Steve Prohm said Iowa State players should avoid all social gatherings
Des Moines Register
The scene could have been at the Sukup Basketball Complex. Or at the Memorial Union food court. Maybe somewhere in Campustown.
This time, though, the group of Iowa State men’s basketball players weren’t gathered around a table somewhere in Ames to share a meal, but rather in Orlando, home of the NBA’s bubble and a program-best eight former Cyclones drawing checks from basketball’s highest level.
“We’ve already gotten together a handful of times,” said Matt Thomas, a 2017 Cyclone grad and member of the Toronto Raptors. “That’s been really fun. Normally we’re not around each other very much, so it’s hard to catch up and link up.
“For all of us to be in one spot, we’ve tried to take advantage of that and really get together, spend time together and it’s always fun to reminisce about all those fun memories we made at Iowa State.”
The previous program record for former players in the NBA simultaneously was six, set during the 2001-02 season. The success the Cyclones had in the 2010s, though, has led to another influx of players into the league with Thomas, Georges Niang (Utah), Monte Morris (Denver), Abdel Nader (Oklahoma City), Deonte Burton (Oklahoma City), Naz Mitrou-Long (Indiana), Talen Horton-Tucker (Los Angeles) and Marial Shayok (Philadelphia) in the bubble — the NBA’s (to this point) successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collectively, that group was on rosters that went to a total of seven NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s while winning four Big 12 tournaments. Niang is the program’s second-highest scorer all-time. Morris is the program’s winningest player as well as its steals and assists leader.
Now, they are all not only on NBA rosters, but many have carved out meaningful roles. On Monday, five Cyclones scored in NBA games, with four notching double figures and Thomas scoring a career-high.
“I always check these guys’ box scores,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, who coached all eight players. “I checked Matt’s and (it said) 37 minutes, 22 points. I was like, man, that is big-time for him.”
Thomas was 9 of 17 overall and 4 of 8 from 3-point range in Monday’s win over Milwaukee.
“I came out, hit my first shot and found a rhythm,” Thomas said. “Was kind of in that flow state. Felt like I was in the zone really from the beginning.
“Obviously playing 37 minutes — I haven’t played that much in a game since college — so playing that many minutes, a lot more opportunity. It’s easier to have a good game and get things going offensively.”
Thomas is in his rookie NBA season after spending two seasons playing in Spain. Like the rest of his Cyclone NBA brethren, the path to the NBA wasn’t linear or simple.
“Deonte played in Korea. I was in Spain. Georges, Naz and Abdul, those guys were kind of up and down from the G-League to the NBA,” Thomas said. “Monte was on a two-way (contract), and now he’s one of the best backup point guards in the entire league.
“It’s been cool to follow everyone’s individual success.”
None of the eight Cyclones were first-round draft picks, and three went undrafted.
“The cool thing is they’ve all taken different paths,” Prohm said, “but what’s won out for them is their work ethic, their character and their basketball IQ.
“Obviously they’re all unbelievable representatives for our school.”
The common denominator all those close to the program find among the eight is a commitment to work ethic for players who spanned both the Fred Hoiberg and Prohm eras in Ames.
“None of us skipped any steps,” Niang said. “I think we all held each other to a standard. (Where other people) peer pressure each other to go drinking or go out, we were peer pressuring each other to, ‘Did you get in the gym today? How many shots did you get up?’”
That was the culture that Thomas, too, credited, but also with a nod to the fun and camaraderie those groups had, with a not-so-subtle dig at his once less-than-svelte teammate.
“I remember a lot of times where maybe I was tired and wasn’t feeling like going to the gym, but Naz and Georges were going, so I’d jump in the car and go with them,” Thomas said.
“Or it would be vice versa – I was going with Naz, and Georges was trying to eat a pizza by himself and he jumped in the car.”
Such sacrifices have gone a long way.
“It worked out pretty good for us,” Niang said. “We all had pretty successful college careers and we all get paid pretty handsomely to put an orange basketball in an orange rim.”