NOTEBOOK: ISU’s rekindled “gym rat” mentality key to early-season success

Jan 5, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Devon Dotson (11) goes to the basket as Iowa State Cyclones guard Talen Horton-Tucker (11) and guard Marial Shayok (3) defend during the first half at Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — Iowa State star guard Marial Shayok took reporters’ questions Monday for about three minutes, then turned to sports information spokesperson Matt Shoultz.

 “Nobody better take my court, Shoultz,” the Big 12’s leading scorer — and one of the Cyclones’ many proud gym rats — said. 

 Of course, nobody did.

 But suffice it to say there’s an unofficial competition for who emerges as the ISU player most likely to do extra work outside of practice on a daily basis — and that *outwork everyone* approach stands as a big reason why the Cyclones (12-2, 2-0 Big 12) are ranked No. 20 according to the Associated Press on the heels of a 77-60 trouncing of No. 7 Kansas.

 “I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve taken a big step in,” said ISU coach Steve Prohm, whose team faces Baylor (8-5, 0-1) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Waco. “Win lose or draw — and I credit Fred (Hoiberg) for this, he had a really good NBA mentality here of guys understanding, hey, how hard you have to work, not just within the confines of practice, but how hard you have to work on your own at this level. I think we lost that last year when we lost so much experience and maturity. We kind of had to reteach that and I think we’re getting to a good place in that area and that’s important.”

 No doubt.

 So is keeping a level head. Perhaps even moreso. And that’s an area in which the Cyclones seem to be competing, as well — who can keep one’s keel the most even.

 “I think if you start looking way down the road, that’s when you get yourself in trouble, so a big win, obviously on Saturday,” said forward Michael Jacobson, who’s averaging 14.1 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds per game. “I (expect) it’s something a lot of us will probably never forget, but just one game at a time. We’re only two games into the conference season, so we’ve got a lot of work to do still. We’re just gonna try to keep it rolling.”

 It’s a long-haul roll down the road, as well. Sixteen regular season conference games remain. A 2-0 start doesn’t preclude the possibility of a loss against the Bears, or even Kansas State Saturday in Hilton if the currently winning routine — both collectively and individually — devolves into short cuts.

 “We already talked about that,” Prohm said. “We talked about that yesterday. We talked about it a little bit in the locker room after the game. We finished the first week of the regular (conference) season. You know, it was game two, so they all count the same. We need to play with the same focus and effort like everybody’s Kansas, because they’re all Kansas. They all count the same. We talked about it yesterday again and it’s something you’ve got to preach every day, but there’s some things, you know, when you start having a little bit of success and you start getting a little bit of good outside noise — there’s always outside noise. It can be good, bad.”

 Key in both cases: Staying humble.

Prohm said his players also excel on this front — from seasoned transfers such as Shayok and Jacobson, to veteran-like newcomers such as Tyrese Haliburton and Talen-Horton Tucker.

 “Make sure guys understand you can’t get out of your character,” Prohm said.

 Shayok didn’t early Monday afternoon. He returned to the court after interviews and calmy began working hard again as practice loomed.

“That was something I learned as a young player,” said Shayok, who’s averaging 20.1 points and shooting 51.5 percent from the floor. “You can’t cheat the game. Really, just try to stay in the gym as much as possible. The more you’re in the gym, the more it’s gonna help in the long run.”


 Baylor’s struggled this season, but one constant is its unique zone defense has been tough to crack. The Bears ranked 27th according to KenPom in defensive efficiency — one of seven Big 12 schools in the top 27 (Texas Tech is first, ISU is 19th).

 “We’re working through it right now,” Jacobson said. “Coach Prohm and his staff have a good feel of it obviously seeing it before, being in the league for a few years now, and some of the guys have, as well. We’re just getting ready for it and trying to put in some actions, some little twists here and there that will help us hopefully find some open areas.”

 The Cyclones own just one win in their past 12 meetings with the Bears in Waco.

 “They bring a lot of challenges with their physicality up front,” Prohm said. “Tremendous rebounding team. That’s gonna be a huge key to the game and obviously it’s gonna be a lot of first time for our guys trying to attack their zone and making good decisions. … We’ve gotta be dialed in and focused.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.