STANZ: Don’t overlook Robert Jones in Iowa State’s new-look frontcourt

Jan 11, 2022; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams (24) looks to pass as Iowa State Cyclones forward Robert Jones (12) defends during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY — It might have been easy to write Robert Jones out of Iowa State’s 2022-23 men’s basketball rotation.

After all, the Cyclones did make two significant additions in the frontcourt this offseason with St. Bonaventure transfer Osun Osunniyi and VCU transfer Hason Ward joining the program.

That duo will be boosted by the mid-year addition of Eastern Kentucky transfer Tre King, too.

It would have been easy to see a path to significant time spent on the bench for Jones, who emerged as a key piece of the frontcourt rotation for Iowa State during its run to the Sweet 16 last season.

Iowa State had to get better in the frontcourt this offseason. Iowa State got better in the frontcourt this offseason — and a significant increase in the level of play down low is expected this winter.

The only part of the equation that some folks might not have figured in… Robert Jones got better, too.

“Robert, immediately, in the spring and into the summer was one of our hardest workers,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said on Wednesday at Big 12 media day in Kansas City. “A guy who in the weight room always is at the top from a work ethic standpoint. We do a lot of conditioning, and he’s been at the top. For a guy (who is) 6’10”, close to 250, that’s really impressive.”

Whether there’s a correlation between the arrival of Osunniyi and Ward and Jones’ improvement isn’t really clear. Surely, there is an element of having better competition to go against on a daily basis and a need to improve in order to keep pace.

A rising tide raises all boats, after all.

Still, the reality is Jones’ offseason improvement can probably be attributed almost entirely to him. He’s worked hard in the gym. He’s worked hard in the weight room and on the track in conditioning.

He’s shown up and competed. Every day.

That’s how you help rise the tide around you in addition to elevating your own place inside the program.

“I do think there’s something to be said for having guys to go against guys every day that are accomplished veteran players,” Otzelberger said. “That helps make all those guys better.”

Last week at Iowa State’s annual media day, Jones was quick to show me just how intense the battles in the paint have been since Iowa State started practice last month.

“I got a fat lip right now from battling in the paint,” Jones said pointing at his face and, yes, a visibly fat lip. “It’s nice having that sort of competition. Every day, TJ tries to instill competition throughout the practice in everything that we do, which sort of drives competitive spirit into games.”

Now, let’s not get carried away here and start thinking Jones is going to be Shaquille O’Neal 2.0. Still, as I said before, a rising tide raises all boats.

“Having more athletic guys in the paint, having to finish over them all the time and just make different moves to try to get rid of their height and athleticism is nice for me,” Jones said. “(I’m) not really above the rim as often as they are so (I have) to think of different ways to finish through stuff like that.”

The improvement in those areas has given Jones confidence in the areas where he can help Iowa State the most, including setting what teammate Gabe Kalscheur called the hardest screens in the Big 12.

Jones is going to be a role player for Iowa State, at the end of the day, but nobody expects him to be a star, either. They just expect him to go out there and be Robert Jones.

Six months ago, Robert Jones’ path to rotation minutes would have seemed tough, but he’s done everything he needed to in order to keep the tide rising.

“Coming off of his screens, and knowing that he’s going to be there for that roll and finish, and be a big wall-up presence guy down there, it’s awesome for us,” Kalscheur said. “He brings energy, and he brings a physicality that we most definitely need.”

Jared Stansbury


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.