AMES — Sophomore forward Zion Griffin was the second-highest rated recruit in Iowa State’s 28th-ranked recruiting class of 2018.
He was behind only Talen Horton-Tucker in the rankings.
But a couple injuries — an MCL injury and a foot injury — stunted his development.
Coach Steve Prohm says the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Griffin is ready for a breakout season.
“If you talk about one guy who made the biggest step, it’s without a doubt Zion Griffin,” Prohm said. “Zion Griffin has been terrific. He’s totally bought into his role — make 3s, get good open shots and go to the glass every single time. He’s playing with great athleticism and great purpose. He’s healthy and his work ethic has been really good. I’m really proud of him because he’s made a huge, huge step.”
One thing that’s helped Griffin is reshaping his body. He’s always been 220 pounds, but when he came to Ames he had some fat on him — not Georges Niang levels of heft, but some heft.
“I actually gained muscle mass. When I came in I was 220, but I had a little gut — not going to lie,” Griffin said with a laugh. “Now I’m 220 and there’s no gut. I can tell I’ve gotten a lot bigger since last year. I stayed focused in the weight room and I made sure I was eating right.”
Griffin averaged just 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds last season, but one thing Prohm always noticed with Griffin was his effort.
“When I threw Zion into games last year and watched tape and graded tape, he made mistakes, he missed shots, but his energy was always really good and his purpose was always really good,” Prohm said. “You know you’re going to get hustle and energy from him.”
That’s something Griffin’s parents instilled in him as a young player growing up.
“I was always a competitor,” Griffin said. “The severity of the situation never needed to be addressed with me — I was out competing no matter what.”
Now, Prohm said he just needs to mature as a basketball player.
Part of that is watching film and understanding how he can improve.
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“When you’re in practice, you feel like you’re doing something right or you don’t know if you’re doing something wrong,” Griffin said. “So to be able to go back and look and see how I am on the floor, it helps a lot. If I missed a rotation — even just a little bit — it helps me catch the little things and details.”
Watching film also helped him refine his jump shot. He said he noticed he wasn’t getting consistent lift — he shot just 24 percent from 3-point range last season — so he went back to the floor and kept shooting until the lift was consistent and natural.
“He’s not a small-ball four but he’s not a traditional four, either,” Prohm said. “He’s put a lot of time into his body — his body looks great. He’s gotten to where he can really make shots and make 3s.
“Our biggest thing this year is our team has to find different ways to score. Can we score on the offensive glass? Zion is sold out on going to the glass. He’s the best offensive rebounder on the team. And he’s making shots. He’s really responded well. On both ends he’s rebounding and he’s making shots — that’s what he has to do for us.”