Douglas: Otzelberger needs to show more than just recruiting

Iowa State freshman Xavier Foster goes up for a dunk against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 29, 2020 at Hilton Coliseum. 

Zane Douglas

After the Cyclones parted ways with Steve Prohm as their men’s basketball head coach, the first name that popped up in the coaching search was former UNLV Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger.

It was a quick turnaround as he was officially hired just a few days after Prohm was let go. A quick hire was always Athletic Director Jamie Pollard’s goal — something he talked about in a video message to Cyclone fans after the program parted ways with Prohm.

Otzelberger has since gotten credit from former Cyclones and Iowa State Athletics for his recruiting prowess. After all, two top-50 recruits in the nation were committed to UNLV in its 2021 recruiting class.

All that being said, recruiting is not the answer for the Cyclones.

Iowa State desperately needs someone who can not only build a good team but can successfully sustain that when players leave, something Prohm always had trouble with.

Prohm’s strength was never player development, but he showed promise with the likes of Tyrese Haliburton and Rasir Bolton. However, to give Prohm the credit for the success of those players would likely be a disservice to their high work ethics.

As far as recruiting goes, Prohm was not just solid at that; he was actually pretty good, picking up Lindell Wigginton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Haliburton, Xavier Foster and Tyrese Hunter.

These are really good recruits, and while Prohm had a lot of help from his staff — Daniyal Robinson is listed as the recruiter for Hunter and Horton-Tucker and has been noted as a big part in Foster coming to Ames — Prohm clearly did a solid job landing talent.

Otzelberger being able to recruit does not equate to success, and we saw it with Prohm, which is where the former head coach had his biggest issues. The Cyclones were unable to build a team.

After the holdovers from the Fred Hoiberg era were gone, Prohm was left with the task of keeping the Cyclones as a top-tier contender in the Big 12. In three of those four years, starting in 2017-18, Iowa State was not good.

The Cyclones are 50-72 in the last four years, and 23 of those 50 wins came in a 2018-19 campaign that probably should’ve been better.

From 2017-20, Iowa State’s recruits have followed this path:

Wigginton (2017), Horton-Tucker (2018) and Haliburton (2018) left the Cyclones early for a professional career.

Terrence Lewis (2017), Zion Griffin (2018), Caleb Grill (2019), Luke Andersen (2019), Marcedus Leech (2019) and Darlinstone Dubar (2020) transferred.

That left George Conditt IV (2018), Tre Jackson (2019), Jaden Walker (2020), Foster (2020) and Dudley Blackwell (2020) as the five players in the last four recruiting classes to stick around with Iowa State, at least to this point. 

It’s hard to make a consistent team when more than half the roster leaves, and 80 percent of those who have stuck it out are underclassmen.

This is what Otzelberger needs to change.

He needs his guys to stick around for years while becoming a cohesive unit, and it starts with Walker, Foster, Blackwell and new recruit Hunter.

The Hoiberg years were littered with NBA talent, in the form of Georges Niang, Naz Mitrou-Long, Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader — the list goes on.

What made that group good was that they stuck it out and built successful careers while maintaining a healthy and efficient team.

This is absolutely not an indictment on players who leave early for professional careers, and athletes should definitely not make life decisions on anything I write. The only point here is that Otzelberger’s team needs to be built up as a group, and it needs more cohesiveness.

Recruiting is great, and good recruits can turn a program around quickly, but good team culture and team building can keep that program turned in the right direction.