Part One: Talking hoops recruiting with Matt Abdelmassih

Enjoy part one of our exclusive interview with Iowa State assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih. In this installment of the two-part interview, I drill Abdelmassih on the three spring additions to Iowa State’s basketball recruiting class. On Friday, check out the front page of for part two of the piece where we discuss the Fred Hoiberg NBA rumors and how they have affected recruiting, the future of Iowa State basketball recruiting, Dustin Hogue’s senior season and lots more. 

CF: The day after Georgios Tsalmpouris signed with you guys, Coach Hoiberg told me that some NBA connections were what initially tipped you all onto him. This is an odd deal. How did this all start? I mean, he is in Greece. Did you just pick up the phone and call his coach one day?

MA: The international recruiting is really unique because you have to rely on other people’s opinions and evaluations of these kids. For me personally, I have always been intrigued with the international scene going back to the few years that I worked with the Timberwolves. I developed relationships with guys that clearly Fred has been friends with for a long time. Because of that, it has abled us to get out foot in the door with some of these international kids. We have recruited a few of them. Some of them ended up in our conference. One of them did, at least. A few others ones that didn’t end up in our conference have turned out to be really good players as well. The guy that I was working with is a scout in the league and is very well in tuned to the international game. He called me and said, ‘There is a kid who wants to come overseas.’ I told Fred. We connected the dots and slowly started getting material on him video wise just to see whether this kid checks out. But whenever you hear that a 7-1 kid is available, you clearly get excited and we were. We were excited right off the bat. We watched video on him. He is skilled. I think that fits him with the style of play that we run. The improvement for him is going to be on the physical side. If he can continue to add weight and muscle, he has a chance to be pretty special. But it is going to be a tough transition. He has to battle not only the physical play of the American college basketball game but on top of that, battle different food, different culture. That’s where his first year is going to be kind of a trial and error year for him. Do we hope that he can give us minutes? Of course we do. We have all intentions of trying to play him but at the end of the day, it is a slow process. Unfortunately he can’t come over until August because he is playing for his national team, which is an unbelievable experience. We want him to do that but at the same time, we wish he was with us for three months so we could get him going in our program. But that will be a great experience for him. I know that talking to the national team guys in Greece, he is really going to be looked at as a guy who has to contribute for them on the wing. Me and Fred are going over there in the middle of June and will spend a few days with him and his family just to get to really know him face to face. To me, it is an exciting addition for us and we look forward to finally getting him here.

CF: Did you guys Skype with him? How did you communicate during the whole process?

MA: Believe it or not, a lot of it was done via email. Email and over the phone because he speaks really good English. I talked with him a bunch on the phone and ever since, we talk every day. I call him in the morning right when he is done with practice. That’s morning our time and early evening their time. He’s a really enjoyable kid to talk to. Now, there are a few things where he has no clue what I am saying because of the accent but if something gets lost in translation, the Greek culture is very emphatic so he screams, ‘What!’ It is pretty funny. It was a very quick process though. I would say it was only 10 days long. There were some high level programs that were getting involved late so getting him to sign a NLI was a priority. His family was on board. It would be like if his family came over to the states on an official visit, we sit them down and go through various things. I had that with him over the phone for two hours on a weekend where a guy that speaks English that actually lived in the United States went to their house and was translating with the family just to make it a little bit easier for them to understand everything. That night, he signed. 

CF: Is the language thing, even though he speaks it well, going to be something you guys will have to deal with when he gets here? Like in practice and what not?

MA: I was very happy and was kind of caught off guard that he was able to speak as well as he does. But you know, for so many of those schools in Europe now, English is a second language that they all learn. He is a very, very bright kid. He is able to hold a conversation. I would think that by Christmas time, his English will be almost where it needs to be just by being around it every day.

CF: In all fairness to the player, what are realistic expectations for Georgios next season?

MA:I would say from the standpoint of a fan, you need to be patient. You can’t hate on the kid right away because he might be riding the bench early on.

