By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
One year is in the books for Iowa State assistant basketball coach Matt Abdelmassih.
The New York native was promoted to being an assistant coach around a year ago at this time. Since then, what’s changed? What is he hearing regarding Royce White’s draft stock?
CycloneFanatic.com tackles these topics and more in this exclusive "Five Questions" piece with Iowa State assistant basketball coach Matt Abdelmassih.
CF: When you’ve been out on the recruiting trail over the last few months, what kind of difference have you noticed from a perception standpoint after Iowa State just played in an NCAA Tournament compared to a year ago?
MA: When they see the Iowa State logo when you walk into a gym, it gives us instant validity now that all of the things that we’ve been talking about leading up to this year in terms of a program and selling that the program is back on track, selling that the program is going to be on a national stage, we validated all of that. That’s a great feeling when you’re telling parents, kids and programs that Iowa State is going to be one of the top programs where you’ll want to send your son to play in the Big 12 and be on that national stage. All of that happened. It’s almost as if we had the opportunity to check everything off that we wanted to accomplish. Of course we would have wanted to continue on in the NCAA Tournament but it was a heck of an accomplishment with the strides we made as a program. There’s no doubt about it. There’s credibility given when you walk into a gym, people congratulate you on your year as you deal with other programs and other friends around the country.
CF: Staying on the topic of recruiting, let’s talk about a guy you’re bringing onto campus this summer in Nkereuwem Okoro. He’s about ready to get to town. Where would you say that his game has grown the most from his junior season until now?
MA: Physically he has worked really hard. The one thing that you’re going to get from him is really the stereotypes that are given to New York City basketball players. He will bring all of those intangibles: The toughness, the competitiveness, the drive to win, the leadership skills. He’s relentless when it comes to those areas. He’s tough. That’s the one thing that I love about him. He’s the guy who is going to embrace being the intangibles guy. He’ll want to guard the best guy. Going and getting big rebounds for us. Getting us garbage points. Early on I know that there were people saying stuff about his offense but he embraces the role of being that junkyard dog type of basketball player. His growth from a physical standpoint has been tremendous. I saw him when we were out in April. He had probably put on 15 pounds. He looks cut up. It’s so important for these guys to come in as freshmen and immediately be able to focus on basketball and not have to worry about getting into the weight room and physically being able to play with our guys. There’s no doubt that he’ll continue to improve and work hard.
CF: One quick follow-up to that, I swear that I saw he won some 3-point contest or something like that this year. The talk of his offense being poor has to be overblown doesn’t it?
MA: For being 6-foot-5 and being long, he’s extremely athletic. His ball handling skills are impressive. He can get around guys. Even Coach Hoiberg saw throughout the year that his drive has improved drastically. The kid wants to come in here and have an impact. That doesn’t mean that he’ll come in and start and get 20 minutes but he knows that he has the ability from a physical standpoint with what he brings to the table to have an impact, wherever that is. This kid is all about winning. He’ll be ready.
CF: You and I did a similar interview to this about a year ago. In what ways have you grown as a coach/recruiter since that time?
MA: You know what? It always starts with being able to work with really great people and what we have with our staff. I think it is easy to go to work every day knowing that the guys there have your back. So much of this business is about the loyalty and the trust aspect and having those areas covered every day with our staff, especially with Fred is tremendous. In terms of growth, I consider myself the young kid. I embrace that role. I am willing to go out and be out on the road and work really hard and work on kids for us in the future. It’s great to have that trust from everybody else on the staff knowing that I’m going out representing Iowa State. The learning curve that I have clearly with the on the court basketball stuff is that I still have a lot to learn. I don’t think that we ever stop learning. I try to be as much of a sponge as possible when I am around. I wish that I was around a lot more but recruiting from December to the end of our season, I was on the road a lot. I didn’t get to go to a lot of our practices but I’m a sponge at this point. It’s not like I need to be out there being Mr. Ball Coach when we have the coach of the year and guys who have been at it with 15 plus years of experience. I know where I stand when it comes to that and clearly my relationships with guys on the team allows me to give my two cents about stuff. Continuing to be a sponge. I’m blessed and fortunate to be where I’m at at a young age. I’m running with it to where I want to be at a certain age. It’s more about working hard to improve this program, to get it where we want it and the only way we know how to do that is to out-work people and that starts with the top man, Fred.
CF: Let’s move onto Royce White. The NBA Draft is still a ways away but what are you hearing on Royce up to this point?
MA: The good thing about him is that he’s working extremely hard. Not that I’m involved with a lot of players but the couple of years that I spent in the league, you can definitely tell when guys have been working hard and who hasn’t. You just look at their bodies and clearly their games when the workouts start. That’s the one good thing about him. He’s been working out, lifting and getting stronger. Once those workouts really do begin and it looks like that will be at the end of this month, he’s going to get called by a few teams for some workouts, and then the combine is the fifth through the ninth (of June). The combine isn’t what you think it is. It’s really just a testing camp. They do play a little bit but they will test everything that you can imagine. There’s a medical day. They do medical things with guys. Interviews are huge. Every team is there. They have time slots with guys when they interview them. That’s a big four days for him. A lot of teams do have their reservations about Royce as more of a person. It’s not as a basketball player. They know what he can bring to the table. They know what type of talent he is. He will improve his draft stock just by going in there and impressing these guys when he’s able to talk with the intellect that he does. He’s also genuine. He shows that he cares. That’s where he is right now. Just continuing to work and at the end of the month we’ll know more where things are at with him as far as going out to work for teams. Once the combine comes, it’s pretty much downhill from there because you’re talking three weeks later is draft night.
CF: Fred made a comment to me the day that Royce declared about NBA Draft projection sites. What is your opinion on these things? Please enlighten Iowa State fans as to how much they should pay attention to draft projection website.
MA: I’ll tell you the reason why I would go on a draft site. One is just to see where teams are actually picking. They are usually accurate on that. It’s just a guessing game. A lot of guys have made a lot of money off of this guessing game. They are on the in, but they still have no clue what that GM is going to do. Listen – One thing is that Fred talks to every team in the league. Fred knows better than anybody besides the agent as to where Royce stands. Really, where Royce stands is that the sky is the limit. He clearly needs to take care of the basketball part but people know what he can do on the court. It’s all about the interviews. It’s, ‘Royce – Talk to us about this anxiety issue.’ It’s an issue that is kind of, well what is it? As we’ve talked to him about and what these NBA teams are starting to research, this anxiety issue is serious but at the same time, every single person has a little bit of anxiety. His is just more serious. That’s the thing with these draft sites. They don’t put into account the whole picture. Where he’s at right now, is that fair? Yeah, you can argue that it’s fair. But I also think that if there is one guy in the draft who can skyrocket up, it’s him. He’s probably one of the more intriguing guys in this draft.