Jalen Coleman-Lands perked up and answered the question with a smile.
One of the newest members of the Iowa State basketball program, and the program’s most experienced player, had not been asked about basketball. The question had nothing to do with the Indianapolis native’s transition to Ames or the third program he’s been apart of during his college career.
No, the question was about Coleman-Lands’ work off the court and his social media organization FigurePrint, which has more than 1,000 followers on Instagram and a bio that reads, “Real People, Real Discussions, Relating Topics.”
“This is something I’m actually really passionate about. Some people’s hobbies are to do activities such as skating, all types of extra curricular things that all types of young men do, but for me this is something that my heart was tugging on,” the DePaul graduate transfer said during Iowa State’s annual men’s basketball media day on Thursday. “It is a platform I created to communicate between parental figures and their kids or any additional loved ones. That was just from my personal experience. I wanted to find some type of platform or create a platform that could ultimately help people like myself or people in households that would neglect those conversations and there was room for growth. I feel like I’ve done a good job and I’m looking forward to growing it.”
The answer and the organization are evidence of how different Coleman-Lands is than the average college basketball player in 2020. He is certainly different than most every young man who spends time in three different programs during their college career.
Coleman-Lands exudes leadership and experience. He answers every question posed to him in a thoughtful manner in a slow, steady and confident tone. He is someone you can tell has been through college basketball’s ringer as he enters his sixth collegiate season.
The hope is that experience will translate into helping an Iowa State team picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 bounce back from last year’s disappointing sub-.500 record and make a run back towards the postseason.
“He’s got success in the future,” head coach Steve Prohm said. “It’s coming once he finishes here and once he finishes basketball, he’s going to do terrific things. He’s one of those guys you want to be around.”
The road to Iowa State has been a long one for Coleman-Lands.
He started his college career at Illinois, averaging 9.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in two seasons with the Fighting Illini.
It was at Illinois where Coleman-Lands got his first experience with Iowa State during the 2015 Emerald Coast Classic where the Fighting Illini and Cyclones squared off for the tournament title. The Cyclones won that game 84-73 behind 20-plus point performances from Monte Morris and Georges Niang.
At that moment, that game seemed like a blip on the radar of a college career that seemed to be off to a solid start. Coleman-Lands scored just five points in that game on 2-of-5 shooting but finished fourth in the Big Ten with a 42.2 percent rate from deep that season.
The 6-foot-4 guard never could have known the game would return to the forefront of his mind more than four years later.
“They were stacked, for one. They had great players, well coached. The spacing, the system, it seemed like fluent. It seemed effortless. You could tell that they had a good feel for each other and the system they played in and the standard was set,” Coleman-Lands said. “That was something that has kind of stayed in my mind since we played them my freshman year. That standard and how each role you could tell that they knew each other’s role and their style of play. That was something that was reminding to me in my decision and that this was a role I wanted to join. This is a program that I feel like will be a good fit for me.”
Ultimately, things did not work out in Champaign, so Coleman-Lands transferred to DePaul. He sat out his first year in Chicago then played in just nine games in 2018-19 before averaging 11.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in 2019-20.
By the time Coleman-Lands made the decision to transfer for a second time, he had seen everything college basketball had to throw at him. He’d been a double-digit scorer in two of the country’s most competitive college basketball leagues. He had battled through injuries during his redshirt junior season in 2018-19.
He emerged as a leader poised to make an impact on another program, not only with his ability to knock down shots and defend at a high-level but also with his ability to be a role model for younger players still trying to find their way on the college basketball stage.
“I kind of know what to expect. I’m expecting it to be drastically different (due to COVID-19), but I know the level and standard that needs to be met,” Coleman-Lands said. “So, not only for myself, holding myself accountable, but others. Kind of like the standard that needs to be required in order for us to do well. That’s something I bring in my work ethic off the court. Even going into the summer when it’s limited groups in the gym and bringing that energy and being able to push whoever is in your collective group for that week or whatever and as it progressed and we were able to have more people in our groups and get into team practices and bringing it every day and using my experience to do that.”
Iowa State is going to need someone like Coleman-Lands, who has missed portions of preseason practice due to a hamstring injury, to solidify themselves as the heart and soul of the team as they navigate what will surely be an unpredictable and odd season due to changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was announced later in the day Thursday that only 1,373 fans will be allowed to attend games at Hilton Coliseum this winter, meaning one of college basketball’s most raucous venues and intimidating home-court advantages will merely be a shell of itself sitting at the corner of Lincoln Way and University Avenue.
The same will surely be said for most of the arenas across the country, which could present itself as a playing field leveler of sorts.
Obviously, talent will always be important in college basketball. Talent is really the most important thing in any sport, but will Allen Fieldhouse present the same challenges without 16,300 fans packed shoulder to shoulder and their screams bouncing off the tin roof?
Will the “doom” leave the Octagon in Manhattan without a student section? Will the “magic” be present in Hilton Coliseum be present without the energy of 14,356 Cyclone fans on their feet?
A team’s ability to bring energy to the floor will be more important than ever. That’s another area Coleman-Lands is bound and determined to make his impact felt on this year’s Cyclones.
“At the end of the day, energy is what wins games, what creates synergy that allows you to, especially now with kind of the expected population of attendance at games will be 10 percent, you’ve got to bring your own energy, this is something that’s not going to miraculously show up at game time,” Coleman-Lands said. “It’s something that has be created and practiced throughout practice so in games when there’s 90 percent less people in the audience, it’s not new to us. That’s why it is important.”
The way Coleman-Lands speaks is different than most of his teammates. It is different than a lot of the Cyclones who have come before him in recent seasons outside of a few very notable exceptions.
The best comparison was presented by Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register — and it was echoed by the Cyclones’ head coach. They were talking about the heart and soul of that 2015-16 team that gave Coleman-Lands his first experience with Iowa State.
“I was watching him doing closeouts and his energy (during practice on Wednesday) and I was like, ‘Man, he could be a little bit like Naz Long for us.’ From a standpoint of he can really make shots, he’s got great energy and a great spirit about him,” Prohm said. “He plays really hard. We’ve just got to continued to work offensively and he knows this just to continue to grow in decision making and plays off the bounce from that standpoint, but I think that would be the best comparison if I had to put him against somebody.”
Whether or not Coleman-Lands will have the success Mitrou-Long did during his time as a Cyclone is a different conversation. Obviously, it would be difficult to match one of the most beloved players in program history, a three-time Big 12 Tournament champion, during one season in the program.
But, the comparison can still be drawn.
You don’t find kids like Naz Mitrou-Long every day. Kids like that go through college basketball’s ringer. They end up seeing everything the college basketball world can throw at them and they do it with poise while bringing energy and leadership on and off the court.
Young men like that are built different.
Jalen Coleman-Lands is different than your average college basketball player — and he could be just the thing the Cyclones need in a season expected to be as crazy as the 2020-21 campaign will be.
“I think he’s been a great leader for our guys when we’ve had our discussions, when we’ve had our weekly meetings about social issues and different things like that,” Prohm said. “He’s been at the head of it. He’s been the one taking notes. He’s been the one spearheading conversations, doing research. He’s going to be really, really successful. He’s going to have the opportunity to play basketball for a while after college, but he’s going to be very successful. I’ve been really impressed with his leadership ability, with the intangibles. You’ve got energy givers and energy takers. He’s an energy giver.”