Iowa State won for the third straight time in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday and did so without the services of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for the contest and did not make the trip to Stillwater. The Cowboys were also down a starter as freshman star, Jawun Evans, sat out the game with a shoulder injury, but it was a solid road win nonetheless for the Cyclones.
The fact that Iowa State was able to grind out a win on the road less than 24 hours after it became public that McKay wouldn't be on the trip speaks to the resiliency of this team, especially coming off a frustrating home loss to West Virginia earlier in the week. Impressive as Saturday's effort was though, it's still no less concerning that McKay's actions put his team in a bad position and further jeopardized Iowa State's standing in the Big 12.
It's unclear exactly what McKay did to earn the suspension, just as it's unclear how long the suspension will last. To say that the suspension was surprising, however, well that's a different matter.
To fully understand a situation that appears to have recently come to a head, we need to first set the stage and establish the context for what has likely been going on behind the scenes, dating back to Iowa State's trip to Spain in August.
Early into the trip and following a loss in their first exhibition, McKay took to Twitter to apparently express some frustration:
I promised myself when I stop having fun I'll b done with it— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) August 13, 2015
Times changed !— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) August 13, 2015
Ain't no I in TEAM But from what I have seen its every man for they self— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) August 13, 2015
You may remember this episode and you may also remember the onset of panic that these Tweets created throughout the Cyclone fan base.
Those Tweets prompted a story from Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune, where he asked Steve Prohm and Monte Morris about McKay's Tweets.
McKay responded to the story:
Don't look much into my tweets they normally mean nothing at all— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) August 22, 2015
Or they are inside jokes that only me and my teammates understand— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) August 22, 2015
Fair enough, but the seeds for a bizarre behind-the-scenes drama were planted.
Upon the return from Spain, McKay's social media offerings were mostly standard and rarely noteworthy as the Cyclones prepared for the upcoming season.
The season tipped off on November 13th and McKay was playing well and all appeared to be going fine until Iowa State's win over Illinois in the championship game of the Emerald Coast Classic. In crunch time, Prohm elected to ride a small-ball line up that was playing brilliantly and left McKay on the bench for the last quarter or so of the game. McKay appeared to sulk on the bench and was visibly frustrated by the fact that he wasn't playing and looked mostly disengaged during timeouts down the stretch.
Following the game, McKay took to Twitter and stated that he was returning to his native Milwaukee for a few days and then posted a very ominous photo on his Instagram account that has since been deleted, expressing his displeasure with having to going back to Ames.
It was a bizarre moment to say the least and once again, the Cyclone fan base was baffled by McKay's actions. Several days later, McKay Tweeted out the following:
Going off Twitter for a while nothing's going on just wanna focus on school and making my last year as special as possible see u in Houston— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) November 29, 2015
A very smart move on McKay's part and consistent with what others on the team, namely Georges Niang, had decided to do earlier in the season; stop posting on social media and focus on school and basketball. There was just one minor problem. 48 hours later, McKay was back on Twitter, re-Tweeting and posting.
Alright, so the hiatus from social media was short-lived, but whatever. Iowa State was undefeated and McKay was playing well, so who cared, right?
Unfortunately, McKay's play slipped as conference season began. Possibly worn down by heavy minutes and the grind of Big 12 play, McKay's rebounding numbers plummeted and in the last few weeks, it became known that McKay was battling tendonitis in his knee.
Then, there was this:
Just got news that a close friend mom who was like a mom to me passed just reassure u to treasure your loved ones cuz everyone has to go ❤️— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) January 25, 2016
Not feeling alright mentally out of it so much change I'm just not me anymore prayers up to God because I need it #GoodNight— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) January 26, 2016
The feeling of letting people down <<<<<<< especially when u know deep down that this isn't what u signed up for its killing me insanely— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) January 26, 2016
Then there was the news that broke on Friday night that McKay had not traveled with the team to Stillwater and had been suspended "indefinitely". Curiously, McKay's responded, unprompted mind you, on his Twitter account with this:
1 game— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) February 6, 2016
And with that, a bizarre drama ensued. Why was McKay suspended in the first place? Why did Iowa State define the suspension as "indefinite" while McKay claimed it to be "1 game"? Why in the hell was McKay Tweeting at all?
