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Iowa State Basketball: State of the Program Part III

Talen Horton-Tucker rounds out the 2018 class, but what does this group’s potential look like for the Cyclones?

Nevada v Iowa State Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images


With the signing of Talen Horton-Tucker last Thursday, Iowa State now has four recruits signed for the 2018 class, and if all players return will have all 13 scholarships full next season. The class is currently rated at number 21 in the country according to 247 rankings. That ranking will most likely decrease as more programs receive verbal commitments and get players signed in the November signing period. However, the player rankings will be reconfigured a couple times throughout the basketball season and the Cyclone signees could see their rankings rise when final rankings come out next spring.

There is no doubt, however, that head coach Steve Prohm has put together a fantastic foundation for the next four years at Iowa State. THT, Zion Griffin, and Tyrese Haliburton are all ranked between 100-150 according to the 247 composite rankings, while George Conditt is ranked outside the top 200, but may have the most potential due to his size and skill set.

These rankings are lower than some of the greatest four year Cyclones of the last few winters, including Georges Niang, Monte Morris and Matt Thomas. They are higher though than a few all time Cyclones as well, including Naz Mitrou-Long, and the top three from 2018 are higher than former Big 12 Player of the Year, Melvin Ejim. This points to the immense importance of player development for any college player, no matter their ranking. Having a higher ranking in general obviously shows a higher chance of becoming a star, but lower ranked recruits have become amazing players for the Cyclones many times over. Player development is both a function of that player’s work ethic in the off season and the coaching staff’s ability to enhance the skills their players already have as well as master new skills.

Prohm’s coaching staff have shown that they are adept at making their players better. Matt Thomas is a great example. His first two years, he struggled to find his role on the team and did not shoot very well for the Cyclones. In his last two seasons, his three point percentage skyrocketed and he developed a number of step backs and pull ups to get his shots off. Naz became much more effective off the dribble and turned himself into more than just a three point threat in his senior year. Monte Morris would never have been effective shooting this deep three off the dribble with just a sliver of open space in his first couple of years at ISU.

Additionally, Prohm took Solomon Young, who was a recruit ranked in the 200s and molded him into a solid role player and contributor as a freshman. Hopefully Jakolby Long will carve out a role in the backcourt this year. According to extensive research from Sports Illustrated’s projection system from the last 14 seasons, college players make the biggest leaps between their freshman and sophomore years.

Player development is incredibly important because although all four of these 2018 Iowa State recruits could have fantastic careers at Iowa State, we need to set reasonable expectations of them coming in as young players. SI’s same research has shown that freshmen ranked outside the top 100 in the RSCI rankings have between a 7 and 11 percent chance of becoming efficient offensive contributors who play at least 50 percent of the minutes in their first season. According to RSCI, THT is currently ranked at 98 in their composite and has a slightly higher chance (13%) than the other three to be an efficient contributor in his first season.

Fans of all college teams, including Iowa State, tend to exaggerate the immediate impact that recruits have. The probabilities for recruits of this caliber to instantly take over the Big 12 are low. The best part is that none of them will likely have to take on major roles in their freshman years, which will give them time to mold into bonafide players by the time they play extended minutes. In the 2018-19 season, Iowa State will have returners that have played heavy minutes on the perimeter and in the post. Wiggy, Nick Weiler-Babb, and Zoran Talley will all be back on the outside and Solo and Cameron Lard will be returning in the paint. Additionally, the Cyclones will add Marial Shayok and Michael Jacobson, who have both played a bunch of minutes in power 5 conferences. That’s already a rotation of 7 guys, plus whatever bonuses Long and Terrence Lewis bring back to the mix.

None of the freshmen will need to play heavy minutes or be depended on for bunches of offense. THT and Zion Griffin may get spot minutes depending on how much they improve between now and next year and that will be incredibly beneficial to them if they do.

Morris, Thomas, Naz, and even Donovan Jackson and Babb were all brought along slowly (at varying paces) during their first years at Iowa State, and although I have no hard evidence to back this up, I think that really helps in their development. Unless you are a top 30 or 40 recruit, being forced to handle a load of playmaking duties as a freshman turns most people at least temporarily into low percentage chuckers.

As a freshman, Morris really learned from DeAndre Kane how to run an offense and get efficient shots. Thomas and Naz soaked in the basketball knowledge and skills they needed to hone from the likes of Melvin Ejim, Chris Babb, and Tyrus McGee. This, combined with an entire year of skill development, conquering the offensive and defensive systems of the coaching staff and putting in work on their own, allowed them to make that big jump in both offensive responsibility and efficiency in the second year (for the most part). This coincides and seems very correlated with SI’s determination that the largest jump in quality production happens between the freshman and sophomore year.

Although they aren’t freshmen, DJack and Babb just finished their first years and I really hope this concept applies this upcoming year as well.

It seems highly likely that the Fab Four from 2018 will be able to apprentice under Iowa State’s upperclassmen next year. Then the following season in 2019-20, Talley, Babb and Shayok, who are going to have most of the minutes on the wing, will be gone and it will open up a ton of potential minutes for sophomores THT, Tyrese, and Zion, which is when they will be ready to make their greatest strides in becoming a better basketball player.

By that time, Wigginton will be absolutely sensational and will carry much more than his weight as the main ball handler and playmaker. Lewis and/or Jakolby Long will have hopefully nailed down a role(s) on the wing. Then whoever develops the best over the next two years of those three 2018 perimeter guys will absorb the rest of the time in the backcourt. They won’t have to be in a starring role, but they will be significant producers, I imagine about as much as Matt Thomas and Naz during their sophomore years.

In the post spots, Young and Lard will be upperclassmen and Jacobson will be a senior. This is fantastic because Conditt is the lowest ranked ISU recruit for 2018, is the most raw skill wise and will probably take the most time to hit the weight room and fill into his body. He will have three bigs in front of him playing most of the minutes. Hopefully he will get some experience on the floor, so that when he becomes a junior and ISU has only Cameron Lard returning, he will be ready to showcase his astronomical potential.

I’m sure you all have seen the Michigan Fab Five type pictures that the four recruits took with Prohm while they were in Hilton Coliseum. They won’t need to contribute like the Fab Five for Iowa State to be an NCAA tournament team in 2018-19 and beyond, but if they show that they are good enough, it will be a bonus for Prohm to have them on the floor. They will be the defining players for Iowa State in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and should be ready to take them the lofty heights that Cyclone nation expects.

These four are an incredible haul for the coaching staff this year, and the roster and player turnover are set up almost perfectly for them to ease into their roles, then overtake major minutes in starting and off the bench spots when they are ready to unleash their highest potential as college basketball players.