Jan 20, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Zoran Talley Jr. (23) attempts a shot over Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Malik Ondigo (21) during the second half at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Zoran Talley could stomach the initial post-Thansgiving diagnosis for his foot pain.
It’s merely bruised. Sit out a couple days. You should be back — and on the mend — quickly.
But upon further review, it became clear the athletic Cyclone forward would have to spend much more time than planned on the sidelines, and understandably, that didn’t sit well with the 6-7 graduate transfer from Old Dominion.
“Honestly, at first I was mad, upset,” said Talley, who eventually missed out on six weeks of practice and game action after the injury worsened in a Nov. 25 non conference rout of Western Illinois. “And then I got X-rays and nothing popped up and then I got the MRI, so they told me I’d be out like five weeks. That first two days (was rough), but after that I just got over it. Just had to do what I had to do.”
That’s rest and rehab, while maintaining a strong connection to his relatively new teammates despite being forced to the DL. That’s remaining mentally sharp during a six-week absence from the floor. And that’s a lot to ask of a man determined to shine in his final two seasons of college hoops, but Talley’s sprang off the shelf brimming with energy, though still very much a work in progress, as is this ISU team (11-9) entering a stern SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchup at 3 p.m. Saturday against No. 22 Tennessee at Hilton Coliseum.
“It’s like everybody wants to know all these different things about small ball and different things, well, he was out for six straight weeks, so you’re not going to be practicing that when he’s out,” said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm, whose team hopes to notch a top-25 win at home for the second straight Saturday. “So he just got back. He’s practiced for about two weeks and we’ve been pretty good when we’ve been big at times is our ball screen defense is (good), it’s just about effort and focus and consistency. That’s the one thing. We analyze things way too much, man. Play hard. Play with great energy. Play with great focus and compete and usually good things happen. Just go play your tails off. man. Fly around. Make up for each other. And if you do that, nine times out of 10 you’ve probably put yourself in a lot better position.”
It’s less about who’s in and more about who’s all-in as ISU seeks to rebound from a resounding 16-point loss Monday at Texas.
But Talley’s improving health and once again expanding role adds needed versatility as the Cyclones strive for fast-paced consistency on both ends of the floor.
It naturally feeds the what-if talk, given his positional flexibility.
“He’s a big key for us,” ISU point guard Nick Weiler-Babb said. “He’s super-athletic and also he’s experienced, so it’s a good (thing) having him in there. He can play the 3, he can play the 4, so it’s just that little thing of getting him back into the flow of the offense and getting his stamina back up.”
Talley shot 8-of-24 from the floor in first six games of the season and made just 2-for-9 in his first games back — an overtime loss at Oklahoma State and a five-point loss at Kansas. After sitting out the Baylor game, he’s 11 of 18 from the field and provided an encouraging 11-point, six-rebound effort in last Saturday’s 70-52 drubbing of then-No. 8 Texas Tech.
“Zoran is a big-time help,” senior guard Donovan Jackson said. “He brings another dimension to our team and stuff like that. We just need to have him keep producing.”
So Talley’s truly back … sort of. But possibly better than ever since arriving in Ames? Maybe, especially if he can help make that small ball option become a fixture for ISU in the days and weeks to come.
“Now I believe I’ve just got to play off instinct like I used to play and not even pay (the injury) no mind,” Talley said.
That instinct coincides with that of his teammates, which hinges upon pushing the basketball at every opportunity. while also creating such chances with strong defensive rebounding efforts and a productive transition game.
“I’m slowly getting my confidence back, getting back in the groove of things, but I’ve still got to pick it up because I can do more and produce more for the team,” Talley said.
Perhaps that ratchets up Saturday, against a strong and skilled Rick Barnes-coached Volunteers team (14-5) that owns wins this season over Purdue, Kentucky, Texas A&M and South Carolina, among others.
“This is a huge game because it’s the next game, but it also (could be) another top-25 win, which that would be back-to-back weekends, where you beat Tech and you beat Tennessee,” Prohm said. “Now we’re going to have to play really, really well. They’re tough. They’re physical. Rick’s one of the best coaches in the country, but I love the challenge, because (the Big 12) is the best league in the country. It’s a special day for everybody — the SEC/Big 12 (Challenge), and we haven’t been able to be successful in the last two years, so we’ve got to help our league out on Saturday.”
And in doing so, hit a reset button of sorts for this up and down season. In other words: Channel the effort against the Red Raiders last weekend. Flush memories of close losses and “no-show” games such as Kansas State and TCU.
“We have to look back and remember that we know how to play,” Talley said. “We look at Texas Tech and we were all locked in playing for one another and everything, like we were on point. So if we look back at that film as, like, ‘This is how we know we can play,’ I think we’ll be in great shape.”
ABOUT THAT 3-POINT DEFENSE …
Prohm furnished a one-word response when asked about the Cyclones’ 3-point defense, then elaborated.
“Terrible,” he said. “It’s partly, and I’ll talk to them about that today, it’s kind of on all of us. We’ve made such a conscious effort of, hey, gaps, or, hey, non-shooters. Some non-shooters are making shots against us. So we’ve got to do a better job of taking away the 3-point (line), starting Saturday.”
How to fix?
“We have to pressure it more out there,” Prohm said. “We’ve got to recover better. We’ve got to help each other if we’re in rotation. And we’ve got to stay out of rotation by containing the ball, but it’s been bad. It needs to get better and it will get better and that will be the point of emphasis for us this weekend and going forward.”
“I’m going to meet with Solomon (Young), Donovan and Nick and challenge them — and challenge them my way. Just to say, ‘Hey, man. This is your guys’ deal, man. I’m here to help, but, man, you guys, you guys take this thing. You understand what it takes. Now, let’s go.’ Because we’ve got a lot of time left, but it’s one game at a time.” — Steve Prohm.
QUOTABLE PART II
“We need to get this one done just because we just took a butt-whoopin’ at Texas. So we need to come and really respond this weekend.” — Donovan Jackson on the importance of Saturday’s game vs. Tennessee.