Last Wednesday, Darien Williams officially signed with Iowa State and in the process, became the only known commit for Fred Hoiberg's 2015 recruiting class. For a number of reasons, we weren't able to provide much coverage of the signing last week, but will atone for it here and discuss the 2015 class at length.
The 6'8" Williams played one year at Iowa Western Community College and is currently taking courses at City College of San Francisco, but is taking the year off from basketball as he's had surgery on both of his shoulders. He'll have three years of eligibility left once he makes it to Ames and will look to make an impact immediately.
As a face-up forward, Williams averaged 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest last year. He shot 51% from the field and 41.1% from outside in his lone campaign in the junior college ranks. According to this Cyclones.com piece, Williams was also an All-Region XI selection.
While Williams is the lone signee at this point, it is important to note that Hallice Cooke, who transferred from Oregon State, is redshirting this season and will be eligible for the 2015-2016 grind. Cooke technically counts against the 2014 class, but for all intents and purposes, we're going to go ahead and pencil him in as part of the 2015 class.
With Williams and Cooke in the fold and the only expected losses of seniors Dustin Hogue, Daniel Edozie and Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State figures to have two open scholarships left to allocate toward the '15 class. You might notice that there are no high school athletes committed at this point (more on that in a moment) and for the first time since the '11 class, there are no consensus 4-star athletes committed.
To those final two points, is there reason to be concerned or alarmed that The Mayor has yet to reel in anyone from the prep ranks? Perhaps, but is that more of a product of how Hoiberg has constructed Iowa State's current roster, a statement of how he feels about the prep talent available, or is there a problem that needs a addressed?
Let's start with the latter. This may come as a shock, but just about all college coaches will negatively recruit against each other. When it comes to Fred Hoiberg, there are a couple of pieces of low hanging fruit ripe for the taking. First, Hoiberg's name is mentioned annually for open NBA jobs, which could cause some fears in the minds of young stars and their parents. Only the most naive among us believe that these kids are actually committing to the school as opposed to the head coach that's recruiting them and if said coach always has his name mentioned for these NBA jobs, it might be causing some concerning thoughts about how long he'll be there. Second, Hoiberg has utilized transfers better than anyone in the country since arriving in Ames, but could the constant fear of being recruited over becoming a major selling point against Iowa State?
Addressing the NBA concerns to begin with, those rumors simply are not going to go away. We know this and we as ISU fans have accepted this. As long as Hoiberg keeps churning out NCAA tournament appearances, he's always going to be in demand with NBA franchises. This is a good thing. You want a coach who's in demand and considered an offensive innovator. I have little doubt that Hoiberg has any problems talking this point down if it ever comes up in living rooms. This is actually a selling point for him and I'd imagine it can backfire pretty quickly if an opposing coach tries to argue otherwise.
So that brings us to the transfer issue. A hot-button topic for the better part of Hoiberg's tenure, it really hasn't been much of an issue up to this point when it comes to landing prep athletes. Hoiberg landed four 4-star preps between the '12 and '14 classes (Georges Niang, Matt Thomas, Monte Morris and Clayton Custer) and has sprinkled in quality, 3-star prospects like Calvin Godfrey, Naz Long and Sherron Dorsey-Walker during that time (Melvin Ejim was committed to Iowa State under Greg McDermott). Hoiberg even tapped the international market for Georgios Tsalmpouris this summer, showing yet another aspect of his versatility when it comes to finding talent. So why are there no high school commits for the 2015 class?
It's certainly not for lack of effort. The staff heavily pursued prospects like Nick Noskowiak (Marquette), Austin Grandstaff (Ohio State), Henry Ellenson (Marquette), A.J. Turner (Boston College), and Alex Illikainen (Wisconsin) among others. All are consensus 4-star (or better) prospects and all would have made great additions to the Cyclone program.
The most highly sought after (and currently still available) prospect for Iowa State is Cheick Diallo. The 6'9" 5-star stud has by all accounts narrowed down his final five choices to Iowa State, Kansas, Kentucky, St. John's and Pittsburgh, according to his 247sports profile. Diallo took an official visit to Iowa State back on September 26th and has also made officials to Kentucky, Kansas and St. John's. Diallo will likely make his decision in the spring after he gets to see who turns pro and what next year's rosters look like.
