Babb Brothers: Same name, different game

Sophomore Nick Weiler-Babb goes up for a dunk during Hilton Madness on Friday in the Hilton Coliseum. 

Chris Wolff

It’s late July in Ames and the summer school sessions are coming to a close— except at the Sukup Basketball Complex, where class is still in session.

The professor is Chris Babb, a former Cyclone and fan favorite, who earned a reputation as one of the fiercest defenders in the Big 12 Conference before going onto an NBA career.

The student is Nick Weiler-Babb, Chris’ little brother and a current Cyclone, who spent his freshman season at Arkansas before transferring to his older brother’s alma mater.

The subject – basketball – is one in which both are well versed. The two, professor and student, took to the practice court. Today wouldn’t be a lecture. It would be a test, a one-on-one competition. Iowa State players crowded the sidelines to watch.

Older brother vs. younger brother.

NBA vs. college.

Professor vs. student.

The Babb brothers rarely played competitive games of one-on-one growing up. Chris is six years older than Nick, which made for some uncompetitive matchups. In recent years, the skill gap has narrowed.

While Chris continues to pursue an NBA career, the two have spent the last couple of summers working out together.

“It’s been some competitive workouts, too,” Chris said. “As an older brother, that’s a great feeling, and I know he enjoys it, too.”

After dropping game one at Sukup, Chris recovered, winning the next two games of the series.

“I think that might have been the first time he really beat me,” Chris said of game one. “He didn’t miss a shot.”

Chris might have won the series, but Nick had passed the test.

Chris had NBA stints with the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics and currently plays overseas. 

While Chris continues to pursue a professional career on the court, Nick is currently stuck on the sidelines. Per NCAA transfer rules, Nick will have to sit out the entire year.

“The toughest thing to do is sit out,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said.

But the delay will probably be advantageous to Nick and the Cyclones. Iowa State welcomes back a stacked returning roster this season, and minutes might have been scarce for Nick.

With four seniors graduating and junior Monte Morris likely flirting with the NBA after this season, Nick will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact when he becomes eligible next season.

While Nick has followed in his brother’s footsteps to Ames, fans shouldn’t expect the same style of play from the two.

“He’s a different player than I am,” Chris said. “He’s an athlete, man. I’m a hard-nosed, pit bull kind of guy. He’s got a lot of athleticism. He’s smooth. He can shoot the ball, he can handle it, he sees the game really well. I love watching him play.”

Chris will have to wait a year before he can watch his brother take the court at Hilton Coliseum, a place that houses fond memories for Chris.

“Any game at Hilton was a great experience,” Chris said. “I can’t wait to get there and watch him play. I’ll definitely plan on being courtside when it’s his time to suit up.”

Nick is no stranger to Hilton’s magic and allure. He attended plenty of Chris’ games and got to know what Iowa State was all about.

The familiarity with the program and with guys like Georges Niang and Naz Mitrou-Long, who were freshmen during Chris’ final season with Iowa State, was a big reason why Nick chose to transfer into the program.

“It’s hard to describe in words just how lucky I am to be in this position,” Nick said. “Especially because [Chris] was successful here, all the fans loved him and now that I’m here, they’re kind of like, ‘Oh, you’re Chris’ brother. Well, hopefully we’ll like you as much as him.’

“It’s kind of a hard spot to fill from the fan’s perspective, but I feel like [Chris] left me in a good place and [with] a good name.”

It’ll be a wait-and-see game as to whether Nick matches his brother’s Iowa State stardom. But, if that one-on-one battle between the Babb brothers was any indication, Nick is quickly closing the gap between professor and student.

“There is a little sibling rivalry,” Nick said. “I don’t really feel any pressure to be as good as him or better than him, I feel like it’s just making a name for myself more than following in his footsteps.”