Steve Prohm speaks during Iowa State’s annual men’s basketball media day. Photo by Connor Ferguson.
On the day his sophomore point guard was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team, Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm took to the podium to preview what we can expect from this year’s team. Prohm is entering his fifth season with questions abound after the program lost more than 80 percent of its scoring from last year, but on the bright side, does return some solid rotational players and adds a few newcomers that bring hope for a run towards the program’s eight NCAA Tournament bid in nine seasons.
Here are some quick-hitting highlights from Prohm’s media day press conference along with a little analysis on what each could mean for the 2019-20 Cyclone cagers.
When Prohm mentions Tyrese Haliburton‘s spirit, everybody knows exactly what he means. The 6-foot-5 second-year guard from Oshkosh, Wis. is undoubtedly one helluva basketball player.
But, it is largely his joy playing the game and the million-dollar smile always flashing across his face that has made him an easy fan-favorite in Ames. We saw that smile a lot last season as Haliburton, who averaged 6.8 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, primarily played a supporting role alongside the likes of Marial Shayok, Talen Horton-Tucker, Lindell Wigginton and Nick Weiler-Babb.
But, that was last season and now all four of those players are finding homes in the professional ranks. This is Haliburton’s team now, but he cannot allow that added pressure to make him lose the spirit that has fueled him to this point in this basketball career.
“I think it’s about remembering who he is. His biggest strength is his spirit. He’s a really good basketball player, but that’s not what attracts people to him,” Prohm, who has compiled an 83-53 record in his first four years at Iowa State, said. “People are attracted to him because of his spirit. He has to have that spirit. That’s going to be the biggest challenge. His role is changing. Can he keep that same spirit?”
Haliburton has a great opportunity to be the next man up on a long list of Cyclones who found professional success after college. He is already considered to be a potential first-round pick in next June’s NBA Draft by many of the league’s prognosticators.
He saw his profile grow quite a bit in year-one then even more after helping the USA Basketball U-19 team win gold at the world cup over the summer. If this season goes as expected, his star will continue to rise as he works into the status of being a household name in college basketball circles.
That potential is all fine and dandy, but it will be a lot harder to see it come to fruition if he is not able to keep track of the things that helped him get here in the first place.
“He has a real presence about him. He can’t lose that,” Prohm said. “That’s the biggest thing. If he does that, he’ll be fine.”
Be Prepared To Go Big
It has been a long time since Iowa State could play big in a traditional sense. The program certainly has not been able to do that during the Prohm era, but that will most likely be changing this winter.
The Cyclones’ frontcourt looks, on paper, to be one of its strongest points with the return of senior Michael Jacobson, junior Solomon Young and sophomore center George Conditt. This trio, along with sophomore forward Zion Griffin, will allow Iowa State to play in a way it has not been able to in recent years — and could mark an at least one-year hiatus from the small ball that has marked the current era of Cyclone hoops.
“We’re playing two bigs pretty much all the time right now,” Prohm said. “But, are we playing small with four-out, five-out concepts? Yeah, we’re doing that a lot to try and continue to keep our spacing, keep our ball movement because it’s been really good for us.”
It would have been really tough for this year’s team to maintain the ability to play small in the way past Cyclone teams have simply due to roster construction. This team just doesn’t have the plethora of 6-foot-5 dudes capable of playing inside or out like last year’s roster.
With that said, the group of four big-men Prohm spoke most about on Wednesday all have the ability to do a number of different things on the court.
We’ve seen Jacobson’s ability to play on the perimeter and inside — most notably in his time earning All-Tournament team honors during the team’s run to last year’s Big 12 Tournament title. Young was never really asked to provide a huge spark offensively in his first season and a half pre-injuries that largely held him out of the last one and a half seasons, but we have seen flashes of his game’s potential versatility.
Conditt’s ability to run the floor at a high-level makes him an offensive weapon purely in that respect, but he also told me on Wednesday that he’s growing more and more comfortable playing on the perimeter if needed. At this point, it is Griffin (who CF senior writer Rob Gray will have a feature on in the coming weeks) who remains the largest unknown, but Prohm spoke glowingly about the sophomore, a former four-star recruit, when asked about him and his game during media day.
