Hoops Insider: Cautiousness with Ejim; Morris impresses & more

Hoiberg thinking long-term with Ejim’s knee

Of course, Iowa State wants Melvin Ejim to be back in the lineup when seventh-ranked Michigan comes to town on Nov. 17. If only Ejim’s recovery was that simple.

Before Iowa State’s 90-68 exhibition win over Augustana on Sunday, Ejim told reporters that he was hopeful he would be back “earlier than expected” from a knee hyper-extension that he suffered last Wednesday in practice. 

His coach plans on being ultra-cautious with the situation though.

“I think the big thing with Melvin is we have to do what is best for him long-term,” Fred Hoiberg said on Monday. “Melvin has a long basketball career ahead of him and sure, selfishly we would all like him to come back early but we don’t want him to come back if it is going to further his risk. If it is something that could have any sort of a long-term risk, we don’t want to take that chance. As soon as the doctors say that he is ready, he will play.”

Nov. 13 is an important date. That’s when Ejim will have his knee scanned to see what sort of progress has been made.

“Right now the frustrating thing for Melvin is he isn’t feeling much pain,” Hoiberg said. “The swelling is almost all gone now so it is just a matter of what the scan says next week. If it is clear then yeah, there is a chance he will come back a little earlier. But at the same time, we are going to take a cautious approach and make sure he is 100 percent when he is back out on the floor.”

The calming influence, from a rookie?

In the words of Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State hasn’t had a true point guard like freshman Monte Morris since he took the job back in 2009.

“Korie (Lucious) was the guy looking for his shot a lot of times,” Hoiberg said. “He still got others involved but Monte’s first look is to get somebody else involved. That is a great thing to have with your lead guard.” 

In his debut wearing an Iowa State uniform, Morris dished out four assists, scored 11 points and snagged five rebounds in Iowa State’s exhibition win. 

“He has such a great presence, especially for a freshman,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he was as key as anybody on our team as far as getting us going. He had a very calming influence. I thought that he had great poise in that first half with how he defended. In the second half when we went on a 21-0 run, it was a lot sparked by him. He got his hands on balls. He was very active and did a great job of finding Matt on the break for a couple of shots that he hit. Then he did a great job I thought of being patient with the ball-screen of letting the play develop and making the right play out of that.”

Why Naz? 

When Ejim went out with an injury, Hoiberg obviously had a spot to fill in his starting lineup. He went with sophomore Naz Long for two big reasons. Leadership and defense.

“Defensively I think is probably where he has earned the minutes that I anticipate him getting right now, just because he is always in the right spot,” Hoiberg said. “He is always sprinting the gap, which is where we want our guys. He probably has been our most consistent defender on the perimeter.” 

Long struggled offensively in the exhibition ( 2-for-9 shooting) and Hoiberg noted that he took some uncharacteristic shots, but all signs point to No. 15 being back in the starting lineup in Sunday’s season-opener vs. UNC-Wilmington.

No assists, no problem

Iowa State’s starting point guard, DeAndre Kane, collected a double-double on Sunday but surprisingly didn’t dish out a single assist. 

“I’m not reading too much into that,” Hoiberg said. “His assist numbers have been phenomenal in our practices. He played a lot more off the ball yesterday and didn’t have the ball in his hands with Monte coming in.”

Kane averaged seven assists per game last season for Marshall. 

Emphasizing free throws

Hoiberg has placed a strong point of emphasis on free throw shooting in practice for two reasons.

The first is that with slashers like Kane and Dustin Hogue on this year’s team, Iowa State should get to the charity stripe more often this season. Tighter officiating should result in more free throws too.

Iowa State only made 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) from the charity stripe on Sunday so there is still plenty of work to be done.

As a positive note, Kane, a 52 percent free throw shooter last season, made 7-of-9.