Long, winding road leads Zoran Talley Jr. to Ames

Redshirt junior forward Zoran Talley Jr., a newcomer to the Cyclones from Old Dominion, during Men’s Basketball Media Day on Oct. 17.

Aaron Marner

Ever since Fred Hoiberg took over as the head coach at Iowa State in 2010, graduate transfers have been instrumental to Iowa State’s success. That hasn’t changed since Steve Prohm took over two seasons ago, either.

Darrell Bowie, DeAndre Kane, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Jake Anderson headline the group of recent graduate transfers to don the Cardinal and Gold, all players who have had prominent roles for important Cyclone teams.

The latest case of an Iowa State graduate transfer — and perhaps the most intriguing — is redshirt junior forward Zoran Talley Jr.

Getting to Iowa State

Talley, who played two seasons at Old Dominion after redshirting his first year, graduated from the university in just three years and is immediately eligible for the Cyclones this season. But who is Zoran Talley Jr., how did he get here and what kind of role will he play for Iowa State?

Talley was suspended twice in his three years as a Monarch, once for three games and then for five games. He was eventually dismissed from the program after the season ended, but his coach still vouched for him when Talley began the transfer process.

“I was talking to [Old Dominion coach] Jeff Jones,” Prohm said. “And he said ‘hey, I’ve got a guy that’s leaving our program. You need to recruit him.’”

Prohm said the coaching staff jumped on Talley right away and recruited him all summer long while he took classes.

Once more schools became aware that he was available, Talley’s name popped up in various places as possible landing spots. The teams didn’t know if he would be eligible to play right away or if he would lose a year of eligibility while sitting out his first season.

“Man, it was kinda hectic and crazy,” Talley said of his path to Ames. “Once it really got out there [that he was transferring] it started getting crazy. More schools calling, calling daily. The whole summer was basically recruiting and I was still doing classes.”

The classes he’s talking about? Talley took a grand total of 27 credits during the summer. Since he had already redshirted, Talley would have lost a year of eligibility if he decided to transfer without graduating, thanks to NCAA rules.

Talley knew if he could get through those final 27 credits during the summer, he would be eligible to transfer and play right away at another Division I program, such as Iowa State.

Summer classes are divided into two sections. During the first half of the summer, Talley took six classes for 18 credits. For the second half of the summer, Talley took nine credits, giving him enough to graduate and play immediately at Iowa State.

“I was literally on my laptop in my bed the whole summer,” Talley said. “I learned how if I really want to get something done, how bad I really wanted it. I got through it.”

Although Talley didn’t commit to Iowa State until July 20, he was still able to connect with some teammates. Talley already knew Marial Shayok, a transfer from Virginia who will sit out this season per NCAA rules and be eligible in 2018-19, before he committed to Iowa State.

“We had mutual friends,” Shayok said. “An old teammate, B.J. [Stith], who transferred after my first year. He went to [Old Dominion] so whenever B.J. would come visit, he’d bring Zoran.”

That connection helped Talley and Shayok hit it off when Talley took his visit to Iowa State this summer. Shayok said the two have been able to bond off the court as well as push each other on it.

Getting used to a new system

Last year, Old Dominion was one of the slowest teams in Division I by some metrics. According to KenPom, Old Dominion ranked 348th out of 351 teams in adjusted tempo.

“The tempo is much faster,” Talley said. “We practice with like 20 seconds on the shot clock. At Old Dominion we practiced with like 26… at Old Dominion it was kinda slower; get the ball to the point guard, get in the halfcourt offense, get set and slow the game down.”

With six seniors gone from a year ago and the departure of Simeon Carter via transfer, the vast majority of Iowa State’s 2017-18 roster is new, including Talley. That’s a tough spot to come into, but it also opens the window of opportunity for new guys to play right away.

In Talley’s case, he presents a skillset that nobody else on the roster possesses. At 6-foot-7, his height is a weapon, and that’s aided by his 7-foot long wingspan. His length and skillset on the offensive end may be reminiscent of Will Clyburn, who led Iowa State with 14.9 points per game in 2012-13.

“When you look at Zoran, he’s got great size,” Prohm said. “[He] can get into the paint and midrange and finish.”

Talley’s game is best-suited in the paint and around the rim. Over his two years at Old Dominion, Talley made just four three-pointers and attempted fewer than one every other game.

That didn’t hold him much back in the grand scheme of things; Talley still averaged 8.1 points per game as a freshman and upped it to 11.3 per game as a sophomore, even though he was relegated to a bench role in year two.

“Actually [coming off the bench] was good for us,” Talley said. “My role had changed and then I was actually doing better and producing more with my stats coming off the bench.”

Talley’s point is certainly correct if you ask the rest of Conference USA. He was named Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year after his sophomore campaign.

One issue for Iowa State this year is that, aside from Solomon Young, there are no proven frontcourt players. In that sense, Talley fits right in like the final puzzle piece.

“At Old Dominion, I played three and four,” Talley said. “Small-ball is a big thing in basketball right now so I’m at the three, then once small-ball comes into play, that’s when I go down to the four.”

Talley said his main goal is to win a Big 12 Championship. After all, he said, Iowa State has a winning tradition and he wanted to be a part of that.

“I want a ring,” Talley said. “And I’ve been saying that ever since high school and I haven’t gotten one. I want a ring.”

Through redshirting, being benched, being suspended, being dropped from the program and taking 27 credits in one summer, it’s clear that Talley’s path to Ames hasn’t been normal. And that’s fine with him.

“I’m just blessed with this opportunity,” Talley said. “I’m just gonna take it all in and just enjoy every last minute of it.”