During the four first-round games in the Milwaukee portion of the NCAA tournament bracket, there was one fan base that was clearly the loudest, the biggest, and the most passionate about its team. Thursday night, the Bradley Center was so filled with Cyclones fans wearing cardinal red that people there might have thought they were in Ames, Iowa.
The Cyclones had good reason to feel right at home in Milwaukee besides their loyal fan base. Three of their upperclassmen, senior guard Deonte Burton, senior forward Darrell Bowie, and junior guard Donovan Jackson are from Milwaukee; and senior guard Matt Thomas is from western Wisconsin.
To Jackson, playing in Milwaukee is “a blessing” that will allow his mom to see him play in person for the first time in years. These Cyclones feel that having fans who traveled—as well as family and friends—in Milwaukee cheering for them is an advantage. Says Burton, “It feels good to know so many of the people in the stands.”
All three players have favorite places they would like to visit while in Milwaukee. JJ’s Fish and Chicken received the most nods from the trio as the restaurant to visit for the best hot meal in town. Each can quickly name his favorite park to play in the best pickup basketball games. A stop at grandma’s house, as well as visiting other family and friends, will hopefully fit into their time here.
Make no mistake though—these guys came home to win. “I realize I’m here on a business trip,” says Bowie, while Jackson is “locked in and focused.” In their first-round game, the trio of Milwaukee natives combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 60% on a balanced team that anyone can take over. Iowa State controlled most of the game, out-rebounding the Wolf Pack by 83%! Nevada only led for 14 seconds the entire game, falling to the Cyclones 84–73.
Whatever the connection is between Milwaukee and Ames, it seems to be working. In the last decade, including the current players, 12 athletes from Wisconsin have played for ISU, with the majority being from Milwaukee. One more is headed to Ames next fall. The opportunity to play in the Big 12, which the Cyclones have won in three of the past four years, and play in the Big Dance, which they have done for six straight years, is an easy sell to athletes.
Making it to the next level is another. There are currently three former Iowa State players in the NBA and 23 players who have retired. Fourteen Cyclones have been drafted since 2000, not to mention those who play abroad professionally.
Each of these Milwaukee-bred athletes first played at another school before landing in Ames, and like most new college students, the players went through a transition period. “The first couple of weeks were a tough adjustment, being on my own, but as the days went by and the year went on, I got used to it and made progress,” says Bowie. “I was doing what I love, which is playing basketball everyday, so that was fun for me.”
Their second-round matchup as the No. 5 seed against Caleb Swanigan and the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers could end up being one of the most exciting games of the tournament. The Cyclones will need to control the paint and again rely on balanced contributions from their deep roster on both ends of the court. Of course, their sixth man, the Cyclone fans, can again give Iowa State a home court advantage.
The Iowa State team’s goal in Milwaukee is simple: “Winning. Just winning,” says Burton.
For Burton, Bowie, and Jackson, who not that long ago were three Milwaukee boys playing in games at the park, bringing Cyclone Nation to their hometown is something they won’t forget.
Explains Bowie, “To be home in Milwaukee playing in front of the kids here lets them know they can do whatever they want.”
Purdue should check the weather report for Cyclones in the area.
Photographs by (from top): Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/TNS/Getty Images; David K. Purdy/Getty Images