Belinson: Solomon Young is the answer for Iowa State

Solomon Young stands below the basket in Iowa State’s 67-53 loss to No.1 Baylor on Jan. 29, 2020.

Matt Belinson

With the college basketball world and college sports in a complete standstill during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there is finally time to really dig deep into everything that went wrong for the 2019-20 season for Iowa State men’s basketball.

And there was plenty wrong in Ames, Iowa, last season, from Tyrese Haliburton’s broken wrist, going 0-11 on the road and jumbled lineups with inconsistent play, which is why I wouldn’t blame you for being worried about what the future holds for the 2020-21 season. 

But, in my digging through the mounds of garbage and constant disappointment that was the 2019-20 season for Iowa State men’s basketball, a shining beacon of light appeared.

With 16 games in double figures, averaging 9.8 points per game while shooting a team-high 54.5 percent from the field in conference play last season, the answer that can give Steve Prohm and the Cyclones a chance next season seemed so clear, I was kind of shocked it took me this long to see what it was.

His name is Solomon Young.

Haliburton’s rising draft stock and then eventual broken wrist took the headlines away from his teammates last season, making the replacement point guard in Haliburton’s shoes the biggest question among the media and fanbase, but make no mistake, Young had himself a very impressive season for Prohm, and I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing.

Young’s quiet and reserved demeanor give off the impression he isn’t as important as he is to the Cyclones, which makes him an easy piece to forget amongst the crowded field of guards that Iowa State has had over the past two seasons. While Prentiss Nixon, Haliburton and Rasir Bolton took most of the space in my angles and takeaways, I should have been focusing on Young and how quietly — quite on brand — efficient he was last season.

Young averaged a decent 20.8 minutes a game last season and shot 53.8 percent from the field, with six games scoring 15 points or more and three games with 20 points or more.

His hook shot and soft touch around the basket as well as his ability to draw contact showed up a lot last season. While Young can lack the footwork and size a true big man needs in the paint compared to some of his counterparts in the Big 12, he more than made up for it in his ability to take advantage of smaller defenders and win most often when he backed people down.

Young’s consistent presence down low made it easy-going for the junior at the free-throw line, ending his season with 78.5 percent clip, second on the team behind Bolton and the best among the two main big men of the Cyclones in Michael Jacobson and George Conditt. 

Young’s free-throw line success impressed Haliburton earlier in the season after Young dropped a career-high 27 points against Oklahoma State on Jan. 21.

But why do I think Young is the answer for Iowa State next season? It’s simple. Everyone else is a wildcard.

Jacobson is gone after three years as a big member of the lineup for Prohm, Conditt disappeared for most of last season, Javan Johnson is a complete mystery to us all and the added goods for the Cyclones are anything but a certainty.

To start off simply, Xavier Foster, Dudley Blackwell and Darlinstone Dubar aren’t a sure thing for Prohm and the Cyclones, not to say that they can’t come in and help right away, but betting on 18-year-olds to immediately adjust to the college level would not be wise from a fan’s perspective.

Johnson’s role in the future plans for Iowa State remain to be seen, although Prohm said nice things about the Troy transfer throughout the season. Per the NCAA transfer rules, Johnson had to sit out all of last season, so I’d like to think Johnson is going to be in the mix in the front court for Iowa State next season, but if we saw one thing last year, Prohm and his lineup decisions are anything but a sure thing. 

Outside of what we don’t know, we learned a lot about Conditt this past season. In all likelihood, Conditt will be a big member for Prohm’s bench, but last season showed he is not a reliable answer, making Young’s job as the being the reliable post threat that he was last season so important for the future. 

Don’t let Conditt’s 55.3 field goal percentage fool you; he went missing for the Cyclones after the conference-opener at TCU on Jan. 4.

Conditt had no games in double figures for the rest of the year, totaling 15 blocks from Jan. 4 till end of the year, after starting with 35 blocks through his first 12 games.

Young entered the starting lineup for Conditt after Young’s efficiency off the bench began to clearly outmatch Conditt’s poor offensive and defensive presence on the floor, leading to Young flipping the switch in the latter half of the season for the Cyclones.

Outside of the current situation for Iowa State men’s basketball, the time is now for Young to take control of the Big 12 conference like the senior he is.

Udoka Azubuike, the monster that has kept the rest of the Big 12 up at night over the last four seasons, is finally a senior and leaving Kansas, getting rid of the matchup nightmare that Young ran into in both matchups with the Jayhawks last season.

Freddie Gillespie and Macio Teague are both leaving Baylor, leaving Young as one of the last veteran big men the Big 12 conference has to offer, and luckily for Iowa State, he gets to stick around one more season. It’s Young’s turn to become a presence opponents fear when they face the Cyclones.

Now, while I’m sure the main focus in the offseason will be on adding point guard depth to a roster in need of reinforcements, I believe Young’s presence and consistent play will be the glue that keeps Iowa State together next season; at least, it needs to be.

Prohm said time and time again last season amidst the struggles that he had game plans where the number one priority was getting the ball down low to Young, and that was when Haliburton was still in the picture.

But now, Iowa State is about to enter a new reality, and it can’t run away from it forever. It can grab all the point guards it wants from transfers and recruiting classes, but I think for next season, point guards are going to have to take a backseat to who the real answer is. 

If Iowa State is going to be successful next season, Solomon Young needs to be the topic of conversation on everyone’s mind involved in Iowa State men’s basketball.