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Is There a Recruiting Formula that Determines Success for Iowa State Basketball?

RevDizz and CYHusker are proud to bring you a summer series diving into Iowa State basketball recruiting - both past, present, and future. This is the first part of a four-part endeavor, so stay tuned for the next chapter!

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting is commonly referred to as the lifeblood of a college basketball program, especially one that wants to be considered as a big time player on the national scene. Each school has their own unique advantages and disadvantages when it comes to recruiting, and most schools also have unique recruiting strategies as well. Coaches miss on a majority of their targets, and more often than not a bigger school will swoop in to claim a promising prospect at the last second.

At the end of the day, however, the development and performance of the guys who do commit to a program is really all that matters. You see, when teams fall short, it's rarely due to a "lack of bodies." For at the heart of the matter lies the fact that a team must field five players, regardless of how highly-touted they are or whether they are a 3-year transfer or a junior college player.

While this is well known, it leaves some questions regarding Iowa State basketball unanswered, if you know the right questions to ask. In this four part series, we'll attempt to ask those questions and find the answers in respects to Iowa State basketball and see if we can come up with a magical formula to build a roster and sustain success at Iowa State.

First, we're going to talk about how successful Iowa State has been recruiting freshmen. Next we'll dive into traditional transfers before getting to JUCO transfers and lastly, graduate transfers. Since recruiting is always such a fluid and changing situation, we're going to go back to Fred Hoiberg's first class, which entered prior to the 2010-11 season.


Iowa State Freshmen Recruiting

While a graduate or 3-year transfer can have a tremendous impact, it is often the four year players that have the most profound impact on a program. Need evidence of this? See the host of senior stars that dominated college basketball this past season.

Not only that, but look at the last few four year players to spend their entire tenure in an Iowa State uniform: Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and the soon-to-be Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Monte Morris and Matt Thomas trio. At least three of those guys will have some segment of the fan base pointing at the rafters, clamoring for Jamie Pollard to hang their jersey.

There's a lot of factors that go into not only recruiting a high school player, but keeping him there until his senior year. Do you redshirt freshman? (Not if you want to keep them.) If not, how big does their role need to be? (Probably never as big as the player thinks it should be.) If they are unhappy with either of those two options, are the odds stacked against that player sticking around for four years with the transfer market being what it is today? How important are rankings in projecting the impact a freshman can have over the course of his career? And finally, does success on the court immediately translate to striking gold on the recruiting trail?

We might not have all the answers, but here's what we've found on Iowa State's recruitment of high school players over the past six seasons.

For the sake of simplicity, we have grouped Iowa State's freshman classes into four aptly-named groups:

"Hoiberg Scramble"

When the Mayor began his term, it was evident he inherited an empty cupboard Cabinet (see what I did there?). The program reeked of the failures of the past five seasons, with the McDoormat years leaving a lingering smell of shame and deployed airbags that you just can't wash out.

Due mostly to attrition and a wave of transfers in the year prior, Hoiberg had a lot of spots to fill, and four of them went to freshmen. This doesn't accurately describe his situation, however. ISU had a brand new coach, one who had never been a head man before, recruiting players into a program that had its best days just 10 years behind them. Long story short, Fred took what he could get, literally.

Four freshmen with an average national ranking of 264 and Darion 'Jake' Anderson, the first transfer in the Northern Illinois to Iowa State pipeline as a graduate transfer.

Player Rank ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Post-ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Career Highlights
Melvin Ejim 182 27.8 / 12.2 / 7.8 / 1.4 N/A Big 12 POY, 2nd Team All American
Eric McKnight 240 3.9 / 1.1 / 0.6 / 0.1 17.8 / 4.8 / 3.6 / 0.3 Transferred to Florida Gulf Coast (Dunk City) and then to Long Beach State
Calvin Godfrey 293 20.1 / 5.7 / 5.4 / 0.6 20.5 / 8.8 / 6.2 / 0.6 Dismissed from Iowa State after drug related issues, then transferred to Southern and eventually to Memphis
Jordan Railey 341 7.1 / 1.5 / 1.2 / 0.1 16.3 / 4.8 / 2.9 / 0.8 Transferred to Washington State and has spent time in the D-League with the 76ers affiliate

So basically this class had an obvious hit rate of 25% which is not good enough for a crop of freshmen, but that's what happens coming off of the McDermott steaming pile that was left.

