's offensive output has remained steady despite the tougher competition. (David Purdy/Getty)
Looking ahead requires no small amount of looking back for DeAndre Kane. To do everything he wanted, he had to leave Marshall behind as a proud player who eclipsed too few in accomplishment or acclaim. He was of the Herd, but rarely heard of.
It is months after his transfer and Kane is the prime turbine for unbeaten Iowa State, one of the Big 12’s most productive players and surging to maybe more. But moving on eventually means going back, too, to Huntington, W.Va., to keep the promise he made to the city and himself. To help build programs or camps or community centers for a place that built him to this point, a point at which Kane can ask for no more.
“The years I spent in Huntington, those guys were great to me,” Kane said in a phone interview. “The fans were great, the community was great. After basketball, I want to always go back there and look out for younger kids and things like that, and try to do something bigger than basketball for that community and help them grow.
“But I’m all about Iowa State now. I’m here. This is my new team, my new home. I turned the page and I’m here.”
Kane is here, and after the next two weeks he may well have arrived. The No. 9 Cyclones host No. 7 Baylor in a crackling matchup Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum, and six days later Kansas will pay a visit as well. Toiling in relative obscurity at Marshall had the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder yearning for more. He was a bounty hunter, and now he has what he sought in abundance.
He fills every need, averaging 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists while leading the attack that ranks 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency with 117.1 points per 100 possessions – a figure slightly better than Iowa State’s rate that ranked sixth nationally a year ago. Kane was named Big 12 Player of the Week on Monday, a line-item that follows the one for winning the identical award a week before.
“The chip that the kid carries on his shoulder and how bad he wants to win, it shows,” Cyclones forward Georges Niang said. “He just makes winning plays out there. Whatever we need to get done, he’ll go and do it. If he needs to get us the ball, he’ll get us the ball. You see that in his assist numbers. If he needs to go grab rebounds, he’ll go grab rebounds. And then in Hawaii when he wants to will us to win, he can score the basketball. He just makes winning plays. Having him is definitely something we for sure needed.”
To this point, Kane is maddening to deal with, a bruising lead guard nevertheless able to finesse incisions into the lane to find spot-up shooters or run pick-and-rolls with Iowa State’s cavalcade of frontcourt scorers. Or he can muscle his way to his own shot while also wearing down the opposition’s best offensive options at the other end. “He’s been outstanding,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “One thing you notice about him, he affects the game in multiple ways – rebounds, assists, scoring, defensively with his size he can guard multiple positions. A stat-sheet stuffer.”
To anyone paying attention to Kane’s exploits at Marshall, this was no shock. He was the Conference USA freshman of the year and averaged 15.6 points per game in three years with the Thundering Herd. The point is that perhaps no one was paying attention.
Kane paid due heed to zero NCAA tournament appearances in his three years of playing, with a 13-19 nosedive in 2012-13. However Kane and Herd coach Tom Herrion arrived at the conclusion that Kane was better off elsewhere – Herrion basically deemed it his idea in a statement announcing Kane’s departure – it seemed the conclusion was foregone.
“I always knew I could play in a big conference,” Kane said. “I think I can play with the best of them.
“I felt like people really probably didn’t know that. People still don’t talk about me a lot. It’s the same guys they talk about. It just fuels my fire. I want to show people I can play with the Marcus Smarts and the (Andrew) Wigginses and Jabari Parkers, guys like that.”
On Kane’s visit to Iowa State, a program resuscitated with a heavy dose of transfer contributions, coach Fred Hoiberg insisted Kane would have the ball in his hands instantly. But instant chemistry and trust would require more than promises. It required one text message
Niang greeted the news of Kane’s arrival with a missive to the new floor leader, saying he was excited to have Kane aboard.
Yeah, man, I just want to win, Kane wrote back. Let’s get this done.
“That’s when I knew this kid was strictly business,” Niang said.
As Kane frequented the Iowa State summer camps where his soon-to-be teammates were counselors, a rapport formed. Game action annealed it. Now Kane knows to direct Niang or Melvin Ejim to the post when the matchup favors it, clearing that side of the floor for an isolation. He now knows freshman Matt Thomas will spot up, somewhere, on any Kane drive to the basket, the 38 percent three-point shooter gunning for a kick-out pass.
He knows that the even-mannered Hoiberg won’t slay him for mistakes but rather encourage him, as Kane puts it, to “do the next thing.” He also knows he can find his own way without oppressive urgency to do so. “I slowed down a lot,” Kane said. “At Marshall, I was playing at a fast pace all the time, I always had the ball in my hands. Coach expected me to do a lot. And a lot of guys keyed on me there. I was a guy who scored all the points. Here, it’s a little different.”
There is nothing little about the difference, nor the ambition of the Cyclones. Kane wrote a heartfelt letter printed in the local newspaper as he left Marshall, making that promise to return and to try to make the place better. But in many other ways, maybe every other way, Kane is in the better place now. Two games against two Big 12 powers in the next week can solder those highest aspirations in place.
Kane sends texts to his friends on Marshall when he sees their results. He will return someday, but casual check-ups on his old home are as far back as he can afford to look for now. “This is definitely all I wanted,” Kane said. “I wanted to be part of something special. We’re 13-0 right now, the best start in school history. It’s a blessing to even be a part of something like this. Yeah, this is something crazy. It’s like a dream come true to me.”