Cyclones’ 2018 class set to take Big 12 by storm

George Conditt (24) blocks Simeon’s Xavier Pinson (3) at the rim in a game on February 8. Conditt is committed to Iowa State while Pinson will play his college ball for Missouri.

Aaron Marner

When Iowa State’s 2016-17 men’s basketball season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, it was the end of an era.

Monte Morris — the career leader in assists, steals and wins — was graduating. So were Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long, two of the most prolific shooters in school history. Thunderous dunker Deonte Burton was a senior as well.

While four-year transfers, junior college players and graduate transfers were a huge part of Iowa State’s success over that time, it was the high school players — Morris, Thomas, Mitrou-Long, Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim — who often made the biggest impact and served as the foundation.

Iowa State’s 2018 class may be the next in line. It’s a transformational class, one that represents a shift in recruiting. The class is Iowa State’s highest-rated of the decade and the first with four high school signees since 2012.

The class

Currently, Iowa State has four players signed for its 2018 recruiting class, all of which are high school seniors.

The class has a little bit of everything.

There’s Tyrese Haliburton, the lanky point guard from Wisconsin who has drawn comparisons to former Cyclone and NBA guard Diante Garrett. Haliburton recently won a state title in Wisconsin.

Then there’s Zion Griffin, a left-handed scoring machine from Chicago who already has a Big 12 body.

There’s also George Conditt, a 6-foot-10-inch shot-blocking machine with Iowa State in his DNA.

And, finally, Talen Horton-Tucker. Horton-Tucker has shot up over 100 spots in some recruiting rankings and he has become one of the biggest names in the nation.

The class didn’t happen overnight, of course.

How it came together

Assistant coach Daniyal Robinson was instrumental in putting together the 2018 class. Robinson is from Illinois and used to be an assistant coach at Loyola Chicago, so he knows the Chicago basketball community well.

“Since we’ve been here, coach [Steve] Prohm has put an emphasis on about a five to six-hour radius around here,” Robinson said. “We wanna try to cover as much as we can. We’ve had some success in Milwaukee and Wisconsin in the past, and also I’ve recruited Chicago over the years.”

Griffin, from Chicago, was the first commit. He announced his commitment in September 2017, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the class.

One of the things Griffin mentioned was his close contact with Prohm.

“Prohm was [recruiting] me from the beginning,” Griffin said. “When I went and visited it had that home feeling, and I was sold.”

Once Griffin was in the fold, his connections with the other recruits opened avenues. Griffin had played against Horton-Tucker and Conditt before in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments, and their proximity to each other made it an easy connection.

“It just kind of worked out where we had identified — in Talen’s case, we identified him really early,” Robinson said. “And then with George Conditt and Zion Griffin, those guys were kind of late developers.”

Iowa State formed a sort of pipeline with the Chicago recruits and Haliburton from nearby Oshkosh, Wisconsin (a three-and-a-half hour drive to Chicago). The four of them had played one another in tournaments and camps growing up.

Soon after Griffin committed, Haliburton and Conditt followed suit. By the time Hilton Madness rolled around in mid-October, all four were set to visit with three already in the fold. Horton-Tucker committed shortly after his visit.

“It’s where I felt I was comfortable,” Horton-Tucker said. “[Iowa State] wasn’t in a rush. They probably missed one game all summer [during AAU].

“They just kept up a good relationship with me and they were showing interest.”

Looking ahead

With one scholarship still remaining, Iowa State has a few options. But with four players already signed from the high school ranks, the Cyclones may have found their foundation for years to come.

Just like Ejim, Niang, Mitrou-Long, Morris and Thomas before them, the 2018 class has talent in front of them. While the 2018 players will probably want to play right away, they may be better suited to come off the bench as freshmen. Only three freshmen this decade — Ejim in 2010, Thomas in 2013 and Lindell Wigginton in 2017 — have started their first game in a Cyclone uniform.

That means Morris, Niang and Mitrou-Long, all of whom have played NBA minutes, started their college careers as bench players. And that’s the lesson for the 2018 class.

“That’s always a challenge for these young guys when they get in the program,” Robinson said. “Even the guys that have an opportunity to play a lot … there’s definitely a learning curve for those guys. You have to just lay the foundation for them.

“All four of those guys that come in, you have to find different ways to try to motivate them to see the bigger picture.”