NOTEBOOK: McKay grabs Big 12 award, Thomas finding rhythm


Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

Redshirt junior forward Jameel McKay jumps for a dunk during Iowa State’s game against West Virginia on Feb. 14. McKay finished with 12 points and five blocks, helping the Cyclones defeat the Mountaineers 79-59.

Alex Gookin

Only 17 games into his ISU career, Jameel McKay has arguably made more of an impact on the success of the men’s basketball team than any other player. McKay’s career performance against Oklahoma State and solid showing against Texas paid off, earning him Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors on Feb. 23.

It’s McKay’s first Big 12 weekly award of the season. Bryce Dejean-Jones has earned the Newcomer of the Week award three times this season, while Georges Niang picked up a Big 12 Player of the Week award in December.

McKay led or tied the team-high in four categories against Oklahoma State with 17 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and two steals. His performance against Texas didn’t require him to be a scorer, but he recorded a team-high nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals with his three points.

Since becoming a starter against Texas Tech at home, McKay has averaged 13.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Thomas heating up behind the arc

While Jameel McKay had his scoring outbreak against Oklahoma State, Matt Thomas found his own rhythm against Texas, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers in a career-high 17-point game.

In Thomas’ freshman season a year ago, ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said he struggled with confidence, at one point telling Thomas to get off Twitter to avoid the negative talk. He overcame the dry spell, but found himself in a similar position this season.

Meanwhile, his teammates have been his biggest supporters. With a 3-pointer in three consecutive games, Thomas’ confidence appears to be at an all-time high.

“It’s not surprising,” said junior guard Naz Long. “The fact that was his career high, 17, if you were to ask me what his career high was before that I would have thought it was higher than that … he’s capable of being what everyone believes that he can be, and that’s the next coming of coach [Hoiberg].”

Thomas’ emergence comes at a good time as Iowa State tries to win out to have a chance at catching Kansas in the Big 12 race. With six players averaging double-digit scoring numbers, Thomas’ rise as a legitimate scoring threat offers another weapon that opponents have to account for on the court.

The key will be keeping the momentum going. Thomas only has one double-digit scoring effort in Big 12 home games this season and his highest-scoring output against a ranked team this season was six points against West Virginia.

However, with Hoiberg drawing up more plays for Thomas and a rowdy Hilton Coliseum prepared to be behind him against No. 19 Baylor on Feb. 25, he is ready to break both of those trends.

“Last game I was able to knock down my first couple shots and that obviously helped,” Thomas said. “I got a [few] more opportunities than I had recently earlier in the season. I’m just taking whatever I have and just making the most of my opportunities the rest of the season.”