Jan 21, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton wears a Brock Purdy jersey against the Phoenix Suns in the first half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — It’s wholly unsurprising that Tyrese Haliburton and Brock Purdy became fast friends as both emerged as budding stars at Iowa State.
Both set records and were drafted to play in their respective top professional leagues — the NBA, for Haliburton, and the NFL for Purdy.
Haliburton, of course, was a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA draft and Purdy was saddled with the “Mr. Irrelevant” tag after being the last player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
But look at them now. Both are among the leading MVP candidates this season, and few could have seen that coming.
That’s what makes their nearly simultaneous ascensions to stardom so cool for Cyclone fans. They still love Iowa State and that’s part of what makes their bond special.
“He’s somebody I can really call a friend,” Haliburton said of Purdy in a video posted to ‘X’ by Rob Lopez, the video content senior manager at FanDuel. “To see what he’s doing and succeeding the way that he is, that’s really cool to see, especially being from Iowa State, where it’s not a school that’s expected to have this much success at the professional level in any sport, you know what I mean? So it’s cool to see my brother do well. … It means a lot to Iowa State fans to see guys doing that, and hopefully it’s a good recruiting tool for the Cyclones moving forward.”
Haliburton’s not alone. He’s contributing just as much as Purdy to help raise ISU’s profile among sports fans across the country.
The 2023 NBA All-Star point guard for the Indiana Pacers currently leads the league in assists per game at 12.3. He’s also averaging 26.3 points and 4.3 rebounds — and plays the game with a profound sense of joy that’s rooted in being underestimated for a long time.
“What Tyrese is doing right now, it’s beyond amazing,” ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger said in advance of his team’s game on Sunday against Florida A&M. “It looks like, you know, when Steph Curry made his emergence, right? Shooting ridiculous numbers from 3. Hitting huge shots down the stretch, yet (an) unbelievable teammate, a smile on your face with energy and enthusiasm. The cool thing about Tyrese Haliburton is, you know, I talk a lot about (having) a chip on your shoulder or proving people wrong. He has that at a very very high level. Even, whatever it was, a month in a half ago, and I was out in Indianapolis and we’re at dinner, and you can just tell that he’s got (a sense of), ‘I’ve got something to prove.’ I’m sure that even right now, in these moments, as he’s had the great games leading up to the in-season tournament, that he’s continuing to still set higher standards for himself. So it’s been really awesome to see.”
Otzelberger said he watched Haliburton a lot as he grew up. He’s been the same on and off the court for a long time. He, like Purdy, is grateful to be in a position to have success while never short-changing himself, nor losing sight of what the game is supposed to be — and that’s pure, unadulterated fun.
“And that’s where, to me, I’m just thinking over all the years — I mean, obviously I’ve followed basketball for a long time, and the only (comparison) that I thought of, and this is crazy to say, is Steph Curry, right?” Otzelberger added. “Because he’s got that energy, that hop in his step, that smile on his face. He’s interacting with the fans. He’s celebrating his teammates and he’s doing all those things. I don’t say that because I (think) that those guys are the same, but I can’t think of somebody else who exemplifies that type of behavior and impact on scoring, winning and his teammates. That’s the guy I immediately think of, as well, so it’s great to see. It’s awesome for us, too, because when guys see that — that you can come to Iowa State, and there’s not a limit on what you can do after, that paints our program in a positive light. It probably helps recruiting and it says a lot about who Tyrese is.”
Same goes for Purdy, who’s the first quarterback in NFL history to record five games with a passer rating of 140 or better in his first two seasons. He’s also been “beyond amazing” as a pro, but that didn’t stop him from returning to Ames for the ISU-Kansas game during the 49ers’ bye week. And something Purdy said before he helped the Cyclones beat TCU, 48-14, on his senior day helps explain why:
“Even though I’m leaving, I still want to be a part of helping anyone that comes through these doors (with), ‘Hey, this is what I’ve experienced, here’s what you can learn from that, and here’s how you can go be the best version of you.’”