AMES — Steve Prohm tried to conceal the contraband, but got caught — twice.
Back in the new Iowa State basketball coach’s high school days, he, like many fans, smuggled headphones and a portable radio into class to listen to NCAA Tournament games between assignments.
Teachers noticed. Didn’t matter. His passion for the game only intensified.
"Basketball’s just been a part of my life ever since I was 7-8 years old,” Prohm told Cyclone Fanatic Wednesday during a marathon of one-on-one interviews with local media. "My childhood buddy, his dad played on the N.C. State national championship team back in the ‘70s, I guess. He was a big basketball guy and me and his son were just big basketball junkies from the beginning."
Prohm spoke frankly about the aforementioned very minor high school infraction (come on, we all did that, whether it be via radio or iPhone); what assistants William Small and Neill Berry bring to the program; how difficult it was to leave Murray State, and how he plans to address injury-related depth concerns as his preseason-top 10 Cyclones suit up for a promising 2015-16 season in November, among other things.
But about those headphones …
“I got in trouble,” Prohm said. "They called my parents twice, but my dad was OK with it. They were OK with that because my grades were good.”
Here’s the Q & A …
CF: I always ask players this when I want to get to know them a little better: What’s your earliest basketball memory — maybe the moment or moments you remember falling in love with the game?
Prohm: “Man, I’ve loved basketball just for so long. I grew up in Northern Virginia. I actually grew up in ACC country and Big East country. Georgetown was the team, where I grew up, that everybody followed. You just watched Georgetown play on Monday nights on channel 5. This was back when you didn’t have cable — it was channels 3, 6, 9 and 20 and channel 5. You’d watch Georgetown on Monday nights play Syracuse and St. John’s. I grew up actually as a die-hard Duke fan and then my brother went to (North) Carolina, so I had to switch."
CF: In terms of this opportunity, by definition they’re all sort-of whirlwind situations, but was there anything surprising at all about how it played out?
Prohm: “The one thing everybody tells you is it’s going to be fast and it is. It is super fast and you’re life changes [snaps his fingers] like that. But it’s changing for the better. Once I can get settled here and get my family here starting the tail end of August and September, everything will be perfect.”
CF: Fred Hoiberg often says his wife Carol is his “rock.” Given the long hours, necessary road trips — lots of time away from home — how much would you say your wife, Katie, has been like that and will continue to be like that?
Prohm: “My wife and son are everything to me and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in this process: It reconfirms to me that my biggest priority in my life is my wife and our son, Cass. She’s home right now, by herself, with a 3-month-old. She’s taking care of my son each and every day and sending me pictures. I needed her blessing to take this job and she was selfless in the fact that she was born and raised in Murray 30 years and now we’re moving on from there. She means everything to me and she’s an unbelievable wife, but an incredible mom and I couldn’t thank her enough.”
CF: O/U on FaceTime?
Prohm: “FaceTime more than I’ve ever FaceTimed in my life.”
CF:With your new team, I’d like to ask about Naz (Long)’s progress as well as Hallice (Cooke)’s — he obviously is playing now, in the summer league — but where do you expect them both to be physically once the season rolls around?
Prohm: “I hope they’ll be full-go. Hallice is doing a little bit and Naz is going to be out for a while. But he works out on the side. He shoots a little bit. He’s a great, great personality; a great leader. So I’m looking forward to getting him back out on the floor. It will take us up another notch.”
CF:You have so many shooters, but the concern could obviously be size — and the depth of it. I know Deonte (Burton) can play pretty big, with his wing span, but with Georgios Tsalmpouris’s status up in the air as you said Monday, how do you approach it? Do you figure you’ll play small a lot?
Prohm: “Right now today I think you’re probably going to start big with Jameel (McKay) and Georges (Niang) and then you’ve got to figure out the best way to go from there. You play small, and Abdel (Nader) could play your fourth guard, but big a big guard. Deonte could be a fourth guard, but be a big guard. I may have to play a little zone at times if you’ve got to stay out of foul trouble. But I’m used to playing four guards. I’m used to playing small, so I’ve got a good feel for how to do that.”
CF:How would you describe your relationship with Fred? How did he help you become a better head coach?
Prohm: Fred and I aren’t (people) that talk every week. I met him at a clinic. We spoke together, we had dinner. We were at the NCAA Tournament one year in 2012 — and a couple run-ins like that where we met each other and visited. Obviously, from afar I had a great deal of respect for him. He was a great player and then did an unbelievable job here. He’s just been great from a standpoint of during the process, he reached out, he took time, he answered questions I had, he gave me thoughts he had. He’s — and at some point we’ve just got to go coach our teams, but he’s somebody that I can call on and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this, or what do you think about this?’ and he’ll be very honest and forthcoming with me because he has a lot of passion for this school.”
