AMES, Iowa (AP) — It would have been difficult to guess that the Big 12’s leading rebounder would be Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue, a lightly heralded junior college transfer.
But Cyclones forward Georges Niang knew right away not to doubt his remarkable new teammate.
“He’s a mean cat, man. When he wants something, he gets it. Whether it’s a sandwich after practice or a rebound. He’s just determined,” Niang said. “When you have determination like that, nothing’s going to stop you.”
So far, no one has been able to stop Hogue or the Cyclones — whose surprising 8-0 start has been keyed by their most surprising player.
The 6-foot-6 Hogue is the leading rebounder among Big 12 teams with 11.1 a game — nearly two more than anyone else in the league — and he has 12.6 points a game on 60.3 percent shooting.
Hogue is also averaging 17 points and 15.3 rebounds in his past three games, wins over Auburn, Northern Iowa and No. 25 Iowa.
“He’s just an absolute warrior. He goes after every ball. The rebounds he gets, he gets up higher than everyone else and then he elevates a couple of inches. It’s just amazing to see how he goes after that ball,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
In just six weeks, Hogue has become indispensable to the Cyclones.
Iowa State thought Hogue had plenty of promise — but nobody saw him as the kind of talent who could carry a Division I team.
Hogue grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., the younger brother of linebacker Donald Hogue, who played last season for Carolina, and was forced to go to junior college after failing to qualify academically out of high school.
He averaged 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season for Indian Hills, a community college program in Iowa. Hogue was seen largely as an athletic defender and rebounder and perhaps an occasional scorer at the Division I level.
Hogue’s offense was raw, and even Hoiberg wondered how he’d handle going from constantly pressing defensively to playing mostly man-to-man.
But Hoiberg, a former standout shooter during a decade-long career in the NBA, helped Hogue fix his jump shot by taking his guide hand off the ball and eliminating his tendency to drift on jumpers.
Is also turned out that Hogue was ready to thrive in a more complex Division I system.
As Hoiberg put it, Hogue is “as smart a basketball player as we have on this team.”
“Coaches saw me as being athletic. They didn’t let me showcase everything that I could do like passing or playing defense. They just wanted me to do a specific thing,” Hogue said. “Coach Hoiberg, he just let me play the game and utilize all of my talents.”
It also helped that Iowa State needed those talents immediately.
Hogue got a shot to make an immediate impact when star Melvin Ejim — who is also 6-foot-6 and has a very similar skill set to Hogue’s — missed the first two games with a knee injury.
Hogue had 10 points and nine rebounds in Iowa State’s opener and 13 points — on 3 of 3 shooting from 3-point range — the next time out. Ejim was back when Iowa State hosted Michigan on Nov. 17, but by then Hoiberg couldn’t keep Hogue out of the lineup.
“Me, coming out and producing that way I was, I think that that confidence for the beginning of the season has just kept going on,” Hogue said.
Hogue responded with the first double-double of his career, and over the past month he’s been one of Iowa State’s best players.
Hogue’s signature performance came two weeks ago in a 99-70 thrashing of Auburn. He had 16 points and 12 rebounds in the first half — reaching double-digits in less than 12 minutes in play — to help Iowa State reel off a 27-5 run and secure a blowout victory.
Hogue was crucial as Iowa State rallied from 18 down to overtake Northern Iowa. He also hit two huge free throws with 12.1 seconds left to force the Hawkeyes into a late 3-point shot, which they missed, in Friday’s 85-82 win.
“He’s knocking down his free throws and he’s hitting his open shots. He’s had very good shot selection. He doesn’t try to play outside of who he is,” Hoiberg said. “I can’t say enough about Dustin.”
Neither can his teammates.
Ejim led the Big 12 in rebounding last season and was expected to do it again.
But after just six weeks playing next to Hogue, Ejim is already conceding the crown.
“Dustin is a beast. I told him the other day that I’ve probably given over the reins to him. He’s just found a way. He battles every time,” Ejim said. “He’s so athletic, and he just has a knack for the ball.”