As we continue to preview the 2014-2015 men's basketball team, we turn our focus to an all too familiar storyline that has dominated the headlines of the Fred Hoiberg era - transfers.
Some have called the transfers The Mayor has reeled in the foundation or even the backbone of the program and you know what? They're 100% right and in no way is that a bad thing. It's hard to argue with the results, after all. Three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, multiple all-conference and Newcomer of the Year selections, and even a couple guys who have found their way onto NBA rosters. The Transfer Experiment, as it came to be called was and still is a resounding success.
Hoiberg and staff are batting a perfect 1,000 on the transfer market and will welcome in three new thoroughbreds to the deep stable of talent that has been assembled in Ames this season. Much like their predecessors, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader have taken the most beaten of paths to wind up in central Iowa, but are finally home.
Today we highlight each of the three transfers that will factor heavily into the Cyclone rotation.
If one thing is for sure, it's that Fred Hoiberg has never shied away from a risk. Royce White, Chris Allen, Korie Lucious and DeAndre Kane all left their prior schools unceremoniously and each carried baggage with them coming to Iowa State. I'm not going to pretend that I didn't have my own reservations about each of these young men and I'm sure many of you did as well. That being said, all ended up being model citizens while in Ames and each excelled on the court, providing valuable leadership and becoming a cornerstone of the revival of this program.
We have no idea if Dejean-Jones will follow in those footsteps and to be completely honest, asking him to do so might be unrealistic and even unfair. Setting naivety aside, Dejean-Jones is in Ames to salvage one last shot at an NBA future and to go out on top as a winner and we're perfectly fine renting the talented, yet enigmatic 6'5" guard to achieve those common goals.
A consensus top 100 prospect out of high school, Dejean-Jones was recruited to USC by our old pal, Tim Floyd, yet never played for the former Cyclone coach. He lasted one year in Los Angeles before allegedly being forced out by then Trojans' coach, Kevin O'Neill, according to this piece from The Los Angeles Times.
Dejean-Jones wound up at UNLV and after two seasons of good to above-average play, was rumored to have fallen out of favor once again, although Rebels' coach Dave Rice would never go so far as to say so publicly. Dejean-Jones took advantage of the graduate transfer rule, earning his degree from UNLV and will be eligible immediately for Iowa State.
There's absolutely no doubt that Dejean-Jones will start from day one. He's one of the better shooting guards in college basketball and is an explosive athlete that at 6'5" can play above the rim with the best of them. He's a streaky shooter capable of getting hot and while his shooting splits aren't the greatest, he could see a bump similar to ones that Kane, Allen and Lucious all saw once they fell under the tutelage of Hoiberg.
At UNLV, Dejean-Jones led the Rebels in scoring with 13.6 points per game while also grabbing 3.7 rebounds and dishing out 3.0 assists per contest. He was relied on heavily last year in Sin City, taking over 28% of the team's shots while over 27% of all possessions went through him. One encouraging note is that despite having the ball in his hands as much as he did, Dejean-Jones took care of the rock fairly well with a solid enough 13.4% turnover rate, which was among the top 25 players in the Mountain West Conference.
Now, we've heard for the last few months that Dejean-Jones will be used like Kane was a year ago, but I'm not so sure. First off, going into last season, Kane had to carry a young and inexperienced Cyclone team as Monte Morris wasn't quite ready in November and Naz Long and Matt Thomas were also unknown quantities. That won't be the case this season.
With the emergence of Morris as a dynamic playmaker and blossoming star, Dejean-Jones will likely see his usage rate drop to a healthier number, meaning that instead playing through him as he's used to, he'll get a chance to be set up for scoring opportunities. With the array of weapons that Iowa State will have on the court, one would think this would lead to more effective shooting splits than he displayed a season ago (42.7 FG% and 32.3 3PT%).
Not surprisingly, Dejean-Jones was voted the preseason Newcomer of the Year by the Big 12 coaches and provided he can conquer the chemistry demons he faced in the past, I don't see any reason why he won't run away with the award.
The Electric Egyptian, as he was apparently called in high school, toiled away in obscurity and what had to be the equivalent of basketball hell for two years at Northern Illinois. In that span, Nader was a part of only 14 victories total. For reference, Iowa State earned that many "W's" in their first 14 games last year alone. I'd love to know what goes through Nader's head when he takes the Hilton Coliseum floor for the first time.
Much like Dejean-Jones, Nader often became a one-man show for the Huskies. The 6'6" combo forward had the highest usage rate in the nation (36.9%) and took the highest percentage of his team's shots (42.1%) as well two years ago, according to kenpom.com. Now, he wasn't particularly efficient, but on a team that only won five games, he became the offense.
At first glance, the numbers aren't pretty. Nader shot a woeful 27.7% from outside and a shockingly bad 33.7% from the field overall. Yeah, those numbers are not misprints. On a team full of bums, Nader was given a green light and rarely hesitated with the ball in his hands.
