AMES — Times change.
It is the name of the game in collegiate athletics. One coach leaves, another enters. A star player graduates or moves on, someone else steps into the spotlight.
Steve Prohm has been the coach who followed a legend. In 2017-18, he will help an almost completely new roster navigate the trials of following in the footsteps of some of Iowa State’s all-time greats.
“If I sat and said our expectations are to be in the NCAA Tournament then I’m probably doing a disservice to those kids in that locker room,” Prohm said during Iowa State’s media day on Tuesday. “Our goal right now is not March, our goal is not April, our goal is not February, our goal right now, we scrimmaged yesterday, we’re off today, is to meet with my staff, watch the scrimmage with them in the morning after we’ve all broke it down, get back out here on the floor, get better tomorrow, build up for Saturday’s scrimmage and continue to get better week to week, day to day, month to month with this team and see how far we can go.”
The Cyclones return only three players with serious playing experience — senior Donovan Jackson, junior Nick Weiler-Babb and sophomore Solomon Young. They are forced to replace six seniors, several of them considered among the best players in the program’s history, including the school’s all-time leader in wins, assists and steals — Monte Morris.
Prohm has to figure out how to replace Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton with Jackson, Weiler-Babb, Young, freshman phenom Lindell Wigginton and Old Dominion graduate transfer Zoran Talley. He has to find roles for freshman Terrence Lewis, sophomore Jakolby Long and, the program’s biggest question mark, redshirt freshman big man Cam Lard.
“I think we have pieces from our perimeter play, when you look at Donovan, and Nick, and Lindell, and Zoran, and Jakolby’s done some good things, then you throw Terrence Lewis, a freshman, I think we have some pieces on the perimeter that can do some really good things,” Prohm said. “I talked to Nick and Donovan, when I took over at Murray (State in 2011), my starting backcourt the year before averaged three points and four points, and then I had one other guard, you know, (Isaiah) Canaan, but the other two, the two and the three, they averaged three and four points. That team, everybody knows what that team did. This is their opportunity to step into a bigger role. We don’t know what they’re going to do yet and I’m excited. I think they have the ability to do really good things.”
Iowa State’s roster turnover will most likely lead to somewhat of an overhaul in the way the team plays. No, the Cyclones will not be going away from a pace and space style, but days of raining down 3-pointers could be in the past — at least for now.
Jackson, who connected on 45.4 percent of his shots behind the arc last year, the fourth-best single-season percentage in program history, is the Cyclones’ only proven returning 3-point shooter.
Weiler-Babb showed flashes of range in his first full season at Iowa State, Lewis is known to be an elite shooting prospect and Wigginton was an above-average 3-point shooter at the high school level, but most of the players on Iowa State’s roster have other strengths.
“I think it’s a different team. I think our perimeter’s different. I think their strengths are different,” Prohm said. “I think Naz and Matt the best thing they did was shoot the basketball. Though I thought Naz really improved with putting pressure on the defense, getting paint touches, finishing at the rim. When you look at Zoran, he’s got great size and can get into the paint, mid-range and finish. Nick Babb can put pressure on the defense. Lindell can put pressure on the defense. Donovan is an elite shooter.”
“The other guys, we all have confidence they can make shots. Whether that’s 1-for-3, 2-for-5, I’m not sure until the ball goes up for real. They’re all capable of making them, but the strengths of these perimeters of these guys are different than the strengths of the guys in the past. We need to be at a great pace. We need to be looking to get penetration, sink the defense and then make the next pass to get better shots or to drive the next closeout so we can get to the free throw line more, because we do have good size on the perimeter when you look at Nick, when you look at Zoran. Jakolby’s got good size. Terrence Lewis can really shoot. That’s one guy that can really shoot at a high, high level. These guys all have great confidence to shoot to where if they’re open we’ve got to make shots. Whether you can make 344 or whatever we did last year, second most in school history, I don’t know if we can do that. We’ve got to manufacture points a different way this year and I think we understand that.”
Times change — even for Iowa State basketball.