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AMES — There isn’t a week that passes in which Steve Prohm doesn’t meet with his seniors.
It’s something the second-year Iowa State men’s basketball coach has valued in the past, but the importance of continuing it this year is imperative. The Cyclones have six scholarship seniors with four really at the epicenter the last several years.
It might look and feel more like Prohm’s program in year two, but Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton have just as much ownership.
“Those four seniors are the glue of what’s made this program really good these last couple of years, the last four years,” Prohm said Wednesday at media day. “It’s what’s going to continue to make this program good going forward and I’m really looking forward to those four guys.”
Iowa State is coming off its second Sweet 16 in the last three years, but lost Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay to graduation. Through a stroke of fortune, the Cyclones return Morris and Mitrou-Long through different means. Morris returned to school after considering the NBA while Mitrou-Long received a medical redshirt after missing all but eight games last season.
In Morris’ case, he hasn’t looked back once on his decision. He was named the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year and has the ISU assists and steals record in his sights. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder needs 115 assists and 40 steals to break the records held by Jeff Hornacek — current head coach of the New York Knicks.
“It would be good to just walk away from here with both of them, right?” said Morris, who averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 assists last year. “If I had to pick one (I want more) I’d probably go with assists. The steals are good, too. Coach (Prohm) wants me to play more defense and I’ve been trying to do that as best as I could.
“I’m going to be gambling a lot out there to beat it.”
Morris played 38 minutes per game last year, but that’s likely to go down with junior college point guard Donovan Jackson in the fold. The backcourt is by far the deepest position on the roster, bolstered by Mitrou-Long’s return.
Mitrou-Long was 39.1 percent shooting from 3-point range two years ago in his last full season, but through eight games last year he made an effort to take defenders off the dribble and get to the rim. With all the options on the perimeter now, the 6-foot-4, 203-pounder envisions he’ll do a little bit of everything.
“I think I’m going to be that guy who’s going to be able to just help everybody mesh,” Mitrou-Long said. “That’s what I’ve got to do. Whatever it takes to win — take charges, play great defense — anything, man. Whatever I’ve got to do, man, is what I’m going to do.”
Iowa State returns just 42.9 percent of its scoring from last season, but Thomas was a crucial piece in that. Thomas made 89 3-pointers last season — he leads Big 12 returners in that category — and was also the Cyclones’ defensive stopper, often guarding the other team’s best player.
Prohm wants to utilize multiple defensive looks this season and has already implemented a few ideas.
“I think we’re just going to be a lot more active and athletic,” Thomas said. “Defensively, Coach (Prohm) put in, just the other day, a three-quarter-court pressure defense just to slow the game down and maybe take some time off the shot clock. We’re going to play small a lot.”
The Cyclones have a new-look frontcourt with graduate transfers Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie and freshman Solomon Young, but will likely often use a four-guard lineup and move Burton around.
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Burton’s athleticism and versatile scoring ability allow him to be a chess piece that can be used at the three, or in some cases, the four or five. He averaged 9.7 points and 3.9 rebounds last year, but Prohm — who saw a maturation process occur with Burton in the offseason — wants those numbers to get pumped up to a double-double range.
“I kind of view my role as being a leader really,” Burton said. “Just leading the team whether it’s being the five or being the four, be whatever the team needs me to be. That’s what I feel like my role.”
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