Douglas: Losing Bolton means the short-term won’t be pretty

Iowa State guard Rasir Bolton fights through contact as he goes toward the rim against then-No. 17 West Virginia on Feb. 2.

Zane Douglas

No one that is a fan of Iowa State men’s basketball needs me to tell them this next year will be a rebuild.

The team won just two games in the 2020-21 season, and the current recruiting class now consists of just one player.

But on the flip side, it was going to be a better season — that is until the news broke that Rasir Bolton, team leader and leading scorer from a season ago, would be transferring.

The details of the transfer are unknown.

Bolton is listed as a graduate transfer and in a tweet to Iowa State fans, he noted that he graduated early from Iowa State.

“On March 11th, I stated my continued commitment to CyclONEnation, I later learned that every decision is not ours to make,” Bolton said in the tweet Tuesday.

Whatever his reason, he is the least palatable of the losses the Cyclones have sustained after parting ways with six-year Head Coach Steve Prohm and replacing him with T.J. Otzelberger.

Aside from the facts that Bolton was Iowa State’s leader in points per game, assists per game and rebounds per game, saw a big uptick in field-goal percentage efficiency and looked to still have at least one year remaining with the team, Bolton was also key in his ability to play point guard.

The point guard position was a huge issue for Iowa State, and it really showed when Bolton missed some games. This offseason, the team has barely addressed that.

The only point guard on the roster for next season could end up being freshman Tyrese Hunter, who will have his work cut out for him as a small guard trying to lead an offense in the Big 12.

The transition could have been made a lot easier if Bolton stayed, but Hunter will be thrown into the fire with the team’s leading scorer now headed elsewhere.

Bolton would’ve been out the door soon, but his lasting impact could’ve been in helping to ease in the next wave of Cyclone talent that comes into the program.

That is not Bolton’s responsibility, and it shouldn’t be, but him leaving handcuffs how creative Otzelberger can get with his lineups.

The pickups of Aljaž Kunc and Robert Jones are solid adds to secure the front court, especially with Solomon Young on his way out, but the guard play now got worse, and immediate positive momentum in that area isn’t really in sight behind Hunter.

It’s important to note that Hunter should be more than capable as a player coming in as a top-50 recruit.

The other aspect of his leaving that will hurt the team is just how competitive the next season will look.

Like I said, the Cyclones weren’t rolling in with expectations of finishing in the top third of the Big 12, but the roster was actually looking pretty good with Bolton still as a piece.

Iowa State lost Xavier Foster to injury before he really even got his feet wet in college basketball, so the addition of him and Hunter will help, but the Cyclones will also get Jones and Kunc as transfers, along with Blake Hinson, who missed the 2020-21 season with an injury.

That’s a plethora of talent that could’ve improved a banged up and underperforming team. Now those same players will have to make up the loss of the best player on last season’s team as an added bonus to being tasked with dragging a two-win program out of the mud.

Bolton’s departure seals Iowa State’s long-term rebuild and threatens to put a dent in future plans.