AMES — How intense has Iowa State been in practice on the defensive end of the floor?
Let senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long explain.
“There haven’t been any real fights,” the seventh-ranked Cyclones’ almost fully-rehabbed sharpshooter said in advance of Friday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Grand Valley State. “But we’ve almost had, I mean, seven or eight and that’s more than we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Scuffles? Near fights? Heated exchanges?
All good, Mitrou-Long said.
“It has nothing to do with anything personal, it has everything to do with the competitive nature that we have right now and when we walk off the court, the thing I love about it is we’re all cool in the locker room," he added. "No extended problems whatsoever.”
They’re closing out stronger. Applying more ball pressure. Cutting off the corners.
Sure it’s intense and occasionally acrimonious — and that’s by design as the Cyclones seek to convert preseason expectations back into a deep March run on the heels of last season’s day one NCAA Tournament exit.
“That’s good,” first-year ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “Those things are good. What happens on the floor stays on the floor and when you leave it’s over. So it should be competitive. We’ve got a lot to prove and a lot to accomplish this year.”
Not necessarily Friday. Cincinnati — a talented team the Cyclones play on Dec. 22 — thumped Grand Valley State 93-63 on Tuesday night.
The Bearcats drained 15 of 27 from 3-point range, which bodes well for an ISU team loaded with shooters who reportedly sank 17 from beyond the arc recently in a closed scrimmage against Tulane.
“We were making some shots,” Mitrou-Long said. “That’s always good to see. I think in the first half especially we played some great defense — something that I know the fans have been waiting for for years, so that was a good sign as well. We got lackadaisical here and there, but the offense is there. it’s rolling and coach Prohm’s letting us be free and we’re letting our playmakers make the plays in Monté (Morris) and Georges (Niang), so things are looking good.”
They’ll look good on Friday, too. You’ll likely see Morris-to-Jameel McKay alley-oop dunks. Lots of long-range baskets. A slew of Niang spins and finishes.
“Just let everybody know basketball season’s back,” Morris said. “Try to put on a good show.”
The foundation for that begins in practice. Fights and all. Or almost fights, anyway.
“There have been a numerous amount of fights, but it’s like playing against your brother,” Niang said. “It’s time of year where honestly you just get sick of playing against the same person every day. Like I could tell you how much I hate Deonte Burton (who becomes eligible on Dec. 19 against UNI), but when he’s going to go out there doing that to the next person on the court, I’m going to be pretty happy. … The thing that makes us great is us being competitive and never wanting to lose and when you lose, you want to fight somebody. I think that’s what that has come to — nobody’s really thrown a punch or anything like that. It’s just heated arguments.”
Prohm said he’d be fine going with a core rotation of seven players after Burton becomes eligible, but he’d prefer others to emerge as well. Namely slick-shooting guard Hallice Cooke, who underwent major offseason hip surgery, and raw, but athletic big man Simeon Carter. Walk-on Jordan Ashton’s in that mix, as well.
“We’ve just got to continue to develop Hallice, Jordan, Simeon and get those guys better,” Prohm said. “I think they’ll give us some moments. Hallice did some good things the other day.”
As better things occur, the rotation may grow. Friday night provides those trying to crack it with a prime preseason chance to shine.
“There’s a lot of opportunity,” Mitrou-Long said. “Coach Prohm has been talking about looking for that 7-8-9 to put in there and any opportunity you get to play in front of the team, in front of the coaches, in front of the fans, too, in a real-life environment of what Hilton Magic has to offer is a huge opportunity.”