Basketball

Steve Prohm and Iowa State parting ways after six seasons

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm watches his Cyclones from the sideline in the second half against Kansas State on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames.

The Steve Prohm era in Ames is over.

Iowa State announced on Monday that Prohm and the school have decided to part way after six seasons.

The news comes just five days after Iowa State’s 2020-21 season came to an end with a 79-73 loss to Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.

The loss ended the Cyclones’ season at 2-21 overall, extended the program-record losing streak to 18 games and was the 23rd consecutive loss to Big 12 teams.

Prohm, whose contract calls for an approximately $5.3 million buyout, ends his tenure in Ames with a 97-95 overall record, a 40-68 mark in Big 12 play, two Big 12 Tournament titles, three NCAA Tournament appearances and one Sweet 16 berth.

His teams went just 50-71 overall and 18-54 in the league in the last four seasons after the players left behind by Fred Hoiberg and the program’s previous staff had exhausted their eligibility.

Pollard is expected to give further comments on Tuesday.

Prohm was named the 20th head coach in the history of Iowa State men’s basketball on June 8, 2015, taking over for Hoiberg, the legendary Cyclone player and coach, who had left the school after four-straight NCAA Tournament bids to coach the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

Arriving in Ames after a successful four-year stint as the head coach at Murray State, Prohm inherited a roster chock-full of high-level talent with sky-high expectations in the midst of the most successful stretch in program history.

Prohm’s first squad in Ames was pegged as the No. 7 team in the nation entering the 2015-16 season. That group, led by senior forward Georges Niang, started the campaign with a 9-0 record, which included a thrilling come-from-behind win over in-state rival Iowa at Hilton Coliseum.

The team would stumble out of the gates once Big 12 play began, losing three of their first four league contests, before piecing together a four-game winning streak that included wins over No. 1 Oklahoma, only the second win over the nation’s No. 1 team in school history, and No. 4 Kansas at Hilton Coliseum.

That would be the squad’s most consistent stretch of success for the remainder of the year as they lost six of their last 11 regular-season games before falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.

Despite the up-and-down stretch, Iowa State drew a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament before dispatching 13-seed Iona and 12-seed Little Rock with ease in Denver to advance to the school’s fifth Sweet 16 overall and second in three years.

It would be the only time Prohm’s teams advanced to the tournament’s second weekend.

The Cyclones’ season would come to an end there as No. 1 seed Virginia scored 17 of the game’s first 20 points on their way to handing Iowa State an 84-71 loss at the United Center in Chicago. The game marked the end of the All-American career of Niang plus the careers of fellow seniors Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader.

Despite losing Niang and other key rotational pieces, the Cyclones’ roster looked set to be loaded again in 2016-17 with All-American point guard Monte Morris, plus eventual NBA players Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton, all returning.

Iowa State started the season 5-0 before losing three of four games during a stretch in late-November and early-December. That stretch included a two-point loss to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga, a one-point overtime loss to Cincinnati, which snapped a string of 37-straight home wins over non-conference opponents, and a 14-point setback against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Monday following the loss to the Hawkeyes, Iowa State fell out of the AP Top-25 for the first time since Nov. 2013, snapping a string of 61 consecutive weeks in the poll.

In the weeks that followed, the Cyclones’ play can only be described as sporadic, starting Big 12 play with a 5-4 record, including losses to Baylor and Kansas, who were both ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time of the contests.

That up-and-down play was the backdrop for what will forever live as the most memorable game of the Prohm era at Iowa State on Feb. 4, 2017, in Lawrence, Kan.

On that Saturday afternoon, the Cyclones erased a 14-point halftime deficit behind 29 points from Deonte Burton and a nail-in-the-coffin 3-pointer from the corner by Donovan Jackson in overtime to snap the No. 3 Jayhawks’ 51-game winning streak at Phog Allen Fieldhouse by the score of 92-89.

After a two-point loss on the road at Texas the following Tuesday, Iowa State strung together six consecutive wins, including a three-point victory over No. 9 Baylor in Ames, and finished the season winning seven of their last nine contests.

This set the stage for Iowa State to enter the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas as the No. 4 seed, which is the same seed the Cyclones had achieved for each of their two previous Big 12 Tournament titles.

The Cyclones rolled past Oklahoma State and TCU in the first two games to set up a Saturday night showdown with No. 11 West Virginia for the Big 12 Tournament title.

Played in front of a largely pro-Iowa State crowd at the Sprint Center, “Hilton South” was alive and well to watch the Cyclones defeat the Mountaineers for the first time that season, 80-74, and win their third Big 12 Tournament title in four seasons behind magnificent point guard play from Morris, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

The victory was capped by an alley-oop dunk by Burton off a pass from Mitrou-Long that will sit alongside Jackson’s 3-pointer in Lawrence as the most iconic plays of Prohm’s time at the helm.

