AMES — The Iowa State men’s basketball team is winless in the Big 12 and things aren’t getting any easier.
Iowa State travels to Norman, Okla., to play No. 9 Oklahoma on Saturday at 11 a.m. (ESPN2).
The Sooners (11-5, 6-4 Big 12) were recently one of the hottest teams in the nation, beating three straight top-10 teams in Kansas, Texas and Alabama. Oklahoma lost its last game to No. 13 Texas Tech, 57-52, but the Sooners’ previous five-game winning streak speaks for itself.
The good news for the Cyclones (2-10, 0-7) is they’ll finally be back at full strength with the return of Javan Johnson from COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
It’s the first time Iowa State will have its full roster since Jan. 9.
Iowa State got Solomon Young back Tuesday in a 76-72 loss to West Virginia and he picked up right where he left off. The senior post scored 15 points and had five rebounds off the bench in 29 minutes.
“His body reacted well,” ISU Coach Steve Prohm said. “He played more minutes than I thought he’d be able to and his body handled it well.”
One thing Iowa State’s attrition aided in over the last several weeks was the development of the young players.
True freshman Jaden Walker has come on strong over the last three games, averaging 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals.
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“When he started practicing in October, he hadn’t played since February, so that was a huge learning curve,” Prohm said.
Walker, who had offseason surgery, was attempting to navigate a true freshman season in the middle of a pandemic while also rehabbing. Now that he’s finally feeling comfortable, Iowa State is beginning to see what the 6-foot-5 guard Prohm has compared to Tyrese Haliburton can do.
“His playing time has been a little bit up and down but over the last couple of weeks, he’s starting to get more comfortable,” Prohm said. “He has a very, very high upside if he continues to follow the process. He’s shown some really good moments over the last couple of games.”
Prohm is following the exact blueprint he did with Haliburton. In Haliburton’s freshman season, he mostly played off the ball to take some pressure off and to initiate and get the team into its offense.
Walker’s role has been similar up to this point, but against West Virginia, he was able to display his natural point guard instincts and got extended minutes, leading the offense. He had six points, six assists and six rebounds, showing Prohm that Walker might be ready for a bigger role.
“He has versatility and skill and can make good decisions — especially now that he’s getting more confidence over the last couple of weeks,” Prohm said. “Tyrese, when he was a freshman, he was a guard. We want ball guards that can pass, shoot and make decisions.
“When you look at our backcourt, (Walker) is the guy we need at that spot. He has a lot of versatility and can play a lot of positions on the perimeter.”