One coaching axiom is “don’t follow the legend.” Whether it’s John Wooden or Bob Knight or – sometime in our lifetime – Mike Krzyzewski, the next coach following The Man often finds that it’s better to rent than buy.
So what about replacing The Favorite Son? Steve Prohm didn’t exactly have a season pass, but he definitely survived in year one taking over for Fred Hoiberg, aka The Mayor. Hoiberg grew up in Ames and played for the Cyclones. When he went from a rookie coach to one who led the program to a school-record four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, he went from The Mayor to The King.
When Hoiberg pursued his dream of coaching in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Iowa State selected Prohm, who had a successful four-year run at Murray State. He inherited a veteran team that would have resented a coach who planned on an extreme makeover.
“There’s no question he’s going to be judged going forward,” said former Houston player Reid Gettys, who is an analyst on ESPN’s Big 12 telecasts. “He earned credibility. He came in and took what was working and didn’t change things and he tweaked some of the things that needed some changes.
“To me, Prohm proved himself last season.”
Iowa State was coming off consecutive Big 12 Tournament titles, but the Cyclones didn’t cut down the nets in Kansas City. Senior forward Jameel McKay was suspended for two games and the team went 5-6 to close out the regular season.
However, the Cyclones reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons. The 23-12 overall record and fifth-place finish in the Big 12 standings were acceptable when balanced with March Madness success.
Now comes the hard part. Prohm will have a team in transition in year two as he goes about making ISU his program.
“Obviously I’d love to have Georges (Niang) back and that’s not possible,” Prohm said. “Everybody has to max their job out. We’ve just got to slowly close the gaps of what he left.”
What the Cyclones have “left” is perhaps the Big 12’s best backcourt – and that includes Kansas. The senior trio of point guard Monte Morris and wings Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long could easily combine to average 45-plus points per game.
A shoulder injury that limited Morris the last month of last season convinced him to return to Ames for his senior season. He saw the benefits of a four-year career enjoyed by Niang, Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield. Morris could earn All-American honors.
“You’re going to see me attacking and scoring way more [in ’16-17] than even I’m doing out here,” Morris said. “A lot of our offense will be me making plays. Some of it will be in the pick-and-roll; some of it will be me just putting my head down and getting to the bucket.”
Deonte Burton is listed as a guard, but the 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior is capable of scoring from the paint and the perimeter. He might be the fourth starter after being a reserve last season.
The biggest question mark will be who serves as a post scorer, rebounder and rim protector. Seniors Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie plus freshmen Solomon Young and Cameron Lard are all candidates – and at this point, mystery men.
“You know what you’re getting from the backcourt and you’re not going to replace Georges Niang,” Gettys said. “The challenge is what will Iowa State get in terms of production from the four and five position. If they can find the players at those spots, they’ve got the chance to be in the top three or four in the Big 12.”
Gettys believed that Prohm did a masterful job of coaching the Cyclones through the rough spots of last season. There’s little doubt that he can handle the Xs and Os. Apparently he can recruit the Jimmys and the Joes.
Terrence Lewis, a four-star wing from Milwaukee’s Riverside High School, has verbally committed to Iowa State’s Class of 2017. The 6-foot-6 Lewis went with the Cyclones over scholarship offers from Illinois, Marquette, UNLV, Auburn, Minnesota, Memphis, Minnesota and Georgia Tech. With four seniors departing after the 2016-’17 season, getting an early commitment from a top-100 player was a significant step.
Iowa State fans will always embrace and revere Fred Hoiberg. Steve Prohm knows he’ll never be The Mayor in Ames. What he needs to do is continue to prove what he did last season – that he’s The Coach.