Men’s basketball preseason roster breakdown: Frontcourt

George Conditt IV stands in Hilton Coliseum during Iowa State’s 67-53 loss to then No. 1 Baylor on Jan 29. 

Matt Belinson

On paper, Iowa State men’s basketball will have plenty of young and unfamiliar names to bring into the fold for the 2020-21 season. 

With just three returning starters from a season ago on the roster, opportunities will be ever-present on a team that comes into this season with more outside skepticism than hope about what this roster will bring once the season begins.

It’s going to be a long process to work through, no question, with a backcourt that brought in plenty of ready-to-start transfers and recruits into the mix during the offseason. 

Flip over to the frontcourt for Iowa State, and roles for the 2020-21 season look to be a little more defined, again, at least on paper.

Iowa State Head Coach Steve Prohm gave high praise to each member of Iowa State’s frontcourt at media day Nov. 5, with the sixth-year head coach expecting big improvements from returning faces and not throwing out the possibility of young guys jumping into big minutes.

Solomon Young

One of the three starters returning from a season ago is redshirt senior Solomon Young. 

In a 2019-20 season that had almost every key Cyclone go down at some point due to injury, Young’s consistent presence in the post helped Iowa State stay competitive in many games. 

Young averaged 10 points — a career-high — along with four rebounds per game last season. 

It was the first season where Young was able to avoid injury and stay on the floor, which led to his productive season as one of Iowa State’s leading big men throughout the season.

Flash forward to this year and Young will most likely be the team’s lone big in the starting lineup, with Prohm detailing to the media Iowa State would like to play smaller this season as opposed to its two big lineup a season ago with Michael Jacobson and Young.

Young is the smallest of the three main big men for Iowa State this year, standing at 6 foot 8 inches. His size was exposed at times last season, as bigger teams like Kansas and Baylor took control of the glass when facing him. 

But with Big (no pun intended) 12 forces like Udoka Azubuike, Freddie Gillespie and Jericho Sims out of the conference, Young could take a big leap in getting better positioning and points in the post and will be one of the most experienced forwards in the league.

And with COVID-19 not leaving the picture any time soon, having a steady and dependable piece like Young is a big plus for Iowa State this season with so many players still needing to find their roles.

George Conditt IV

As media day came to a close, one message was hammered home: George Conditt needs to take the next step this season.

Conditt’s first 13 games of the 2019-20 season were eye-popping, with the 6-foot-10-inch forward averaging 2.7 blocks a game and scoring seven times in double figures.

And then, Conditt’s production, and subsequent minutes, took a major dip.

Conditt scored over eight points one time after Iowa State’s conference opener against TCU on Jan. 4. 

“He’s gotta challenge himself to change shots at the rim,” Prohm said. “He needs to take a step, and I’ve talked to him about that and he knows that.”

In order for Conditt to become the best version of himself for Iowa State, Prohm said he’ll need to be able to rim-run consistently, crash the glass and grab at least three offensive rebounds a night.

And if Iowa State does move forward with its smaller lineup, Conditt could thrive where he has four shooters around him spacing the floor, leaving him one-on-one down low. 

Prohm would like Conditt to be a seven-to-nine rebound guy who can work through ball screens and pick and roll, one of the offensive strengths he displayed last season.

“He’s pushing me to be the player that I know, personally, I can be, and he knows who I can be, so he’s pushing me to that point,” Conditt said. “I’m trying to respond well to it. I just gotta bring my defensive presence this year; it has to be huge.”

Xavier Foster

Iowa State is coming into this season with very little expectations, but one of few bright spots to watch will be four-star recruit Xavier Foster and how he fits into a crowded lineup.

Foster, a 7-foot forward from Oskaloosa, Iowa, was the big signing for Iowa State this offseason in its 2020-21 recruiting class.

Foster averaged 23.4 points per game, 3.4 blocks and 9.7 rebounds in high school in Oskaloosa. And while those numbers jump off the page, Prohm and teammates said it should take time for a young player like Foster to get comfortable with the physicality and speed of Big 12 basketball.

One wrinkle Foster could bring to the table in the frontcourt is the ability to hit 3s, something Iowa State’s bigs have lacked for a long time. 

Foster will have spare minutes to begin the season with returning big men like Young and Conditt above him on the depth chart, but with time, the young recruit could very well get his chance faster than some may think.

Javan Johnson

Another piece Prohm and his staff will have to watch is Troy transfer Javan Johnson.

Johnson sat out all of the 2019-20 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but now, with his time on the bench over, Johnson is primed to be a key contributor for the Cyclones.

Johnson said he has had reps at the point guard spot, at the small-ball four and in the frontcourt. From what it sounded like Nov. 6, expect to see Johnson on the floor in some capacity, but where on the frontcourt is a true mystery with the season three weeks away.

“Man, it’s lovely,” Johnson said. “I’m glad to be able to finally play and show you guys what I can do.”

Dudley Blackwell

The last member of Iowa State’s 2020-21 frontcourt is freshman Dudley Blackwell, a 6-foot-6-inch forward from Miami.

Blackwell averaged 12.2 points per game, 4.1 assists and 7.3 rebounds a game in his senior season in high school.

Blackwell will have a tough road to climb in order to get meaningful minutes this season with so many names above him on the depth chart.

However, Prohm praised the freshman class for their athleticism and size, so if Young or Conditt lose their production, Blackwell could sneak into the mix as the main big man in the frontcourt.