AMES, Iowa — As Iowa State coach Steve Prohm watched a practice this summer with Monte Morris, the fabulous point guard he had to replace this season, he seemed to have only two options.Prohm could either go with senior Donovan Jackson or hand control of the offense to highly-touted freshman Lindell Wigginton, so Jackson could focus on scoring.
But Prohm also had a third notion in his head — to make 6-foot-5 junior Nick Weiler-Babb, the most experienced guard on the roster, his primary ball handler. When Morris asked Prohm if he had if he had ever thought of making Weiler-Babb his point guard, the coach knew he might be on to something.
After two bad losses to open 2017-18, Prohm finally put the ball in Weiler-Babb's hands.
The Cyclones have looked like a different team ever since.
Games In Days Next Week At Hilton Coliseum. We are going to need it packed and loud! Limited Tickets Available! pic.twitter.com/8Tq9AblnEI— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneMBB) November 29, 2017
Weiler-Babb has experienced a breakthrough as a point guard, averaging 15.8 points, 9 assists and 8.8 rebounds in his last four games, all wins for the Cyclones (4-2). They host Northern Illinois on Monday.
"His basketball I.Q. is really good. He has a really good feel, a really good pace to his game. His assist-to-turnover ratio right now is 6 to 1," Prohm said. "He has a really good understanding for what we want."
Prohm raised eyebrows when he said during the team's annual media day last season that Weiler-Babb had the most pro potential of any player on his roster. After a sluggish 2016-17, Weiler-Babb is beginning to show it.
Like so many of the Cyclones in recent years, Weiler-Babb got his start at another school. Weiler-Babb played his freshman year at Arkansas, averaging fewer than five minutes a game, before following in the footsteps of his brother, former Iowa State star Chris Babb.
Weiler-Babb sat out as a transfer in 2015-16. He had his moments off the bench last season, averaging 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds a game, but too often deferring to more experienced teammates.
Iowa State can't afford a deferential Weiler-Babb after losing its entire backcourt from a year ago, and he has gotten that message.
"I like the ball in my hands. I like being a decision maker," Weiler-Babb said. "It definitely does (help me be more aggressive). Also being the older guy on the team, being in the system for three years."
Weiler-Babb has looked the most comfortable he's ever been at Iowa State in his new role. He has 41 assists through six games, tying Morris for the most to start a season in over a decade.
"My thing is, what are you really preparing for at the end of the day? Are you preparing to beat school A, B or C, or are you preparing to win a Big 12 championship?" Prohm said of his conversations with Weiler-Babb. "Do you want to be a guy that can score, or do you want to become a guy that can do special things and really have a complete game?"
Moving off the ball has also helped Wigginton and Jackson.
Wigginton is 9 of 20 from 3-point range and is averaging 15 points over his last four games. Wigginton also had by far his best collegiate game on Saturday, scoring 21 points with six assists and five rebounds in a 70-45 win over Western Illinois.
Jackson is averaging 21.3 points and shooting 44.1 percent on 3s since Weiler-Babb became the point guard.
"Nick is just playing (well) at the point guard spot right now," Wigginton said. "Whatever the team needs me to do, score the basketball, get my teammates involved without the ball, I'm going to do."