KANSAS CITY, Mo. — DeAndre Kane, a Cyclone for all of 10 months, wore the look of an Iowa State lifer as he climbed onto the railing and began high-fiving the sea of cardinal.
The Big 12 tournament MVP, who spent three uneven seasons at Marshall and nearly chose to spend this one at Pitt, was so thankful for the last-minute flight he took to Ames last spring. Thankful for a coach who vowed to put the ball in his hands and some repute in his character. Thankful for the opportunity “to go somewhere far out, where I could start fresh, start over.”
And start winning.
There was no escaping the juxtaposition of Kane leading Iowa State to this pinnacle just 36 hours after his former coach was forced out at Marshall. As Cyclone players posed for trophy pics inside their Sprint Center locker room, Kane offered a matter-of-fact reaction to Tom Herrion’s dismissal: “I wish him the best. It was nothing bad between us like that. I hope he can get another job somewhere.”
He sounded earnest and straightforward—the same tone he took when Cyclones forward Georges Niang texted last spring “I’m glad to have you here.”
Kane’s short and not-so-sweet text reply: “I just want to win.”
Niang laughs at the exchange now, saying “I was expecting him to be like ‘Yeah, man, I’m happy to be here’ or I can’t wait to get out there.’ But I didn’t know DeAndre that well then.”
What has he learned about the 24-year-old Kane since?
“That he’s the biggest competitor I’ve ever played with. To have him on your side is a blessing. He’s always on you to rebound and make free throws, but he’s always got your back. When that’s your point guard, your leader, you’re bound to be a special team. He refuses to let us lose.”
That refusal didn’t take at Marshall, at least not last season when The Herd reacted to high expectations by plummeting to a 13-19 record. Several players exited, among them Kane. The school said only that he was dismissed from the team by Herrion.
Despite a slew of technicals on the court and whatever disruptions Kane created off of it, he had big-time stats and undeniable talent—and he had his degree, which made other programs interested in his immediate eligibility as a transfer. Before leaving Marshall, however, he wrote a letter to The Herald Dispatch thanking Herd fans for their support and apologizing to them for not reaching the NCAA tournament.
“It was great times there, but I didn’t win,” he said Saturday night in Kansas City. “I didn’t cut down no nets. It wasn’t as fun at the end of the season as this is.”
He reportedly was bound for Pitt, back to the area where he won a high school state championship, but he said “Pitt’s style of play wasn’t really my style of play.”
Plus Pittsburgh featured the menacing influence of gangs and drugs he witnessed up close as a teenager. In Ames, Kane saw a program that under Fred Hoiberg has welcomed second-chancers, saw a small-town atmosphere where “there was nothing to get me in trouble.”
Kane quickly surfaced as the latest and maybe greatest of Hoiberg’s redemption projects—a turnaround not merely measured by the team’s 26 wins or its first Big 12 championship since 2000.
“With coach mentoring me, it grew me up a lot,” Kane said. “Let me mature a little and overcome some things that I did in the past. Helped me be a better person.
“He’s one of the best coaches in America, one of the best people in America. Him giving me a second chance was great. I can’t thank him anymore for that.”
Kane produced 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as Iowa State beat Baylor 74-65, storming back with a 33-16 run over the last 10 minutes. As the victory ended, with seemingly all of Cyclone Nation threatening to roar the roof off the Sprint Center, Niang lifted Kane three feet off the ground at midcourt. From booted out at Marshall to boosted up at Iowa State, Kane’s 10-month restoration was stunning.
“We don’t really look at what (problems) they’ve had in the past,” Niang said of transfers like Kane. “If Fred OK’s you, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to welcome you with open arms. I tell you this: I wish we could have had four years with DeAndre instead of just one.”
That one year has been trending toward something remarkable, and the Cyclone faithful only grew further stimulated by a pulsating three days at the conference tournament. Once Iowa State clinched it, and once Niang put Kane down, the transfer sought out various corners of the court to interact with fans and prolong the moment. Before heading into the jubilant locker room, Kane spent several minutes more autographing basketballs for kids in a hallway. The guy in the No. 50 jersey was grateful for the admiration.
“It was like a home game out there,” he said. “That thing was sold out mainly with all our fans. These fans, they deserve it. They come out all year, spend their money on season tickets, scream their lungs out every game. We wanted to bring them home a championship.”
The cardinal ocean absorbed him during that championship aftermath, and he couldn’t get enough. You sensed Kane was ready to crowd surf if not for the trophy presentation about to transpire at center court. Multi-colored streamers cascaded as he joined his new brothers on the postgame platform, a one-year free agent suddenly beloved by a program now anxious to see what heights it can achieve in the next tournament.