Travis Hines was able to get a few comments from McKay in this story posted on Saturday morning. McKay stated that the suspension was "practice related" and offered this exchange:
"Indefinitely sounds harsh because it's one game," McKay wrote, "so I'm not sure why they would use that wording."
Then McKay Tweeted this prior to the game:
GAMEDAY !!! For my bros I know they will hold it down! #CyclOneNation— ShowTime ✨ (@ShowTime_McKay) February 6, 2016
Now, if you're like me, your first reaction after hearing the news of the suspension and reading Hines' story, was probably something between a "what the hell" and a "why is McKay talking to media". To say the least, it was not a good look for McKay and may have made matters worse as he was clearly demonstrating a lack of self-awareness and possibly establishing himself as a malcontent and even a locker room cancer.
Sure, that's an unsubstantiated leap to make, but an easy one to speculate about for the uninformed fans like you and me. The absolute last thing McKay should have been doing on Saturday morning was talking to the media and downplaying the suspension. McKay might have seen his suspension as a minor ordeal, but for Prohm to leave a senior starter home and jeopardize Iowa State's chances in a road game that they desperately needed to win, one would assume what McKay did had to be a pretty serious offense.
Perhaps even more frustrating from a fan standpoint was McKay wishing his teammates good luck. A nice enough gesture on the surface, but a hollow and misguided gesture. You'll notice that there's no apology from McKay, no admittance of guilt or expression of remorse. Wish your teammates luck all you want, but to do so without acknowledging that your actions put them in a position where they'd have to win without you seems insincere at best.
And with that, you have to question if McKay truly gets it. Does he really understand that his actions were toxic enough to leave Prohm with no choice other than a suspension? Is he committed to being a better teammate? Is he "all in" so to speak with the program?
McKay brushed off his Tweets in Spain as an "inside joke", but has he manifested an inside joke that only he doesn't get or understand?
At WRNL, we've had numerous staff discussions over the years about stories criticizing student-athletes. It's a dangerous path to go down and often times a slipperly slope leading to a place that all of us never want to get to. We love Iowa State and we adore the student-athletes that don the Cardinal and Gold and we never want to compromise that position of admiration and respect.
So in a situation like this, it can be tough to put personal feelings aside. I'll admit to questioning McKay's mental toughness and desire in private and I'll also admit to criticizing him for what I perceived to be a lack of maturity.
But you know what? I don't have the first damn clue what this young man is dealing with outside of a few cryptic Tweets and some bad body language on the basketball floor. I was never a student-athlete and I was certainly never a 6'9" African-American man in Ames, Iowa that could never leave the house without being recognized and approached by complete strangers.
Simply put, I don't understand Jameel McKay and I will never be able to understand what it's like to be Jameel McKay. Like all of you, when I was a student at Iowa State, I attended class, went to bars and parties and posted silly things on Facebook. Literally nobody cared outside of my small social circle. I can't possibly begin to imagine just how exhausting and demanding it is to be one of the most visible and recognizable figures in the entire state of Iowa. And make no mistake about it, McKay certainly is.
Jameel McKay is a phenomenal basketball player and what I didn't post from his social media accounts was just how great of an ambassador he is for Iowa State. You can't go through McKay's Twitter and Instagram timeline without being blown away by just how many photos he has with kids and fans. Not only that, but as a frequent Capital City League patron, few guys are more accessible, patient and sincere with kids and fans than McKay.
Selfishly, I want McKay to get things straightened out because I know that Iowa State simply can't accomplish as much without him on the basketball floor, but the human side of me wants Jameel to get his life right, leave Iowa State with a degree and go on to enjoy life. The fact that he's talented enough to make a living playing professional basketball only amplifies that need for this situation to work itself out.
In his post-game comments on Saturday, Prohm stated that he would have a heart-to-heart or sorts with McKay and work to find a common ground and resolve these issues. I hope they can accomplish that. Maybe at this point, it's not about placing blame. Maybe, it's about rebuilding trust and moving on. It would be a terrible shame if they can't.
Editor's Note (2:13 PM): McKay has issued an apology via his Instagram account.
We all make mistakes don't Carry them around with you instead place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones if it's GOOD it's Wonderful if it's bad it's a Experience my mistakes will never define who I am as a person can't promise to b perfect but always to give my all. Apologies to all fans supporters , coaching staff ,family and most importantly my teammates love you all