Iowa State drew a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament and had played as well as any team in the country down the stretch to make them a trendy pick for another run into the tournament’s second weekend.

The Cyclones continued their roll with an 84-73 win over 12-seed Nevada in the Round of 64, but would ultimately fall 80-76 to fourth-seeded Purdue two days later in what will live as one of the most second-guessed games of the Prohm era.

Losing to the Boilermakers ended the careers of Morris, Mitrou-Long, Thomas and Burton and, more or less, marked the conclusion of the greatest era in Iowa State basketball history.

After those two seasons, Prohm’s record in Ames sat at 47-23 with a pair of NCAA Tournament berths, a Big 12 Tournament title and a Sweet 16, but the trouble was on the horizon with large portions of the roster set to turn over and high-level talent needed to maintain the program’s momentum.

Enter Lindell Wigginton.

The five-star guard out of Oak Hill Academy was one of the most highly anticipated recruits in the history of Iowa State basketball and was set to be the program’s centerpiece of the future after signing with the school during the 2016 fall recruiting cycle.

Wigginton, along with redshirt freshman center Cameron Lard, would show flashes of what could be coming for Iowa State during the 2017-18 season.

Despite the team finishing 13-18 overall and 4-14 in the Big 12, Wigginton and Lard appeared to be cornerstones to build around and another infusion of talent was on the way in the form of Virginia transfer Marial Shayok, Nebraska transfer Mike Jacobson and the most highly touted recruiting class in program history.

That highly-touted class was headlined by Chicago prep star Talen Horton-Tucker, plus fellow Chicago natives Zion Griffin and George Conditt, along with under-the-radar Oshkosh, Wis. point guard Tyrese Haliburton.

While the elevation in talent from year-three to year-four under Prohm was immediately clear, the start to the season was quickly dampened when it was announced Wigginton would miss several weeks after suffering a stress fracture in his foot during the season-opening win over Alabama State.

In Wigginton’s absence, Haliburton would emerge as a potential star while Horton-Tucker solidified himself as a future pro.

The Cyclones put the nation on notice while winning two of three games at the prestigious Maui Invitational then won seven of their next eight games after returning from the islands with the one loss coming to No. 18 Iowa in Iowa City.

The last win in that string was perhaps the most notable of the regular-season. That was a 77-60 domination of No. 5 Kansas in Hilton Coliseum, a game that turned the Cyclones and their hyper-athletic, sharpshooting roster into national media darlings.

From that point on, Iowa State was considered one of the nation’s most talented and dangerous teams when playing well. The only issue was playing well consistently was easier said than done.

After starting the season 19-6 with three wins over top-20 teams, the Cyclones lost five of their last six regular-season games, including a 15-point loss on the road at West Virginia that saw the rumored tensions inside the locker room bubble over onto the floor with a verbal confrontation between Jacobson and Horton-Tucker caught by the ESPN cameras.

That game was also played without Shayok, who by this time had solidified himself as one of the Big 12’s best scorers, due to a foot injury suffered during a mysterious locker room interaction several days prior.

Even still, the Cyclones, who finished the regular season 20-11 overall, entered the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City as a potentially dangerous team. They arrived at the Sprint Center as the bracket’s No. 5 seed after going 9-9 in the league during the regular season.

Iowa State promptly dominated Baylor in the quarterfinals then dispatched league co-champion Kansas State behind heroics from Shayok in the semis.

The final against No. 17 Kansas was never as close as the 12-point final deficit indicated. The Cyclones were dominant from beginning to end on their way to the program’s fourth Big 12 Tournament title in six years and the second of Prohm’s tenure.

Suddenly, Iowa State looked to potentially be one of the most dangerous teams in the NCAA Tournament field but still drew a six-seed after their skid to end the regular season.

The team that ran through their three games in Kansas City was nowhere to be found when they squared off with 10th-seeded Ohio State in the first round in Tulsa. The Buckeyes pulled off a 62-59 victory and sent Iowa State home with disappointment.

The Cyclones have not returned to the NCAA Tournament since.

Shayok, a first-team All-Big 12 performer and the most outstanding player of the Big 12 Tournament, graduated and then became a second-round pick in the NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers. Horton-Tucker left school to fulfill his tantalizing professional potential, ultimately landing as a second-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Program stalwart Nick Weiler-Babb graduated and one-time program centerpieces Wigginton, who won the Big 12’s sixth man of the year award after being relegated to the bench with Haliburton’s emergence during his time out with injury, and Lard both chose to pursue professional futures.

That left Haliburton and Jacobson as the only rotational pieces returning to the program for the 2019-20 season.

Predictably, that roster turnover led to another major backslide, especially once Haliburton, who turned pro after his sophomore campaign and was an NBA lottery pick to the Sacramento Kings, was lost for the year with a wrist injury.

The Cyclones finished 12-20, 5-13 in the Big 12 and set the stage for this year’s disaster of a season, which ultimately led to Prohm’s ousting in Ames.

