AMES — At the beginning of the basketball season, Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm grabbed two green disposable Gatorade cups.
He taped one cup and wrote “Swagger” on it. On the other, he taped it and wrote “Confidence.”
Prohm has a young team that got younger fast due to injuries and suspensions. All four true freshmen are playing bigger-than-expected roles. And Prohm needed a way to keep their confidence and swagger up.
As they would come in to practice, Prohm “threw” swagger and confidence on them out of the cups.
Yes, it’s cheesy.
“At first it was kind of like a, ‘What are you doing?’” senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb said with a laugh. “We looked at him and everybody started laughing.”
But as the season has gone on, the players have embraced the two cups.
“Now, everybody has bought into it,” Weiler-Babb said. “Even something as small as a swagger and confidence cup, people have bought into it. You pour it on somebody and it really does give them confidence and that swagger about them.”
Weiler-Babb said it’s grown into something deeper, too. You’re not just throwing swagger and confidence at guys, you have to pour yourself into the “cup” (the team).
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“At the end of the day, you just have to have confidence in yourself and the team as a whole,” he said. “Pouring into it is just a small little piece of what (the cups) stand for.”
Freshman big man George Conditt loves it. It reminds him of the scene in the movie “Space Jam” where Bugs Bunny fills Michael Jordan’s water bottle with plain tap water but wrote “Michael’s Secret Stuff” on the bottle and passed the bottle around to all the Looney Toones to make them believe they were drinking something special to get their confidence up before they played the “Monstars.”
On Thursday, the Cyclones’ freshmen might need an extra dose from the confidence and swagger cups as Iowa State (7-1) travels to Iowa City to play No. 19 Iowa (6-2, 0-2 Big Ten) in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It’ll be the freshmen’s first true road game — against an in-state rival no less.
“I think this is a great challenge for (the freshmen) and for (the team),” Prohm said. “I think they’ll be fine. We have to understand that they’ll face some adversity whether that’s a tough call, a turnover, you’re trailing, you’re going to have to whether the storm of a run. Can we be focused in timeouts?
“I think the freshmen enjoy the moment and I think they take a lot of pride in playing for Iowa State, so I think they’re going to have a lot of fun over there. They just need to have fun and play and not worry about all the other stuff.”
Prohm has said multiple times this season how much he likes the attitude, demeanor and personality of this freshman class.
Forward Michael Jacobson expects to see the same players on Thursday as he’s seen through the first eight games. He doesn’t believe the moment will be too big for the young freshmen.
Wing Talen Horton-Tucker is Iowa State’s third leading scorer at 14.5 points per game and the second leading rebounder at 6.0 per game. He’s also proven to be a good defender. He has 17 steals in eight games and Prohm said he leads the team in charges taken.
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Guard Tyrese Haliburton is the spark plug off the bunch. Jacobson said he’s never seen Haliburton not smiling.
“Tyrese is a guy who brings a ton of energy, great positive attitude and never gets down on himself,” Jacobson said. “We love having him around.”
Haliburton averages 7.4 points, shooting 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. He also averages five rebounds and three assists. To go along with his offensive output, he’s recorded 18 steals and blocked nine shots.
Conditt hasn’t quite developed his offensive game yet, but he’s proven to be a force on the defensive end. The 6-foot-10 freshman averages just 10 minutes per game, but he’s averaging nearly two blocks per game in those 10 minutes. In the last game against North Dakota State, Conditt blocked five shots in 10 minutes.
“George has come off the bench and provided good minutes and has blocked a ton of shots,” Jacobson said. “He brings that different aspect that maybe I don’t bring.”
Lastly, Zion Griffin is a versatile wing defender who also averages 10 minutes per game. He’s coming off MCL surgery, but he’s shown he still has his explosiveness, pulling down three rebounds per game in just 10 minutes.
“This freshman class, the thing I like about them is I think they embody what Iowa State is about, what I want my programs to be about,” Prohm said. “They just love to play.”
Jacobson said the joy and youthful abandon that they play with has actually helped him, too.
“It helps me enjoy it and go out there relaxed ready to play,” Jacobson said. “I think that’s one of the things we have to do. We have to stay loose and stay confident.”
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