Cyclones center Brackins shows sign of brilliance against Gophers

Iowa State’s five-star recruit made a big impact last night against Minnesota.

by Luke Middendorf

.AMES, Iowa – Tubby Smith said earlier this week that one of Iowa State’s players reminded him of Kevin Durant, last season’s college basketball player of the year.

The player that Smith compared Durant to was sophomore forward Wesley Johnson, who did not suit up for Tuesday’s game because of an injury. However, Smith and the Gophers were able to witness a Durant-like showing from another Cyclones forward: freshman-phenom Craig Brackins.

The 6-foot-10-inch, 230-pound Brackins put on a show in front of 13,709 at the Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday, consistently bringing the crowd to their feet with his unique combination of size and athleticism.

“We really need him to play big in all three areas – offense, defense and rebounding,” Cyclones coach Greg McDermott said.

Brackins was the clear leader for Iowa State on Tuesday, going 11-16 from the field for 23 points.

Demanding the ball on offense, Brackins kept fans on the edge of their seats with a dazzling array of moves and dunks.

From the first two times he touched the ball, Brackins showed his versatility that is similar to Durant’s, with a slippery post move to the basket for two and a dead-on three-pointer only moments later.

Brackins then displayed the rare ability to instantly change the intensity of a crowd, throwing down a monstrous dunk to awaken the Iowa State fans.

Smith attempted to contain Brackins with a wide number of defensive options, including using senior forward Dan Coleman, who matches up well with Brackins in size, sophomore forward Damian Johnson, who matches up with Brackins well in athleticism, and also with a 2-3 zone defense to try and limit the freshman’s ability to get to the basket.

“We just didn’t have an answer for Brackins tonight,” Smith said.

Brackins was far and away the Cyclones’ top recruit for 2007, receiving a rare five-star ranking from recruiting Web site during his high school days in Palmdale, Calif.

The Cyclones received the 18th-ranked player in the nation just in time, as he has stepped in to fill the shoes the injured Wesley Johnson, who averaged more than 12 points a game last season.

In his first regular season game against Winston-Salem, the freshman forward received the starting nod and responded by recording a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, the first time a Cyclones freshman has done so in his first game.

Although his debut was an impressive performance, Tuesday’s showing put all doubt aside about who holds the future for Cyclones basketball.

The freshman showcased various post moves with his back to the basket, including several crafty jump hooks with a Gophers defender in his face.

He also displayed a quick first step that allowed him to get to the basket at will, combined with the right amount of strength and athleticism to finish strong at the hoop.

“My goal tonight was to get to the hole and try to get fouled and get into the bonus,” Brackins said after the game.

While Durant showed similar versatility during his freshman season at Texas, he also had the rare quality of being able to single-handedly lead a team to victory in the final moments of a game, a skill that Brackins did not get the chance to master on Tuesday.

With two minutes and 22 seconds left in the second half, Brackins went down with a leg injury, ending his chance to lead Iowa State to their third victory of the season.