Iowa State begins on a new path to open 2021 season

Iowa State men’s basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger talks to reporters during media day on Oct. 13.

Matt Belinson

Welcome to the T.J. Otzelberger era.

Iowa State men’s basketball will usher in the start of a new direction for the program with an overhauled, new-look roster and a new coaching staff. And a new mindset for good measure.

It all begins 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum against Kennesaw State for Otzelberger and the Cyclones — with a stark reminder of where the program found itself last season on the minds of the first year head coach. 

The 2020-21 season was rough on everyone, and although Otzelberger wasn’t part of the 2-22, 0-18 record, he’s confident in his group to come out of the gates with improved energy and intensity compared to previous teams.

“We’re a team, we need to set the tone with our defense,” Otzelberger said. “Our aggressiveness, our ball pressure, speeding our opponents up. We’re at our best when we’re generating turnovers and long rebounds and we’re going in transition.”

Barring a last minute change, Otzelberger said health-wise, Iowa State is good to go, and everybody is available for Tuesday night.

The Cyclones played in two private scrimmages to see where the roster of just 10 scholarship players stands and how everyone fits in given looks. The takeaways? Otzelberger feels confident the Cyclones can work with different combinations and find flexibility with the limited numbers they have.

“You’ll notice the energy immediately when we come out on the floor,” Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington said. “We’re going to come out and try and pressure teams, try to rattle them.”

Brockington is one of six transfers brought into the program in the off-season, bringing 24 starts from Penn State in 2020-21 season. He was second on the Nittany Lions in scoring at 12.6 points per game and he reached double figures in 18 games.

While his scoring averages have increased each year he’s played, Brockington wants to pride himself on being a mismatch on both ends of the floor using his six-foot-four size.

“I feel like I’m comfortable really anywhere on the court. I just try to do my job and be productive,” Brockington said.

The senior transfer is expected to play significant minutes for this year’s team, whether it be at the four in small-ball lineups or at the three.

Again, Otzelberger and his players preach adjustments on the fly if needed and are more than comfortable trying new things on a given night.

“We’re not trying things, we feel like guys have earned certain roles and responsibilities,” Otzelberger said. “I also would believe we’re probably going to have different starting lineups.”

The first-year head coach said there isn’t a ton of separation between who is No. 1 and No. 3 on the depth chart at any given spot. With that mindset, Otzelberger doesn’t want fans, and even his players, to get caught up in who starts on a given night in the opening stretch of the season.

Tristan Enaruna, like Brockington, transferred into the program with potential to build off of. The junior transfer from Kansas got playing time in 55 games in his time in Lawrence, but saw limited production at 2.5 ppg in his two seasons.

Keeping in line with the talk of flexibility and changing roles, Enaruna has gotten chances to play at the small-ball four and also the five in certain rotations.

“He’s pretty much giving me a lot of freedom to kind of do what I’m good at,” Enaruna said of Otzelberger’s roster building.

He’s the only Cyclone on the roster listed as both a guard and a forward, giving Iowa State the freedom to pick and choose his assignments on a given night. Enaruna is embracing the culture of toughness and hard-nosed basketball Otzelberger has worked to bring into his vision of the program. He’s hoping to make plays on the glass, fight for possessions and make an impact come Tuesday night and going forward.

“We’ve been working hard the past couple months. We’re super excited to get out there,” Enaruna said.