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CEDAR RAPIDS — It seemed every Division I men’s basketball player of any repute that entered the transfer portal this spring was contacted by Iowa State.
“Our assistants try to reach out,” ISU Coach T.J. Otzelberger said Monday at the Cyclone Tailgate Tour stop at the Cedar Rapids Marriott. And if you don’t?
“You’re in a tough spot,” he said.
Otzelberger assembled a roster on the fly last year after becoming the Cyclones’ coach. Izaiah Brockington, Gabe Kalscheur and other transfers teamed with freshman point guard Tyrese Hunter to get ISU 22 wins, two in the NCAA tournament.
Oh, Iowa State had gone 2-22 the previous season.
Brockington turned pro after a magnificent season. Four players transferred. One was a gut punch. Hunter, a potential NBA player, currently is deciding where to find bluer sky. Back to square one for the Cyclones?
Hardly. Otzelberger will have a better, deeper roster in Year 2. He has four rotation players returning, including Kalscheur. He has three incoming freshmen. He has a power forward named Tre King who came in last year and sat out the season. He averaged 14.9 points at Eastern Kentucky in 2020-21.
And, Otzelberger grabbed four players in the portal from programs of renown.
His standard line is he looks for tough, low-ego players who fit his way of doing things. That might sound like mere coach-speak if we hadn’t seen a season’s worth of results. Iowa State’s whole looked greater than the sum of its parts.
The Cyclones’ recent additions can play and have played. Guards Jaren Holmes and Jeremiah Williams, forward Hason Ward and center Osun Osunniyi have appeared in a combined 306 D-I games and scored a combined 2,904 points.
Williams averaged 9.5 points, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals last season at 17-12 Temple. Ward averaged 6.5 points and 1.5 blocked shots at 22-10 VCU of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Holmes and Osunniyi came from the A-10’s St. Bonaventure, which went 23-10.
Holmes averaged 13.5 points. Osunniyi produced 11.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game and was named the A-10’s Defensive Player of the Year for a second-straight time.
Otzelberger is making the best of a new system of yearly free agency that is hard for some insiders and outsiders to embrace. The players, though, seem very comfortable with it.
“The culture of young people coming up now is they go to different high schools in many cases, or prep schools, and play on different travel and AAU teams,” Otzelberger said. “So they’re used to different teams and having that experience be more transient from year to year.
“So this is their normal. We need to adjust and adapt to it.
“So many people think recruiting is selling. For us, recruiting is more about listening and making sure there’s an alignment.”
It’s probably easy to envision yourself aligning with an Osunniyi. The guy is 6-foot-10 and was eighth in the nation in blocked shots last season.
“Terrific rim protector,” Otzelberger said. “Great length, athleticism. A finisher. But we’re really excited about developing him offensively. We think he can shoot the ball, make plays off the dribble.”
Portal players, preps — the name of the game has been and always will be talent.
“We’re comfortable with the four-year guy when they’re the right guys,” Otzelberger said. “We’re comfortable with the transfer guys. We’re going to continue to get the right players, the right talent.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with landing a one-year freshman if the player is special. Power forward Omaha Biliew, a 5-star, top-10 recruit from West Des Moines, has narrowed his college choices to Kansas, Oregon and Iowa State.
Iowa State is swimming with sharks in the Big 12. The last two NCAA champs, Baylor and Kansas, aren’t going away. Nor is 2019 national finalist Texas Tech. Coming soon: Houston, Cincinnati and BYU.
However, nothing indicates the Cyclones will be small fish in that big basketball pond.
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