This marks the second straight year that Iowa State will go down to the wire with a top ten recruit. You might remember that the Cyclones were considered a favorite to land Rashad Vaughn before a late push from UNLV landed him in Sin City.
It appears as if Iowa State has all of their eggs in the Diallo basket at this point and while that may seem alarming to some, I'd implore you to step back and take a look at the bigger picture before freaking out. Things have a way of working out for The Mayor and by now, he's perfected the late-spring,
free agent transfer season signing binge.
Does Iowa State need Diallo to be a top ten team next year? With Jameel McKay, Georges Niang and Abdel Nader all returning in the front court, as well as a developing Tsalmpouris, while also bringing in Darien Williams, I'd say not necessarily, but it sure wouldn't hurt. That being said, you have to figure that the Cyclones will be in the mix for a big man transfer who's name won't even surface until spring 2015. There's also the junior college route, which Hoiberg has taken before. Iowa State was a finalist for the services of 6'11" Malik Dime out of Indian Hills C.C. before he opted to take his talents to Washington, but Dime is far from the only quality junior college big man in the country.
The point I'm trying to make is that Iowa State has options and with 11 scholarships already allocated and a roster loaded with talent and experience returning in 2015-2016, Fred Hoiberg has the luxury to be picky and choosy and he's doing just that. This isn't just a Cyclone-slanted spin when I say that with the 11 guys that will be returning next year, Iowa State could and maybe even should be a pre-season top ten team, so anyone added to that mix is either going to be a premium difference maker or will be stashed away until the 2016-2017 season.
It's an envious position to be in and that is why I have to think this staff is playing this hand the way they are. Diallo will continue to be the top priority and I have to imagine nearly all of the staff's efforts and resources will be sunk into chasing Cheick until the very end.
So with the pursuit of Diallo being priority number one (...and two...and three...and...), where does Iowa State go if they miss out?
As mentioned before, you can either add a difference maker, or you can plan for the future. Ideally you accomplish both, but as luck would have it, that's not always how the recruiting gambles pay off.
Iowa State jumped into the mix for small forward, Isaiah Moss, out of Chicago in October and it proved to be a little too late in the game as Moss committed to Iowa shortly after, but that's the perfect type of player for this staff to pursue at this point. A late bloomer, so to speak, small forward that can come develop for a year and then see the floor in 2016 after Niang, Nader and McKay move on. Moss was a top 200ish player for his class, meaning that he's not a huge miss and there should be plenty of other similar types that Iowa State will have a chance to identify and offer in the next few months.
A small forward or wing player is exactly who the staff should be pursuing though and between the prep ranks, junior colleges and transfer market, should be able to find that type of player. It should also be noted that Iowa State is heavily involved with 2016 wing Amir Coffey out of Hopkins, Minnesota, which just so happens to be where Royce White hailed from. Coffey is a top 30 player for his class and this will likely be another situation where the Cyclones will be in it for the long haul.
The other major priority for the final scholarship has to be on the interior. We know that Diallo would fill that need, but even with a player of Diallo's ability, the one-and-done scenario comes into play even if Iowa State is fortunate enough to land him.
Iowa State is going to need a big man, regardless, but the staff's decision-making process could depend on how Tsalmpouris develops and how well Williams' game translates to the Big 12 level.
With Williams having three years of eligibility and being a face-up PF, a true post presence could be a priority and depending on the player, could greatly compliment Williams' versatility by being a force inside. That brings us to Tsalmpouris. As they say, you can't teach size and at 7'1", he's got plenty of it. The giant Greek has an incredibly advanced skill set for his size, but at this point, needs to work on his body and get some seasoning in the American game. How Tsalmpouris progresses this year will likely go a long way toward how the staff pursues a big man going forward.
If Tsalmpouris is ready to play next year and if Diallo doesn't come to Ames, then an aggressive junior college forward in the mold of a Dustin Hogue or a Daniel Edozie could add the right amount of grit and toughness to the interior. And lest you need reminded, a transfer is always in play.
In any event, it should be an exciting few months on the recruiting trail for this Iowa State program. Provided there aren't any injuries or defections (major knock on wood), Hoiberg has assembled a roster that will have an elite two-year window between this season and next. It's going to take quite the talent to crack next year's rotation and that could scare off some prospects, but if anything, goes to show why the '15 class is what it is at this point.