Scott Christopherson got his first start for Iowa State on Wednesday night.
He took a season-high 10 shots.
He only made three.
|Iowa State coach Greg McDermott was counting on Lucca Staiger. (AP)|
Christopherson, you see, was starting in place of Staiger, who played Saturday at Nebraska, made a free throw in the final 10 seconds to help secure a win, then practiced on Sunday and Monday and never hinted at his already-planned departure.
He released a statement Tuesday.
"An opportunity to play professionally in my home country has come my way, and I've decided to pursue it right away," Staiger said. "I will miss my teammates and the great fans at Iowa State, and I know this is a bad time to leave."
A bad time?
Those who read me often know I'm all for college athletes turning their talents into paychecks. I hate the NBA age limit, roll my eyes when Derrick Rose talks about playing more than one season in college, and question sure-fire lottery picks who opt to return to school. So I don't blame Staiger for leaving college without a degree to be a professional. But the way he did it -- on the down-low, in the middle of the season, in between freaking road games at Nebraska and Texas Tech -- is deplorable, shameful and a knife in the back of the staff and school that fought to help him gain NCAA eligibility after he had to sit out his freshman season.
"To get up and leave like that doesn't show much respect for his coaches, his teammates, the fans and the university," Texas Tech coach Pat Knight told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register before Wednesday night's game. "He's being selfish, leaving his team. ... To leave a team like Staiger left Iowa State -- when they have a chance to do some good things in this league -- is unheard of."
In fairness, it's not totally unheard of. Christian Drejer left Florida in February of the 2003-04 season to accept a contract in Spain. So, yes, this has happened before. But it's rare, it's bad and it's the kind of thing that could shape the careers of the ISU coaching staff because they don't have the same equity Billy Donovan had at Florida. When Drejer left, Donovan had already been to five straight NCAA tournaments -- including a national title game -- and he wasn't facing real pressure. But Greg McDermott hasn't finished better than seventh in the Big 12 in any of his three seasons at Iowa State, and there's no guarantee next season will be terrific considering he could lose Craig Brackins after this season.
In other words, the breakthrough season was this season.
Or at least that was the hope.
And ISU was on track.
The Cyclones started 12-5 and only lost to possible NCAA tournament teams -- specifically Texas, Duke, California, Northern Iowa and Northwestern -- while notching wins over Houston and Nebraska. Is that a great body of work? No. But it's reasonable, and it had the Cyclones in position to get hot and possibly ride Brackins to a nice finish in the Big 12. Had they won at Texas Tech, they would be 2-1 in the league and tied for fourth in the standings. As it is, they're ninth heading into Saturday's game with Kansas, and who knows where they'll finish?
Was Staiger the difference between winning the league and not winning the league?
Of course not.
He's not Sherron Collins.
But he is a 6-foot-5 guard who was averaging 9.4 points in 26.5 minutes per game, and he could be the difference between going 9-7 or 7-9 in the league, could be the difference between entering Selection Sunday with 21 wins or 19 wins. With 21 wins, the Cyclones are probably in the NCAA tournament and everybody gets extensions. With 19, they're probably not, and fans ask questions.
That's the impact Staiger's decision has on Iowa State, and I don't care that he felt like he had to take the money now because the offer might go away if he passed. There's no way to know whether that's true, but even if it is, he should've passed. What if the Nets called Rick Pitino right now and said they'd love to have him, but that he has to leave Louisville today? Pitino would be destroyed if he left, and rightfully so.
You don't think John Wall could get $1 million to start an ad campaign this week?
You don't think somebody would pay Evan Turner if he quit Ohio State today?
Those guys can get paid whenever they want, and if they choose to do it after this season then that'll be fine with me. But what I'm not fine with is a player lying to his coaches, orchestrating an exit behind the scenes and bailing on his teammates on a Tuesday in January while a game plan that includes him is being designed for a trip to Texas Tech.
Iowa State deserved better.
Or, at the very least, the truth.