KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Steve Prohm waved his arms upward, Jameel McKay smiled.
He’d seen demonstrative support from his first-year head coach before, but this night — last Friday before 9,236 fans at Hilton Madness — felt different.
As Prohm gestured for more crowd noise, it became clear where he wanted the amped-up cheers to fall.
That’s on his players. Particularly his four seniors: McKay, Georges Niang, Naz Mitrou-Long and Abdel Nader.
“He’s been like that,” said McKay, who stands tall among four returning starters from last season’s 25-9 Big 12 Tournament championship team. “It caught me by surprise a little bit, I can’t lie, but I was just happy he was so comfortable and it was fun to see him have a good time when he was doing it. So it was big time.”
Prohm, as Baylor coach Scott Drew said during Tuesday’s Big 12 men’s basketball media day “has big shoes to fill.”
Those metaphorical kicks obviously belong to Fred Hoiberg: Hometown hero, new Chicago Bulls coach; an Ames icon who guided a once-moribund program to four straight NCAA Tournaments before bolting to realize his NBA coaching dream.
“There’s only one ‘Mayor,’" Drew said. "But my brother (Bryce) and I and Steve have all known each other for a while and I think coming from mid-major ranks and the success Valpo’s been able to have and Murray State’s been able to have, there’s a lot of respect. He’s done a great job identifying players, developing players. He coaches a fun style to watch, so there’s no doubt he’s going to be very successful at Iowa State — and he’s a good man.”
That’s job one for Prohm, who stresses faith, family and professional success in that order.
“He’s done a great job," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. "He’s highly respected for what he’s done at Murray (State) and he’s inheriting a real good team at Iowa State. He’s aware of that and he’ll do great. Fred did a great job and I’ m sure Steve will step in and continue what Fred was doing.”
Since Prohm took the ISU job in June, he’s repeatedly said he wants to collaborate with his veteran players while crafting an offensive philosophy.
It’s not about him, but them.
“It’s actually been great for all of us,” said celebrated point guard Monté Morris, the NCAA’s assist-to-turnover ratio king for two years running. “Coach Prohm has an open mind when it comes to offense. If we tell him we want to run a set, even if he calls a set, He’ll be, ‘All right. Go out and do it.’ He’s open-minded and it’s easy to play for a guy like that.”
That’s Prohm’s M.O.: Tweak and tighten as needed. Preserve and augment the team’s chemistry as much as possible. Preach a “live in the moment” method to self- and team-improvement.
“You have to check your ego at the door, because human nature is, ‘I’m going to do it my way, and my way is the best way and these guys are going to do it my way,’” said ESPN commentator and longtime coach Fran Fraschilla. “But in reality, the smart way — which is the way I think Steve’s approach is, ‘What can we keep the same? What fits my personality that we can continue to do that makes the adjustment easier?’ And then at a certain point, you still have to be yourself. And you still have to coach to your own personality. So I think there’ss a healthy bit of self-awareness that coach Prohm has about that.”
Quiet confidence, too.
Prohm coached the 2011-12 Murray State Racers to a 31-2 record and a trip to the tournament’s round of 32. He’s helped recruit and coach two NBA point guards, Cameron Payne and Isaiah Canaan. He says he’s “humble” while inheriting All-American caliber talents in Niang, Morris and McKay, and notes that the team’s success precedes his own.
“I know there’s going to be people that love me, people that hate me at times, but I do think that, obviously, I say it’s a lot like Murray State but at a whole other level,” Prohm said of coaching the Cyclones. “Because those people micromanaged everything you did too, so I’m used to that part and I know people are not going to agree with you all the time, but I think everybody’s going to know my heart’s right and my best interests are always going to be in these kids.”
Prohm, Fraschilla said, should succeed at ISU for a variety of reasons, but identified a few main ones.
“The fact that Steve has maintained a good relationship with Fred, although their both busy,” Fraschilla said. “The fact that Steve understands that sometimes, don’t break what’s not broken. I went through a similar experience when I took over a head coaching job at Manhattan. The team had already had had success. The key is to keep as much the same as possible, so the players don’t have as big of an adjustment, but also you have to infuse your own personality. And I think Steve is doing that, from talking to both him and the players.”
Prohm said he didn’t feel nervous at his first Big 12 media day. He simply felt humbled to be in the presence of so many great coaches and teams. He feels the same way presiding over each practice, tweaking and tightening, seeking success by defining it collectively.
“This relationship and this bond that we’re building is bound to be a successful one,” senior All-American Georges Niang said.
Time will tell, of course.
It’s a long season — and seasons — all of which Prohm compartmentalizes, breaking them into precious 24-hour pieces. Humility guides him, but a zest for competition rages within. It’s why he’s willing to try to fill “big shoes,” one step at a time.
“When you get the news that your coach is going to leave, it was a little tough, but luckily we got a guy like coach Prohm, who’s in it for us, honestly,” McKay said. “He’s all about us. He’s a adjusted to us as well as we’re adjusting to him.”