Nov 15, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UNLV Rebels guard Amauri Hardy (3), guard Elijah Mitrou-Long (55) and head coach T.J. Otzelberger react in the first half against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA defeated UNLV 71-54. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
New Iowa State men’s basketball assistant coaches J.R. Blount and Kyle Green first met roughly 16 years ago.
Blount was a star player in Milwaukee. Green was an assistant at hometown Marquette University. They talked, but Blount’s roundball future took him to Loyola Chicago instead.
“He did a great job, but they ended up not offering me at Marquette, so it’s probably his fault,” Blount joked during a conference call last week with the media. “(I) probably wasn’t good enough, obviously, but I’m excited to be on staff with these guys.”
He’s more than “good enough” now. Blount and Green — coupled with retained longtime ISU assistant Daniyal Robinson — form a sort-of “dream team” in terms of relationships, philosophy and complementary skills under new Cyclones head coach T.J. Otzelberger.
“We’ve got the ideal scenario we set out to get,” Otzeleberger said. “We got our top recruits in each position.”
Now, they’re recruiting together.
Otzelberger’s deeply focused on keeping top-five point guard recruit Tyrese Hunter in the fold, but the staff has already added some key depth pieces in 6-8 Washington State transfer Aljaz Kunc and 6-10 Denver transfer Robert Jones.
It’s unclear now how many holdovers from ISU’s current roster will choose to remain in Ames after the coaching change, so the number of available scholarships will be similarly fluid.
Keeping Robinson — who was an ISU assistant with Otzelberger under Greg McDermott and Steve Prohm — helps ease that transition and maintain bonds with players who may remain on the team.
Otzelberger also retained longtime director of basketball operations Micah Byars to help aid in continuity.
“I think it’s been helpful for the players to have a familiar face around, and also with (director of basketball operations) Micah Byars being here,” Robinson said. “He’s here every day with them. I think it’s been helpful that way for those guys. For myself, I’ve known T.J. for most of my coaching career, 17-18 years, and we’ve been close. He’s been a good friend, whether we’ve worked together or we’ve been apart, he’s always been an advocate of mine and we’ve bounced things off each other over the years, so him being in the building (again) is great, but I love how he’s grown as a leader and his vision for the program has been great, and his interaction with the guys so far has been what I expected.”
All of the Cyclones’ in-game coaches share longstanding relationships.
More importantly, they each bring something a little bit different to the program — whether that be strongest recruiting regions or coaching expertise.
“We’ve all known each other for a while,” said Green, a longtime assistant at Northern Iowa. “I’ve known T.J. for over 15 years. I’ve known D-Rob for a long time. I’m actually so old I recruited J.R. a little bit when he was in high school and I was an assistant at Marquette. So we can hit the ground kind of with that relationship already in place — our ability to play off one another. I think as a group, we’re also very unselfish. When you work closely with other guys, the ability not to have an ego when you’re recruiting or in kind of the day-to-day battles, so to speak, is important. … I know that’s something that’s really important to T.J. and when he put this staff together, I give him credit, he had those things in mind. It wasn’t just a collection of talent.”
It’s a group all-in in terms of Otzelberger’s Matt Campbell-esque commitment to becoming the top Big 12 Conference option for players in the Upper Midwest.
It could help ensure that Hunter decides to stick with his commitment and become a cornerstone element for the Cyclones moving forward. It should help strengthen ties with local talents such as Ames star guard Tamin Lipsey and other promising players within a five-hour radius of Central Iowa.
So the “top recruits” as assistants can turn that into attracting the top recruits in terms of players.
“It was important for me to find guys who complement each other well, that work together as a group, that have synergy,” Otzelberger said. “Certainly, recruiting is part of that. Coaching expertise is part of that — in-game and strategy. With our group, starting with D-Rob having been here — he’s done a great job. Somebody that I think has really proven himself as a good recruiter. Has great ties to Chicago and has been great in Wisconsin and other areas, so really looked at his strengths and skillsets and tried to build around that. Kyle Green is originally from St. Paul and Minneapolis and has a lot of strong ties in that area, as well as others in the Midwest. Then with J.R. Blount being a Milwaukee guy, but having some different experiences across the country, I feel like that’s really valuable. So we’re certainly going to prioritize recruiting locally and in the Upper Midwest.”