By: Grant Wall
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The road Lucca Staiger took from his home country of Germany to the hardwood of Hilton Coliseum was a longer-than-expected journey.
Staiger signed to play basketball for Iowa State in 2007 and was set to see action last season. But before he could begin his freshman campaign, the NCAA declared him ineligible. While playing in Germany, two of his teammates had accepted money to play. Because of this – even though Staiger did not accept a dime – he was forced to lose a season of eligibility.
Still, Staiger persevered. He decided to forfeit that year of eligibility in order to stay with the Cyclones. That made him, before he ever played in a game for Iowa State, one of the most popular members of the team. Fans chanted his name as he sat on the sidelines, filling Hilton Coliseum with yells of “Free Lucca”.
The support helped reassure Staiger that he was making the right choice. He also had a group of teammates who were there to prop him up when things got rough.
“My teammates, the coaches and the fans, they were all great,” Staiger said. “They (my teammates) helped me in bad situations. When I had bad news they were like brothers to me. They were the ones who knew how I felt.”
There were tough times along the way and Staiger said the thought of leaving Iowa State did creep into his head. Just as quickly as the thought came, however, it was pushed away.
“You think about it, but mostly just because all the other people are talking about it,” he said. “You start thinking about it, but it was more because I was frustrated than anything. I never really gave serious thought to leaving.”
Now that he is eligible and able to contribute to the Iowa State team, those frustrations have melted away.
Staiger came off the bench in this seasons first game and received a standing ovation from the Iowa State crowd.
“That was one of the best feelings, for me,” said Staiger, whose first name is pronounced LOO-kah. “It was great to hear that. Now that I’m playing, I’m having so much fun.
“So many things went through my head. I tried to concentrate on the game but the fans were cheering and it was loud and crazy. I had been waiting for that moment for over a year.
The 6-5 guard hit a baseline jumper for his first points as a Cyclone in ISU’s season-opening victory over UC Davis.
“We had been waiting for that for a long time,” coach Greg McDermott said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lucca because of the decision he made to stay here. It’s a testament to our fans. Lucca has said it and he is right, we have the best fans in the world at Iowa State.”
A little more than three weeks into the season, Staiger staged a virtuoso performance against Drake. Staiger caught fire and scored a career-high 24, all on 3-pointers. Seven of those three came in the first half.
“I was shooting pretty well that night,” Staiger said. “That was fun to be shooting like that.”
Staiger is currently third on the team in scoring, averaging 8.5 points despite playing just 21.1 minutes a game. His playing time is limited as he continues to recover from off-season knee injury. He leads the team with 31 3-pointers on the year. His 43.7 percent accuracy on threes is also best on the team.
Staiger has teamed with senior Bryan Peterson and freshman Wes Eikmeier to form a dangerous outside threat, while sophomore Craig Brackins is becoming more of a presence inside, averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 rebounds through 13 games. Point guard Diante Garrett is improving as both a scorer and facilitator for the Cyclones.