"Hoiberg Rebuild"

Coming off an encouraging 15-17 campaign, and armed with a crop of now-eligible transfers, the Cyclones built up momentum over the next two seasons. Hoiberg brought the Cyclones back to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and took them again in 2013, losing in the second round to the eventual champ Kentucky and to Ohio State the following season thanks to a dagger three by he-who-must-not-be-named.

Success on the court didn't exactly correlate to recruiting success, however. Highlighting these two seasons was 2012, where Fred added five freshman (and no transfers). While the Cyclones signed four top-150 players in Elgin Cook, Georges Niang, Sherron Dorsey-Walker and Percy Gibson, Niang was the only member of that group to contribute anything significant through those two seasons, despite Gibson's solid solid freshman season. In fact, a large majority of this class would end up transferring from Iowa State, largely due to lack of playing time.

Player Rank ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Post-ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Career Highlights
Elgin Cook 71 N/A 26.3 / 11.7 / 4.7 / 1.5 Never made it to ISU but had a pretty solid career at Oregon
Georges Niang 72 29.8 / 16.1 / 5.2 / 3.1 N/A 1st 2-time All American, 2nd leading scorer in school history, this column is essentially endless
Sherron Dorsey-Walker 123 6.7 / 1.4 / 0.7 / 0.4 24.3 / 6.5 / 5.0 / 1.4 Had only one hand (his left), joined Percy Gibson on the ISU -> Oakland pipeline
Percy Gibson 131 10.2 / 4.0 / 2.1 / 0.1 22.5 / 11.3 / 6.2 / 0.7 Transferred to Oakland and started the ISU to Oakland pipeline
Kerwin Okoro 196 3.6 / 1.0 / 0.1 / 0.0 7.4 / 2.3 / 0.9 / 0.3 Transferred to Rutgers after first year
Tavon Sledge 229 2.3 / 1.0 / 0.0 / 0.4 18.3 / 4.5 / 2.0 / 2.3 Transferred to Iona afer freshman season
Nazareth Mitrou-Long 260 21.2 / 7.5 / 2.0 / 1.4 N/A 146 career made 3-pointers, invaluable team leadership and some incredible buzzer beater moments
Cameron Fowler N/A N/A 16.2 / 2.3 / 1.9 / 1.6 Got the playing time at Niagara that he didn't get at Iowa State

Even though results on the floor change, the hit rate among high school recruits remained largely the same over this two year time span. Some could be attributed to playing time, or being recruited over with transfers and JUCOs, but as we're quickly finding out now, it's not ideal to have 5-7 open scholarships every year. Finding and developing a couple solid high school recruits helps balance the scholarship numbers and provide some stability. It also determines which players are more appropriate for "stash and develop" types like so many of the greatest Cyclones have been.

"Hoiberg Sustain"

While The Mayor had temporarily stabilized the program using mainly transfers, the program began to use its on the court success to target higher-profile freshman recruits. As it turned out, the "chase is more exciting than the kill" philosophy held true, with the Cyclones missing out on top talent like Rashard Vaughn, Cheick Diallo, etc. These recruiting efforts did prove fruitful, however. The Cyclones added two top-100 freshman in Matt Thomas and Monte Morris, a top-150 player in Clayton Custer, and a talented yet raw European big man in Georgios Tsalmpouris.

While the latter two players showed some promise, both had limited roles their freshman year. That, coupled with the departure of Fred Hoiberg was enough to send Custer to Loyola via transfer, and Tsalmpouris back to Europe to play professionally. Thankfully, he waited until after the season to transfer, unlike a former ISU European player that still holds the records for made threes in a game...

Iowa State hit, however, on Matt Thomas and Monte Morris. Thomas was widely considered one of the best shooters in his class, and was heavily pursued by the likes of Marquette, Wisconsin, and Virginia. While it's taken longer than fans anticipated to see Thomas's true potential, an outstanding junior season has Cyclone fans excited.

Monte Morris came to Iowa State, despite a multitude of offers, because Derek Walton Jr. committed to Michigan an hour before Monte made his call, and was told to pound sand (basically). Monte wound up at Iowa State, and has been one of the best point guards in the country for three straight seasons.

In an similar string of current events, McKinley Wright, a talented point guard out of Minnesota for the 2017 class has basically been told that same story by Oklahoma. Perhaps Iowa State will again benefit from another school limiting point guard roster spots as they'll look to take two in next year's class.

