Henricksen: How Iowa State successfully raided Illinois for high-major talent

Talen-Horton Tucker commits to Iowa State at Simeon on October 26, 2017 Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Lost in the week-long drama surrounding the Talen Horton-Tucker recruitment and all that went with it was the fact Iowa State just landed three high-major prospects from Illinois.

The trio of Horton-Tucker, Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin and Corliss big man George Conditt are currently the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 ranked prospects, respectively.

That’s saying something.

Three high-major players. All from Illinois. All heading to Iowa State.

Steve Prohm has won 47 games and reached two NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance, in his two seasons as coach at Iowa State.

Critics will argue –– as they always do with new hires at college programs across the country –– the coach won with the previous staff’s players. While often true, the coach –– from Prohm to others in the same situation with similar early success over the years –– worked with the deck it was dealt and maximized its talent and roster.

But Prohm’s six-year coaching track record, including four years at Murray State, is pretty impressive. Prohm won 104 games and four conference championships –– compiling a 54-10 league record in the OVC –– in four years at Murray, including a NCAA Tournament appearance.

If he’s going to continue to win at a consistent rate and make NCAA Tournaments in the future, Prohm will be doing it with players from Illinois.

There are pieces already in place. Prohm and his staff have a current freshman point guard in Lindell Wigginton who was a consensus top 40 prospect nationally in the Class of 2017. Freshman forward Terrence Lewis was a Hoops Report out-of-state favorite and four-star recruit out of Milwaukee.

Those two Class of 2017 anchors, along with this four-man Class of 2018 recruiting class that includes the Illinois trio and 6-4 guard Tyrese Haliburton out of Wisconsin, is quite a foundation for Prohm and Iowa State going forward.

But you can’t help but pose the question and wonder: How did Iowa State come into Illinois and nab three of the top four prospects, a state that is so heavily recruited by high-major programs across the country and is in the heart of Big Ten country?

Prohm has a veteran assistant coach, the respected Daniyal Robinson, who has familiarity and experience recruiting the state. Robinson has clearly helped, but it’s also been the hands-on approach and personal attention Prohm has showed in recruiting –– as a head coach. His sell has been real, believable and has resonated.

As Griffin said the day he committed to Iowa State, “It all felt genuine and real with them, right from the start.”

That’s helped secure a recruiting class that ranks among the top 20 in the country.

In Horton-Tucker, Iowa State is getting a player who will be ready to not only play as a freshman but be the type of player coaches can build a culture around.

Horton-Tucker has a body that will get so much stronger. He is long and versatile as a 6-5 wing, but he’s also an unselfish player whose most underrated quality is his passing. This is a skilled player who can dribble, pass and shoot.

Griffin is the late-blooming, uber-athletic, rim-rattling 4-man who this summer showcased an added weapon in his offensive arsenal: shooting the three-pointer. Throw in a rapid rise in confidence and Griffin’s summer turned into an eye-opening experience for even those (myself included) who had seen a lot of Griffin over the past 10 months.

Then there is the high-ceiling Conditt, an agile 6-10 big man who is just beginning to scratch the surface. There may be some time before Conditt is ready to impact at a high level due to his lack of strength and still growing game, but the upside in Conditt, with his size, coordination, ability to run the floor and emerging skill, is enormous.

This wasn’t a package deal where all three were close friends and wanted to play together. And this wasn’t a high-major program reaching for marginal high-major prospects because it couldn’t find any better.

These were players who were all offered by and visited their local in-state Big Ten program, Illinois, and chose the Cyclones instead.

Kansas was frustrated when it didn’t get a chance to host Griffin for its official visit that was set. But Griffin connected on a different level with the Iowa State staff than any other program and ended his recruitment soon after his official visit to Ames.

Conditt had 30-plus offers, including summer offers from Maryland, Georgia Tech, VCU, Arizona State, Washington, Virginia Tech and Illinois. While Conditt did have a tie to the Cyclones as his dad played football at Iowa State, he said time and time again that he felt more appreciation, want and need from the Iowa State staff than any other.

Horton-Tucker entertained a surplus of high-major suitors, including Ohio State, Xavier, Georgia Tech, Florida State and a host of others. And while the final hours of Horton-Tucker’s recruitment were wild, and Illinois was so close to landing the Simeon star, it was Iowa State that was a constant throughout it all.

For the past several months, when one school entered the picture and another one left, it was always Iowa State being mentioned with Horton-Tucker. During the 18 days of the July live period, the Iowa State staff spent 11 of those honing in on Horton-Tucker, including several days of going two, three and four deep.

Once Iowa State decided their prime targets, they locked in on those and didn’t waver. The staff intended to overwhelm each one with their recruiting efforts and make them feel like a priority. And every staff member, from Prohm to Robinson to William Small and Neill Berry, was on board and on the same page.

Now all three are headed to Iowa State, which only bodes well for the future when Prohm and his staff target their next Illinois prospect.

This was an Illinois basketball recruiting windfall for Iowa State. But nabbing multiple prospects from its neighboring state isn’t going to become the norm. But you better believe it’s going to help the Cyclones when they do zero in on their next Illinois target.

Today, there are people and coaches in the Chicago area talking positively about Iowa State basketball and its staff. There is a current “wow factor” in just seeing three top Illinois prospects all finding landing spots at the Big 12 school.

And when Prohm and his staff bring a future prospect from Illinois to campus in the future, there will be a connection and familiarity already in place with Horton-Tucker, Griffin and Conditt on campus. That connection, particularly with the other incoming recruits, was one of the real positives Horton-Tucker took away from his official visit to Iowa State.

Yes, there were different narratives and some fallout from the Horton-Tucker recruiting saga, much of which could have been avoided and certainly highlighted the dark side of high-stakes recruiting. But the underrated storyline is Iowa State’s presence in recruiting and landing three high-major prospects from the state of Illinois in a single class, something no out-of-state school has ever accomplished before.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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