“The thing about it is, Mike, Zion, they’ve got to get a good feel of understanding and say, ‘Hey, you can play out there, but if the action brings you inside, then we’ve got to play our post rules too,’” Prohm said. “They’ve got to do a good job of understanding playing inside out and playing both.”
What Does That Mean Defensively?
The defensive end of the court is really my biggest question mark if Iowa State will really primarily play big this season. There are no doubts in my mind about each of those guys’ abilities to defend the ball in the post, but what happens when Jacobson, Conditt or Young is switched onto someone forcing them to guard the ball on the perimeter?
What happens when an opponent decides to counter the Cyclones’ two-big look by doing exactly what Iowa State has killed teams on in the last nine years and goes small to create favorable matchups?
To no surprise, that exact same concern was already in the mind of the head coach before I asked him about it on Wednesday.
“Yeah, no question, but that’s why we’ve got to be better defensively with how we’re guarding whether it’s three-quarter court pressure, whether it’s zone, whether it’s how we guard ball screens,” Prohm said. “We’ve got to be good. At the end of the day, those four men have got to stand up and be able to guard the ball on the perimeter.”
On the bright side, Iowa State will hopefully have the luxury of a reliable true rim protector in the consistent rotation defending the basket in Conditt. Really, this will be the first time any of the Cyclones’ current roster has had that — and before anyone asks if I forgot about Cameron Lard’s presence last season, well, I will just refer you to the first word that starts with the letter “r” in the previous sentence.
Conditt has the ability to be an eraser of sorts for a team expected to put a ton of pressure on guards with Colorado State sit-out transfer Prentiss Nixon, Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton and Haliburton to go along with whoever will be defending the four-man.
“He’s an x-factor. I’ve told him that all the time. He’s got to make a big step this year. He’s got to make a step defensively because I think at this level in this league, you need protection around the basket,” Prohm said. “We need him to be a dominating defensive presence for this team. He knows that. Now, he’s got to go out there and do it.”
Haliburton will undoubtedly be one of the best shot creators in the Big 12 this season if not the entire country. The only problem is that shot creation has largely been for other people rather than himself.
There is no doubting the biggest loss from last year’s Cyclones was the ability many of those guys had to create their own shot — something we could probably all agree actually became a detriment at times, but I digress.
When the shot clock got low or someone needed to make something happen off the bounce, Shayok, Horton-Tucker, Wigginton or Weiler-Babb could do it as well as anyone and that’s one of the things that made the team so difficult to defend.
At this point, we have not seen much — if any — of that from anyone on this year’s roster in an Iowa State uniform.
“I think that’s the biggest thing when you look at this roster. We had multiple guys that if it got late, they could go make a play. That’s what good players, obviously, are capable of doing,” Prohm said. “Everybody says, ‘Well, what do you want to run at the end of the shot clock?’ I don’t like to get to where, ‘Hey, it’s at 12, now we’re going to back it out and go 1-4 flat.’ You know, you may do it at times and do some actions. I think what we’ve done this year because of knowing that, I think Bolton is a guy who can go get one. Prentiss can get a shot off. Tyrese, his game, there’s just so much craftiness to it. So I think we’ve got some triggers we can go to when things break down not to die.”
The biggest part of this burden will almost certainly fall on Haliburton’s shoulders — and it probably rightly should considering he is the team’s best player. Bolton figures to be a capable option as well after averaging 11.6 points per game last season as a true freshman in Happy Valley. Nixon, who poured in 16.1 points per game for the Rams in 2017-18, has potential as well.
Heck, maybe, Jacobson will become an option on the block considering how good he was with his hook shot down the stretch last season.
From what we have seen to this point, though, none of those guys have the elite ability to create for themselves when the times get tough offensively and you just really need a bucket. But, after the way last year’s isolation ball riddled season ended, maybe that won’t be such a bad thing.
“I think that’s been our biggest thing to where hopefully we’re going to be able to attack people late in the shot clock by ball movement, cutting, pace, purpose, rather than actually just one guy trying to single out,” Prohm said. “Hopefully, we can do it by our cutting, by our movement, by some of the things we’re trying to do when our initial action breaks down. But, as games start going and guys are in that situation, you’ll see who can do that.”