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Iowa State men’s basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger raves about incoming transfer guards
Jackson Paveletzke, Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones arrive alongside promising freshman class
WEST DES MOINES — The transfer portal is transient by its very nature. Volatile, too.
But if there’s one thing Iowa State men’s basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger and his staff have proven in two-plus seasons in Ames, it’s this: They navigate that mercurial domain very well.
So when the Cyclones lost their top-two scoring guards Jaren Holmes and Gabe Kalscheur to graduation, they plucked three highly valued guards from the portal.
Enter Jackson Paveletzke, Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones — who along with prized incoming freshmen such as Omaha Biliew and Milan Momcilovic — hope to keep ISU on track for a third straight berth in the NCAA tournament.
“They'll all be here,” Otzelberger said at a recent Tailgate Tour stop. “Our guys report back by June 11, so they’ll be back and once they get their physicals and things early that week, we'll start our process.”
Otzelberger’s resurgent operation hinges on summer success and has been built around transfers. His first team welcomed seven such players and ended up reaching the Sweet 16. Last season’s team included five transfers and notched a nation-leading six top-10 wins before suffering a first-round NCAA tournament loss.
As for this team? Only the three aforementioned newcomers have previous college basketball experience — but they address immediate and glaring needs.
Jackson Paveletzke is a sharpshooter
Paveletzke, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Wofford, shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range last season and earned Southern Conference Freshman of the Year honors.
“He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s crafty,” Otzelberger said. “He’s a playmaker with the basketball. He can make shots, he can really score and he’s a highly competitive, feisty guy. He can play with the ball or without the ball. He’s got an edge to him that we really like and he’ll continue to develop.”
Keshon Gilbert a ‘very dynamic downhill player’
Gilbert boasts similar, but potentially more explosive traits.
“(He’s) a very dynamic downhill player,” Otzelberger said of Gilbert, who averaged 11.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists last season at UNLV. “He lives in the paint. He’s very aggressive. Somebody, that with his size at 6-4 and his playmaking ability as a bigger point guard — a guy that can really get in there and finish. Finish through contact.
“He’s worked tremendously hard on his jump shot and early in the year shot it in the mid-40s and ended up shooting 38-and-half for the season, but a guy that when he has time and space, you’re really confident he’s gonna knock that thing down.”
Gilbert also mirrors Kalscheur in that he wants to guard the opposition’s best player.
“We need someone to assume that job and Keshon would be someone that you’d look at in taking on that matchup, but he also finds ways to get rebounds, loose balls, gets deflections, so a guy that helps winning on both ends of the floor,” Otzelberger said.
Curtis Jones brings ‘unbelievable character’
Jones, who stands 6-5, averaged 15.0 points and 4.8 rebounds last season at Buffalo.
“(He’s) an unbelievable character guy,” Otzelberger said. “Somebody that from a habits and leadership standpoint we think can come right in and hopefully have a similar impact that Jaren did a year ago. Just a guy who’s already showed that he can lead a team.
“He’s a big-time shotmaker. Made two-and-a-half 3s a game, has always been a good playmaker while also doing a great job of valuing the basketball. He takes care of the ball. Very cerebral and a great passer, and then defensively, he’s got tremendous length on the perimeter. He’s gonna continue to work to add weight and strength on that end of the floor, but a guy that has great instincts, great nose for the ball, and positional size and length as a guard that is really impactful.”
Just how impactful Jones or any of the newcomers will be is anyone’s guess at this point, but if the past informs the present, it’s likely another new-look Cyclones team will once again compete for a top-half finish in the Big 12.
“We take a lot of pride in our program with player development,” Otzelberger said. “I feel like that’s something we really hang our hat on.”