The good news is that Nader has now spent two summers and an entire off season in Ames to improve his game and the early reports out of practice are that he's matured as a basketball player. Always the optimist, Hoiberg noted during the team media day that Nader's time at Northern Illinois actually bolstered his ability to hit the tough shots, which is a skill that I suppose has no true measure.
Nader remains a wildcard in the eyes of many and given how he performed in the MAC, that's understandable. At the risk of throwing any shred of credibility I may have had out the window, I want to talk about what I saw this summer in the Capitol City League games I took in.(HYPERBOLE ALERT)
Perhaps it was because I didn't have any expectations going in, but Nader became my favorite player to watch this summer. He absolutely surprised me with his skill level and I was blown away by his raw power and athleticism in the open court that was, dare I say, Royce-esque. Alright, that might be just a little bit of a stretch, but he has more facets to his game than I was aware of.
He handles the ball well for a small forward and could be a guy that could help break a press or pull down a rebound and lead the break. He also showed an ability to play both a face-up game and work with his back to the basket.
I don't know how that will translate to the Big 12, but as an athlete, opponents will quickly learn just how powerful and explosive he is in the post. If the skill side of the game can catch up to the physical progression he's made, then Iowa State could have a hell of a ball player on its hands.
I actually expect Nader to find a home in Iowa State's starting front court next to Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue for what will be unquestionably the most versatile post rotation in the nation.
It's weird to say, but McKay might just be the most hyped transfer Hoiberg has brought in. He's never played a second of division-1 basketball and his new teammate was voted the conference's Newcomer of the Year, yet it's McKay that could be the linchpin that keeps this team rolling in March.
McKay was an all-American at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa and as a 4-star junior college prospect, signed with Marquette. McKay transferred just after classes had started in 2013 and as a result, will have to sit out the first semester this season and will make his debut on December 20th against Drake in the Hy-Vee Big 4 Classic in Des Moines.
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times and you'll hear it at least another thousand times over the course of the season, but McKay gives Hoiberg something he's never had in Ames - a true rim protector.
Now, before anyone anoints him as the next Kelvin Cato, let's remember that this guy will be entering the fray mid-season, breaking his way into a rotation that will already be fairly well set after nine games. Furthermore, he doesn't exactly get to ease into things as Drake is a quality mid-major program that has given Iowa State trouble in the past. From there, it will be a tune-up against Mississippi Valley State before heading to Brooklyn to take on an improving South Carolina program and then, it's conference play.
In case you couldn't tell, I expect some growing pains. As much as I'd love to see McKay seamlessly hit the ground running and start throwing up double-doubles from the get-go, I think that might be asking a bit much from him. It's going to take time and I think a reasonable best-case scenario for the 6'9" freak is to start hitting his stride in February.
In any event, with McKay in the line up, Niang can move to a more natural combo forward role while Hogue and Nader can play more of your traditional small forward (important note here: positions do not matter with Hoiball). The emergence of McKay won't eliminate small-ball altogether and nor should it, but it simply gives Hoiberg another wrinkle to add into the equation that opponents have rarely been able to solve in recent years.
McKay's YouTube videos are impressive enough, but again, I want to revisit what I watched this summer. In a league that is dominated by flashy guard play, McKay decided he wouldn't let the small folks have all the fun. He was simply unguardable in CCL action and played his ass off every night out. I've been going to these summer league games for years and I've never once seen a post player (Craig Brackins and Royce White included) go as hard as McKay did. He literally tried to grab every rebound, block every shot close to the rim and dunk anything he could get his hands on.
It was a brilliantly violent display of frenzied power and aggression. Much like Nader, it will be fascinating to see how that type of effort and explosiveness translates to big-time college basketball, but it didn't take long to realize that McKay is perhaps the most dynamic athlete to come through this program in some time.
He'll be a force in due time and for Iowa State's conference championship hopes, the sooner the better.
A Parting Word
It's easy to look back on guys like White, Kane, Babb, etc, and remember how they were at the top of their respective games at the end of their playing days, but we often forget that some of these guys endured some rough spots along the way.
The best example by far is Korie Lucious. The Michigan State transfer was projected to become the traditional point guard that Iowa State lacked in White's one year in Ames. In a sense, Lucious fulfilled that need early on, but struggled during the non-conference portion of the schedule to really embrace the spacing and ball movement that Hoiberg wanted to see. Lucious' erratic play even led to Hoiberg using Clyburn as the primary ball handler in crunch time.
Over the course of the season, however, Hoiberg managed to corral Lucious and from February on, he was arguably the most clutch player on that 2012-2013 team.
Similarly, Chris Allen took some time to find his role early on and it wasn't until the last 10 games of his senior season that Anthony Booker really flourished. The point is that these guys all have serious ability, but I can't be certain that there's a Kane or White in the bunch. That's okay, as this will be the deepest team Hoiberg has had. The returning core of Niang, Hogue, Morris, Long, Thomas and others will allow this year's transfer crop perhaps the easiest transition yet.
We'll find out soon enough just how good these three end up being, but from a sheer talent stand point, they more than justify Iowa State's pre-season #14 ranking. Whether that ranking makes its way into top ten territory, we shall see.