In practice, a decade ago, the Mayor would match up with Spree. They were shooting guards for the Timberwolves and they were Midwesterners. Their biographies diverged from there. Fred Hoiberg, the backup, was an archetypal sharpshooter and a hero back in his hometown. The write-in votes he received in Ames's 1993 mayoral election while he was starring for Iowa State inspired his nickname. His father was an associate dean of ISU's College of Agriculture. Latrell Sprewell, the starter, was a misfit and a nomad. He left Flint, Mich., as a child after his father was jailed for possession of a controlled substance, then went to high school in Milwaukee, junior college in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and college at Alabama before being drafted by the Warriors, for whom he was a sinewy ball of fire in the open court. It was at Golden State, during a 1997 practice, that Sprewell combusted. He will be forever defined as the guy who choked and punched his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.

Hoiberg formed a different opinion. "Sprewell," he says, "was one of my favorite teammates of all time. I found him fascinating." Hoiberg loved the contradictions of Sprewell's character -- how on team flights he would dominate Stanford grad Mark Madsen in chess, a patient, tactical game, then play basketball with maximum energy and emotion. How Sprewell, who'd once been labeled a chemistry problem, catered in postpractice meals so the T-Wolves would eat together.
Now the Iowa State coach, Hoiberg has a framed grid of photos from his 10-year NBA career in his office, and in the top-left image he's being embraced by Sprewell for hitting a big shot in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals. Sprewell looks even more ecstatic than Hoiberg. "He had a bad rap, but he just wanted to win," says Hoiberg. "He was ultracompetitive."

When Hoiberg's playing career was cut short, at 32, by the discovery of an aortic aneurysm, he moved to Minnesota's front office and then took over at Iowa State in April 2010. Hoiberg wanted to win fast at his alma mater, and what he did not do was fill his roster with little Freddy Hoibergs from the Great Plains. He went looking for Latrell Sprewells -- transfers with bad raps in whom he saw some good, and who might help themselves and the Cyclones by starting over in Ames.

The first was Royce White, a 6' 8" five-star player who was suspended at Minnesota after pleading guilty to theft and disorderly conduct, but also had interests ranging from existential philosophy to music production. White became the centerpiece of the 2011-12 team that got Iowa State back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since '05, and then was drafted by the Rockets with the 16th pick.

On a Tuesday in January, White, who now lives near Philadelphia, was a visitor at Iowa State's practice facility. His NBA career was derailed by disputes with Houston over how to accommodate his mental-health issues, namely anxiety, and for him Ames remains a sort of sanctuary. White also wanted to watch film with the Cyclones' latest transfer-turned-star, to get a deeper understanding of his game. "I'm a DeAndre Kane superfan," White says of the 6' 4", 24-year-old senior point guard. "Are you here to write about how he's the best guard in the country?"