All told, attaining talent was less of an issue during Prohm’s tenure in Ames than retaining it.

Only one of the high school recruits Prohm and his staff signed completed their eligibility in Ames — and that was Solomon Young, who became a key contributor for the 2016-17 team, but never became much more than an above-average role player forced into playing bigger roles on bad teams.

Prohm coached nine players at Iowa State who went on to appear in NBA games while numerous others went on to successful professional careers internationally or in the NBA G-League.

Iowa State basketball now finds itself in a deeper hole than it has faced in more than a decade. The Cyclones have not won a Big 12 game in 13 months and have not won any road game in more than two years.

Prohm’s conference winning percentage of 37 percent is the second-worst at Iowa State since the mid-1970s, ahead of only Hoiberg’s predecessor, Greg McDermott.

Additionally, after nearly a decade of being one of the most difficult arenas for opposing teams to win in, Hilton Coliseum saw Prohm’s teams win only 67 percent of their games, including a 2-10 mark this season that matched the worst in the building’s history. That number is made even more difficult to stomach by the fact the Cyclones won just 14 of 65 road games under Prohm’s watch.

Oddly enough, five of those 14 road wins came against AP Top-25 teams, which is the most by any Iowa State coach, but that is one of the few numbers where the Prohm era stacks up favorably in the context of school history.

The most shocking part of all this is not the fact the Cyclones fell back to Earth after their run of success during the 2010s, but how swiftly and sharply they fell from competing towards the top of the league to being one of the conference’s bottom-dwellers and finishing ninth or 10th in three of the last four seasons.

While a backslide for the program could have been reasonably expected after the talent left by Hoiberg was gone, it was Prohm’s inability to recover sustainably, relying on either transfers or high-level talent with early professional aspirations, and a poor hit-rate on high school prospects that doomed his tenure.

The program signed 20 high school recruits in Prohm’s six years at the helm with only a handful making major contributions during their time in Ames.

Several of those contributors went on to immediate professional success (Haliburton and Horton-Tucker) while others (Wigginton and Lard) left unceremoniously without much of anything guaranteed at the professional level.

While Wigginton appears to be carving a niche in the NBA G-League, spending each of the past two seasons with the Iowa Wolves, Prohm has admitted publicly that he did not handle the former five-star recruit’s sophomore season very well once he returned from injury.

With hindsight now being what it is, losing Wigginton feels like one of the watershed moments of the Prohm tenure and the point where things turned steeply downwards.

Lard’s departure after two tumultuous seasons on the floor can be seen in a similar light. Despite his well-documented off-the-floor struggles, few players in the Prohm era exhibited the potential the big man from Louisiana did during his freshman season in Ames.

He still has not appeared in a professional game, which is a terribly sad and disappointing fact when you consider the talent he possessed and something we should all hope will change in the near future. That is, of course, pending the resolution of criminal charges related to an arrest during the Black Lives Matter protests in Des Moines last summer (which, after watching the video at this link, is a story I’m shocked has not been discussed more heavily in the months since).

A handful of the staff’s other signees ultimately found themselves buried on the bench prior to transferring after several years and a few more never played a single game for the Cyclones.

Only two players from Iowa State’s 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes, which each featured four signees, are still on the roster.

Jaden Walker was the only member of the four-man 2020 recruiting class that spent more than half the season in the rotation while Xavier Foster missed most of the year with an injury. Darlinstone Dubar and Dudley Blackwell received essentially no playing time outside of a short stretch in the middle of the year when Dubar was in the starting line.

That’s 12 signees across three seasons with only three rotational players left, two others who spent most of their time this season on the bench and another who figures to be one of the program’s centerpieces moving forward after recovering from injury.

While that 2018 group did produce a lottery pick in Haliburton and a second-round pick in Horton Tucker, both of which were key to the 2018-19 team’s success, their presence did little to help the program sustain success for the future.

It is hard to call losing those two players perhaps earlier than expected bad luck when you realize only three (Walker, George Conditt and Tre Jackson) of the other 10 players (or nine excluding Foster) that were signed in those three classes are even in the team’s rotation at this point.

Heck, only six of those 10 players are even at Iowa State at this point and four of them were in their first season with the program, which, based on the trends of the last few years makes the idea of this past year being their only season in Ames completely conceivable.

Those groups should have made up the majority of this year’s roster, but instead, Prohm was left searching for mid-level transfers or reaching for other players during the spring recruiting cycles year-after-year.

Whether it falls on talent evaluation, poor roster management, bad luck or whatever, this inability to target, recruit, sign, develop and retain high school prospects is likely the biggest reason Prohm’s tenure in Ames is coming to an end.

Any coach will be walking into an uphill climb when you consider the pieces returning to this roster even before attrition and the fact the Big 12 only continues to get better and deeper.

Jared Stansbury

administrator

Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.

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