Player Rank ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Post-ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Career Highlights
Matt Thomas 55 23.6 / 7.2 / 2.9 / 1.2 N/A Coming into his own his junior year
Monte Morris 83 33.3 / 10.8 / 3.3 / 5.2 N/A Assist/TO ratio God (2-time NCAA record holder), 2-time 2nd Team Big 12
Clayton Custer 140 5.8 / 1.1 / 0.4 / 0.7 N/A...yet Career high of 6 points against Drake
Georgios Tsalmpouris N/A 4.4 / 1.4 / 0.8 / 0.3 N/A First career basket was a 3-pointer against Lamar. Has yet to record professional statistics

What's really important to discern here is that Iowa State hit on two players each in the 2012 class and 2013 class for a hit rate of 57%. (Niang, Mitrou-Long, Thomas, Morris). Last season and this upcoming season would be the senior seasons for those classes, and it's easy to see the parallel between the success of freshmen recruiting and success on the floor.

It's not imperative to hit on 100%, especially in today's transfer culture, but making sure you find at least one if not two quality four-year players in each class is important to building a stable, winning program at Iowa State. When you don't hit at all in a class (Custer/Tsalmpouris), it can lead you right back to square one.

And here we are.

"Prohm Scramble and Attempt to Balance Scholarships"

There's no doubt that Hoiberg left this program in much better shape than it was when he got here, but outside of the 2015-16 season, the program wasn't necessarily set up well for future success. There were no returning freshmen and with just a couple months to recruit from a picked over talent pool, Coach Prohm did his best to find some front court depth with the additions of Brady Ernst and Simeon Carter.

As expected in the current college basketball landscape, Ernst has already announced his transfer, so it looks like the Cyclones' eggs are in Carter's basket to be the first freshman prospect to stick around and succeed since the Morris/Thomas class.

Part of the other battle that Prohm faces is balancing out the class scholarships. Due to transfers, and lack of young players returning, Iowa State graduated a large and prominent class last year which would have left four spots to fill if it weren't for the Naz medical redshirt. In addition, ISU will see a large amount of attrition next year with Monte, Matt, Naz, and Deonte Burton departing along with graduate transfers Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. If Prohm is unable to secure a sit-out transfer, the current vacant scholarship could be banked leaving a whopping SEVEN spots to fill, which is more than half the available roster spots.

Let's take a look at the freshmen in Prohm's first two classes at Iowa State.

Player Rank ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Post-ISU Splits (MPG/PPG/RPG/APG) Career Highlights
Brady Ernst 324 2.3 / 0.3 / 0.7 / 0.0 N/A Transferred from Iowa State after freshman season
Simeon Carter 288 2.7 / 0.7 / 0.4 / 0.0 N/A The best is yet to come, dunked for his first career points against Chicago State
Jakolby Long 126 N/A N/A N/A
Solomon Young 233 N/A N/A N/A
Cameron Lard 146 N/A N/A N/A
Romello White???? 77 NOT SIGNED Wishful thinking to land White, but it would be a solid use of the Cyclones' last available scholarship.

Prohm did a solid job recruiting three high school prospects right in the range of the rankings where we've seen many Cyclone players become four-year fan favorites. Keep in mind that basketball recruiting is often a multi-year task, so even with this class he was behind the 8-ball after taking over for Coach Hoiberg.

Many of the guys they're after for the 2017 class fall in the 50-150 range and many are backcourt players as the Cyclones will lose a bunch of guards and wingmen after the 2016-17 season. While there will undoubtedly be #HOTTAKES galore this season when looking at freshmen performance or minutes, fans should really hold judgement for another year while these guys develop and more are brought in after a standard recruiting cycle. The 2017-18 season will really be the first time fans can start seeing what the future might look like with Prohm at the helm and his guys in the system.

What can we take away from this?

Average rank of recruiting "hits": 130. (5 hits)
Average rank of recruiting "misses": 224. (12 misses and 4 yet to be determined)
Hit rate: 29.4%

So yes, recruiting rankings and STARZZZZ do matter, at least a little bit. Lower ranked guys are much more likely to transfer to a school for playing time they clearly were not going to get at Iowa State.

The question is, can you successfully get two "Top 150" type guys in each class and keep them long enough to develop them into quality four-year players? Iowa State's best teams all had contributing freshmen and seniors, so while the narrative has seemingly been about "Transfer U" the last few years, don't get things twisted. Sustained success for a program such as Iowa State is more based on a successful foundation of high school players while plugging holes for recruiting misses.

However, taking the program from "successful" to "new heights" can often depend on the quality of transfers (sit-out, JUCO and graduate) that you can get to fill roster gaps. In Chapter 2 of our recruiting saga, we'll look at the sit-out transfers and how they've impacted Iowa State basketball in recent memory. Stay tuned!