“A whole new” Milan Momcilovic is set to shine for Iowa State this season

Iowa State forward Milan Momcilovic talks to media during an interview at Iowa State’s Sukup Basketball Complex on Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMESMilan Momcilovic calmly set his feet, then sized up his shot. The Iowa State sharpshooter’s pinpoint precision met a keen sense of purpose as the ball spun toward its target. But instead of tickling nylon, his shot trickled off course — and that’s OK because the skilled forward has only been playing golf for roughly a month.

 “All my high school buddies, they golf, so I went to the course and I really love it,” said Momcilovic, who returned to the court for ISU last week for head coach T.J. Otzelberger’s trademark grueling summer practices. “I’m shooting like 57 on nine (holes) right now, so one month in, we’re getting there.”

 Momcilovic’s working on both his short and long games right now. The 6-7 member of the Big 12 All-Freshman team’s determined to help the Cyclones get past the Sweet 16 in the 2025 NCAA Tournament while sharpening his abilities in hopes of eventually excelling in the NBA.

 But first things first. Momcilovic packed on several pounds of muscle in the offseason, so he’s been lifting weights far more often than swinging clubs since ISU lost to Illinois in the Sweet 16 in March.

 “With (Pete) Link, our strength and conditioning coach, the way his body’s moving, his explosiveness, his lateral quickness, his strength — I think he’s probably 12 to 15 pounds bigger and stronger,” said Otzelberger, who returns his top-four scorers from last season’s Big 12 Tournament-winning team. “He was the one guy in practice (Thursday) with his sleeves cut off, so he feels a lot better with where his body’s at. Certainly, he’s done the hard work.”

 Momcilovic admitted that sometimes he’s too hard on himself, though. He vocally shouldered the blame for the 72-69 loss to the Illini in Boston that prevented the Cyclones from advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000. Momcilovic scored one point in that loss and took a mere four shots from the field, but he’s put that performance in perspective as he seeks to become a force on every possession on both ends of the floor. 

 “Just knowing last year as a freshman that, I mean, you can’t do everything,” said Momcilovic, who averaged 14.5 points in ISU’s first- and second-round NCAA Tournament wins last season. “So (I) just kind of (took) a step back and realized I had a good freshman year, but at the same time, I’ve always got to be hard on myself because I know what I want out of myself and the expectations for me. So gotta continue to put in that work.”

 His teammates have noticed his amped-up efforts. 

 “I’d say he probably took the Illinois game pretty personally, so he’s been in the gym working nonstop,” said former transfer guard Keshon Gilbert, who led the Cyclones in scoring last seasonal 13.7 points per game. “Gotta give him his props. He’s been real aggressive. He’s just been, you know, he’s gonna be a whole new Milan in my opinion.”

 So what will a “whole new Milan” look like, precisely?

 “The biggest thing is getting my feet quicker, athleticism, agility,” Momcilovic said. “That’s number one, so I can be better on the offensive and defensive side, and get more rebounds. Getting stronger obviously, and then on the basketball side, still getting my 3s up — a lot of 3s. (And) being more of a playmaker this year. I feel like last year I was just more of a shooter/scorer kind of guy, so getting downhill, finishing at the rim, or kicking it out to my teammates and getting assists, those are some of the key points this year.”

 If Momcilovic can become a consistent threat off the dribble, ISU’s offense will be considerably more productive. This summer serves as a staging ground for that endeavor, and by all accounts — just like his nascent golf game — he’s getting there.

 “I think for him, it’s more asserting his talent, his dominance in all that he does well every single possession,” Otzelberger said. “I think we all recognize his touch, his shooting ability and his skill. I think for him, it’s defensively, on the glass, and in every whichaway, impacting winning on every possession.”