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AMES — The Iowa State men’s basketball roster has undergone a complete overhaul since T.J. Otzelberger was hired as head coach.
The Cyclones’ three leading scorers all moved on — Rasir Bolton transferred to Gonzaga, Jalen Coleman-Lands is in the transfer portal and Solomon Young graduated and is pursuing a professional basketball career.
Tyler Harris, Iowa State’s fifth leading scorer, averaging 7.5 points, transferred back to Memphis. Freshmen Darlinstone Dubar and Dudley Blackwell also transferred out of the program
That left Javan Johnson, Tre Jackson and George Conditt as the most proven pieces of Iowa State’s roster. Johnson averaged 9.7 points on 39 percent shooting from the field, Jackson averaged 5.7 points on 32 percent shooting and Conditt’s off-year saw him average just 2.4 points per game.
Freshmen Xavier Foster and Jaden Walker showed flashes of what they were capable of last season, but Foster was shut down because of a foot injury and Walker had plenty of freshman inconsistencies.
Iowa State went winless in the Big 12 last season, so it goes without saying the roster needed work.
Otzelberger hung his hat on his recruiting ability as an assistant coach during his years at Iowa State. He was responsible for landing high school players like Monte Morris, Georges Niang and Matt Thomas, as well as transfers Deonte Burton and Jameel McKay.
During his introductory news conference, Otzelberger said Wisconsin guard Tyrese Hunter would be his priority. That worked out for Otzelberger as Hunter, the No. 5-ranked point guard in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings and Allen Iverson camp MVP, reaffirmed his commitment to the Cyclones.
After priority one was secured, Otzelberger hit the transfer portal hard. Thanks to the blanket waiver from the NCAA, players could transfer without having to sit out a year, which meant players swarmed to the portal seeking fresh starts, greener pastures, new opportunities and everything in between.
Otzelberger reeled in six transfers to completely reshape Iowa State’s roster.
He got proven players from power conferences like 6-foot-4 Izaiah Brockington, 6-8 Aljaz Kunc and 6-4 Gabe Kalscheur. Brockington averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds for Penn State, Kunc averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds at Washington State and Kalscheur averaged 9.1 points at Minnesota. All three were juniors last season.
Otzelberger also got guys who showed promise but wanted a change of scenery from their previous spot, like 6-9 Tristan Enaruna and 6-9 Robert Jones.
Enaruna was a four-star recruit who committed to Kansas out of high school. His stint at Kansas was hit and miss. He averaged just 2.8 points, but he had games that showed why he was a highly-rated high school prospect. Against TCU last season as a sophomore, he had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and seven rebounds.
Jones transferred to Iowa State from Denver after a successful sophomore season where he averaged 9.1 points and five rebounds. He’s unproven at the power-conference level but had quite a bit of sustained success at Denver.
The final transfer Otzelberger brought in was one he and Iowa State fans are familiar with. Caleb Grill committed to Otzelberger at South Dakota State before Otzelberger left for UNLV. When he left, Grill committed to Iowa State.
After one year with the Cyclones, Grill transferred to UNLV to be with Otzelberger. Now that Otzelberger returned to Ames, so has Grill.
Grill averaged 9.1 points last season for the Runnin’ Rebels, up from 2.1 when he was a freshman at Iowa State. Grill will need a waiver to play next season as the blanket waiver applies to one-time transfers and not players who are transferring back to their original school.
The common thread from Otzelberger’s transfers is their length.
The Cyclones haven’t had four players taller than 6-9 in a decade. Now, they’ll have Foster who is 7-0, Conditt who is 6-10, and the 6-9 Jones and Enaruna.
Otzelberger will have two highly-touted, but unproven young players in Foster and Hunter as well as Blake Hinson, who transferred from Ole Miss last season. The 6-7 Hinson was an impressive player at Ole Miss, averaging 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds.
The trio of Hunter, Foster and Hinson could give Iowa State dynamic players and scorers at the guard, forward and center positions. The key will be to get those players to play at the level they’re capable of while getting the rest of the guys to fill in around them.
It’s impossible to know if he’ll be able to do that in just one offseason, but one thing's for certain — this is a vastly different Iowa State roster than the one that went winless last season.
“As a coach, your job is to put people together and put a team together so the collective unit is better than the individuals,” Otzelberger said. “I’m excited to get with them and learn about their relationships and connections so I can begin putting that puzzle together.”