CF: Fans don’t do that…

MA: Yeah, not at all…

But the realistic expectation for us is in a perfect world from him to give us 10-15 minutes a game. Whether he does or not, there are just so many variables. He knows that too. His family knows that. It’s a huge adjustment. With only getting him here in late August when school starts, the amount of time that he is going to have is really short to not only learn American concepts of basketball, but to get adjusted to the university, the players and the staff. Hopefully things click and it goes perfectly, which nothing ever does. But hopefully he gives us some time and if not, we are going to be there to develop him physically. From a skillset standpoint, he can play. He can play in the Big 12. He can play anywhere in the country. It is the physical part that we have to continue to work on.

CF: Let’s move on and talk Hallice Cooke. Clearly, you guys don’t mind taking a transfer or two. But when you see a guy who shoots 46 percent from 3-point range with New York ties hop onto the market, targeting him had to be  a bit of a no-brainer, was it not?

MA: I had known Hallice for a while now because I am close with his AAU program with Dustin Hogue playing with it when he was in the AAU scene. I loved Hallice coming out of high school. I didn’t recruit him at all but really knew that he was the type of kid going out to Oregon State that maybe if something ever went wrong, we could get involved in. I was given the heads up and was the first person to call him when he got his release. We had an unbelievable conversation. We just know so many of the same people and are close with a lot of the same people. We hit it off really well and on that second day locked up a visit. It was a quick process for us on our end. I knew that he was going to take some visits just because the last time he only took one visit and his family wanted him to explore and compare. I appreciated that but in the back of my mind, I thought it was going to happen and was excited about it. His ability on the court – if you were to draw a picture of a player that fits Fred Hoiberg to a tee – Hallice Cooke is that type of kid with his ability to shoot the ball at a high percentage at a high rate and to create off the dribble and also run the team. He can play some point guard for us. Similar to how DeAndre Kane and Monte Morris fed off of each other, I really vision that happening. That year of sitting out for Hallice is going to be huge. He is another person who physically needs to develop. If he can add 10-15 pounds, he is going to be a bad problem for a lot of teams.

CF: The day that Cooke signed, he told me how much he was looking forward to that off year. I found that interesting because when you guys first started taking the transfers, those guys kind of hanging their heads because they wanted to play right away. Now though, it’s almost as if these guys are embracing the off year. Have you noticed that too? 

MA: I really have. I think the reason is because when we immediately talk with these transfers, we have had so much success with guys who have sat out that our plan in place for guys sitting out is to me, the best in the country. That’s why it has worked out for guys who have sat out. A guy like Hallice, a guy like Abdel and a guy like Jameel, they embrace that because we have an approach to what they want in terms of success. Hallice is that same person. We knew that we needed to develop him physically in order to make the impact in the Big 12 that we expect him to make. He will. He is an extremely hard worker who is a great addition to the program.

CF: You had one additional spring signee in Bryce Dejean-Jones from UNLV. It is natural for people to automatically start comparing him to DeAndre Kane being that they were both graduate transfers. People think he might be DeAndre’s replacement of sorts. How is that accurate? Is it? What are their similarities? 

MA: I think the similarities are their competitiveness and being willing to do whatever it takes to win. Both are team players. If that’s going out and getting 18 points or going out and getting 10 boards or six assists. Bryce is bigger. Bryce is more of a wing whereas DeAndre was more of a point-two guard. Bryce’s outside game as far as filling it up outside of the perimeter is better than DeAndre. Getting to the rim, very similar. Both are relentless at getting to the rim and finishing at a high rate. Bryce’s athleticism is absolutely ridiculous. It’s crazy how big time of an athlete he is. I think that their ceilings were different coming in. DeAndre coming in, I thought that he would be a really good addition just from a maturity standpoint and having an older guy, especially being right beside a freshman point guard. Bryce, for some reason, I am just jacked up about. I have seen him play so many times. That kid is special. His talent is unbelievable. Being around the group of guys that we have in place, he is going to have a chance to do something very special. DeAndre had one of the best statistical seasons in Iowa State history I guess you could say and in the country last year. The expectations to me are really high and I told Bryce that from day one. I expect him to come in and contribute to where we are competing for a national championship. That was the biggest selling point for him. He wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament and he wanted to compete for a championship. He is going to do whatever it takes to help the team win much like DeAndre did. I’m jacked up about him. Getting invited to the Kevin Durant camp where only the top 20 wings get invited, that speaks to his talent level and what people think of him being in a very exclusive group. This summer is big for him as he is finishing up two classes at UNLV and hopefully gets here in the middle of July and starts working with us.