CF: Related question, given how coaches share/collaborate, how will the style ISU plays with beginning in 2015-16 differ from what fans became accustomed to with Hoiberg at the helm?
Prohm: “I think our demeanors are pretty similar on the sidelines. I might be a little bit more animated, but not in a bad way, more maybe in an encouraging way at times. Hopefully offensively they’ll see us continue to share the ball, make the extra pass, take good shots, play fast, score a lot of points. But hopefully they’ll see us — defensively, hopefully we can be a little bit tough-minded and rebound the basketball a little bit better. We’ve got to do that by committee. There’s not too much to change. They had a very, very good team and they’ve had a very good run the last couple years.”
CF: Fred and his players have not been shy about how close they’ve considered themselves to being Final Four and even championship caliber the last couple years. Same thought with what you have here in terms of the realism of those types of goals?
Prohm: “I like it. I think we’ve got to get healthy. I do. I think we’ve got to get healthy, because depth’s an issue, but we’ve got to get healthy completely so we can kind of take the depth issue out of it. But I really like some of the pieces we’ve got, starting with Monté (Morris) at the point. Guys who can make shots — Naz and Matt (Thomas) at the 2-3, Abdel, play perimeter, play small, play him at the 4 some, who can make shots. Georges, obviously, we all know about him. Jameel, I love Jameel. That’s my type of front-court player. And then you’ve got a kid that’s going to get eligible (in December), Deonte Burton, that’s a wild card guy. (A guy) that can be a dominant defensive player, lockdown guy, but also be able to put pressure on the rim.”
CF:As for the staff announced Monday, everyone knows T.J. (Otzelberger) and Micah (Byars) around here, but what can you tell us about William Small and Neill Berry. Berry played for you at Southeastern Louisiana, right?
Prohm: Neill played for me and William both, as assistants, at Southeastern Louisiana. Neill played for us. And then he was at Western Kentucky, he was part of their Sweet 16 run. He went to South Carolina and then was actually part of High Point’s team that won three straight Big South championships. He knows the recruiting. A really good coach. A really good relationships guy with the players so I think in his role, he can do a lot of different things for us. He’ll do a lot of the basketball stuff for me, from a standpoint of film and different things like that. William’s terrific. He’s a great, great friend of mine. We’ve known each other probably close to 15 years. We’ve won some championships together. We’ve seen the mountaintop together and we’ve also seen the pitfalls together, but he’s a guy that I know and I trust. He can obviously go sign a good player, but he’s very good for these guys, mentoring these guys.”
CF:How important is it to have a guy like that? A guy that has been where you have been in terms of highs and lows, and you’ve meshed well with in responding to both sets of circumstances?
Prohm: “Yeah, I think we’re a good balance for each other because our personalities are different. So I think that’s a good balance. And then hopefully we can have some success here and guys from here can go on and get head coaching jobs. That’s what I want to see. I was happy that one of the assistants did get the Murray job. And now hopefully we can have some success here and William can get a head job, T.J. can get a head job, Daniyal (Robinson) can get a head job — those guys can move on. But that only happens if we have success here, so that’s our biggest focus right now.”
CF: I’m guessing Jameel and Monté and some other guys could play almost 40 a night, as needed in conference play and postseason play. How nice is it to have their energy as you prepare to face possible depth issues?
Prohm: “That’s the one thing, but when you do that you’ve got to kind of monitor practice and you’ve got to have a great strength and conditioning program that understands what you’re doing. But I’m used to playing 7-9 guys, but I’m used to playing guys 34-35 minutes, so that’s not something new to me."
CF: Fans here, like anybody, thought about how tough it was for them to see Fred, a native son, leave to pursue his next-level dreams and the uncertainty that followed. What about how tough it was for you to leave Murray State? Sometimes seems an afterthought.
Prohm: “Murray’s a place I probably could have stayed the next 10 years and just retired there and been the AD or [a slight laugh here] been the mayor. Just being honest. So to leave there — I left there because I wanted the challenge. I wanted to coach at the highest level and chase your dream. But it also was the most gut-wrenching decision because life was about to change. And it’s not the basketball. It’s family. That’s the change. The basketball is basketball. We had great teams at Murray. We had great players at Murray. We’ve got a guy (Cameron Payne) who probably will be a lottery pick tomorrow night. So it’s not about the basketball. It’s about family and you’re moving your family away from a place they know and that was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. So It’s good I get paid a lot to where I can help her out at times.”