Cyclone fans spun into a frenzy when news broke of Iowa State freshman guard Talen Horton-Tucker's decision to declare for the NBA Draft.
Some fans on twitter hoped it was an April Fool's Day joke (it's not) while others pointed out that this doesn't necessarily mean the end of the 6-foot-4 guard's time in Ames. Horton-Tucker could technically come back. He can sign with an agent and still return to school if he announces it by May 29.
That won't happen, though. Nor should it happen. Horton-Tucker's best days of basketball are ahead of him and NBA teams know that.
Horton-Tucker's game looks like that of an NBA player.
He's good in isolation situations. His ball-handling can be a little loose at times but his ability to drive past defenders was impressive this year. Horton-Tucker's jumper is inconsistent, but he had several big shooting games and clearly has NBA range on his 3-pointer.
Defensively, he's raw but with a 7-foot wingspan and his size, he could become a lockdown defender with the right coaching.
I would guess Horton-Tucker goes in the first round. At this point it's way, way too early to speculate about where he'll go — we don't even know the draft order yet and he hasn't worked out for any NBA teams.
Look for teams needing a scoring punch off the bench or a team with veteran guards to pick him up. He doesn't turn 19 until over a month into the 2019-20 NBA season, so teams looking 2-3 years ahead could take a look at him.
If the right team likes him, Horton-Tucker could be a lottery pick. And if that happens, Iowa State has a huge opportunity in front of itself.
The impact on Iowa State
Let's get this part out of the way immediately: losing Horton-Tucker hurts Iowa State next season.
The good news for Iowa State, however, is that the Cyclones likely have their first-ever one-and-done player.
Sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton nearly became the first last year but chose to come back for year two.
Looking at the big picture, Horton-Tucker's decision is a positive development for coach Steve Prohm and staff. They can sell recruits on an NBA vision now.
Iowa State currently has five former players in the NBA, but only one of them — backup Denver Nuggets point guard Monte Morris — plays a consistent role.
Morris was a late second round pick, going 51st overall in 2017. He played four years of college ball, just like the other four Cyclones in the NBA did.
Georges Niang dominated the Big 12 for four years and left Ames as the second leading scorer in school history behind Jeff Grayer. He slipped into the middle of the second round just like Morris.
Horton-Tucker could be the first Cyclone to go in the first round since Royce White in 2012. White was also the last underclassman to be drafted out of Iowa State.
Seeing players go in the lottery could help Iowa State's national reputation. Recruits notice that stuff.
Every recruit is different, but there's a reason most of them go to North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and the other blue bloods for what is essentially an NBA gap year.
There's a roadmap.
When a recruit commits to Duke, he knows he can have success there. He can get great coaching, play with elite teammates, win a lot and follow in the footsteps of the dozens of other players who used Duke as a stepping stone to the NBA.
The Cyclones have made seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments and have won four Big 12 Tournament titles in that span, but most top recruits don't really care about that. Yeah, they want to win, but high school players with NBA futures know college won't be their last stop — at least, it shouldn't be. Their goals are set higher. Now, that roadmap is in place for them to spend their one college season in Ames.
I talked with Horton-Tucker when he was still a senior in high school. He already had his sights set on the NBA.
He still cared — a lot — about being a Cyclone and winning games for Iowa State. That showed when he sat with tears running down his face in the locker room in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after his freshman season ended and he struggled to speak. Even when he was on the bench, Horton-Tucker looked engaged and genuinely devoted to his team.
It's just that he knew even in high school that Ames wasn't going to be his final basketball destination. Now, he's laid the foundation for other highly-ranked recruits to come to Iowa State.
It's now up to Prohm to take advantage of the opportunity.