balance and nearly starts a chain reaction of domino-ing basketball players.
So while the sessions are clearly physical workouts, the mental exercise is just as important.
“I feel like it's definitely built our mental toughness,” Niang said. “If you're not used to doing something, just pushing your body to a new limit and having yourself know at the end of the day that you can do it when you went in to it thinking that you couldn't. When Emily is telling you not to let up, this is all in your head, it's so true,” he added. “It's like when you're down five with 30 seconds to go. You have to tell yourself you can do it and fight through.”
Mark that down as what might be a first in human history: comparing a Yoga session to winning a mid-season game against Kansas State or the like. However little impact it may or may not have, you can't say the Yoga's hurt ISU. Since starting it two years ago, ISU has made two straights NCAA tournaments and won 23 games in each of those years.
But the Cyclones will be challenged this season. Although Kane is a one-year grad transfer from Marshall who will definitely help Fred Hoiberg's team get points, ISU lost approximately 53 points per game from last year's roster. The most notable losses are Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee. Ejim, Niang and Kane will be the big three responsible for making it three straight NCAA trips for the Clones.