Transfers help write another successful chapter in ISU basketball


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Redshirt junior forward Jameel McKay puts up a shot during the Big 12 Championship semifinal game against Oklahoma on March 13 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The Cyclones defeated the Sooners 67-65 to advance to the final championship game against Kansas on March 14. McKay had 12 points and nine rebounds for Iowa State.

Max Dible

Kansas City, Mo.—Transfer players have played a massive role in the success the ISU men’s basketball team has found during the last half decade.

They have helped draw in more traditional talent, helped Iowa State become a four-time consecutive NCAA tournament participant and on Friday at the Sprint Center, they propelled the Cyclones to their second straight Big 12 tournament championship appearance.

Redshirt junior Jameel McKay was the catalyst for No. 13 Iowa State in its 67-65 victory against No. 15 Oklahoma on a night when the importance of every play was magnified by the close nature of the contest. McKay opened the half with six straight points, helping spur a 9-0 ISU run that stretched the team’s lead to seven points early in the latter half.

“I came out second half and just wanted to bring more energy and be more positive,” McKay said.

McKay scored 12 points, snatched nine boards and amassed two blocks against the fearsome front-line of Oklahoma, pushing Iowa State to a 35-24 advantage in the category of points in the paint.

“I had a nice little chat with Jameel at halftime,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg. “Jameel is just, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t ever get tired. He can play all day. Not many people have that….but that’s what defines him. That’s what makes him who he is.”

Not only did McKay muster energy of his own, but inspired it in a rowdy crowd inside the Sprint Center that was clad mostly in cardinal and gold. On several occasions, McKay—now a fan favorite—beckoned the crowd to its feet, and fans’ voices to the highest decibel level their vocal chords could withstand.

“I always tell the players, especially when we get a big turnout like this with fans, ‘let’s keep them on our side and let’s make it uncomfortable for the opposing team,'” McKay said. “We feed off their energy, they feed off our energy, and it just gives us a spark that a lot of teams in the country [aren’t] fortunate to have.”

McKay’s production and the crowd’s energy were not the only sparks lit on this night. Another transfer—one who made waves before McKay even came back to eligibility—also played a crucial role in Iowa State’s two-point victory.

Bryce Dejean-Jones tallied 10 points, two rebounds, two assists and most importantly three steals against Oklahoma. He led the Cyclones in that category along with Georges Niang, as the team picked the Sooners’ pockets on 12 occasions throughout the course of the evening.

Dejean-Jones was also tasked with guarding Big 12 player of the year, Buddy Hield, during most of his time on the court. Dejean-Jones answered the call.

Hield did score 16 points, which is near his season average, but it took him 20 shots to get there. Dejean-Jones’ effort forced Hield to play an inefficient game, the effect of which rippled throughout the entire OU lineup.

“Bryce was flying all over the floor chasing Buddy Hield,” Niang said. “He was just great for us—really getting us started with energy on the defensive end. So when he has nights like that, he really wills this team to be a ton better.”

Dejean-Jones’ production has dropped since he moved to the bench, but his efficiency and attitude have improved. Against Oklahoma, he spearheaded an effort from the ISU bench, which outscored the OU bench 17-2 on the evening. It was the most lopsided statistical category on the stat sheet.

“I just look to come in and create a spark any way I can to help the guys get a boost when they’re tired,” Dejean-Jones said. “Me and Abdel [Nader] just go in looking to play hard every time.”

The Cyclones will need their trio of transfers—Dejean-Jones, Nader and McKay—as well as every the member of the rotation to play well again if they hope to repeat as Big 12 tournament champions. The opponent standing in their way? Who else? The Kansas Jayhawks.

“We have one more game to win,” McKay said. “We didn’t come down here to win two games, we came down here to win three, so I think tomorrow is a showdown for us to be able showcase why we could be the best team in the Big 12.”

The showcase for the ISU center who has been dubbed “Showtime” and the rest of his team will begin at 5:00 p.m. CST on March 14 in Kansas City, Mo.