KANSAS CITY -- In the weeks since Bryce Dejean-Jones shifted from starter to sixth man, the Iowa State senior guard has, at times, sounded like a broken record. Time and time again, Dejean-Jones has faced questions about his newfound role and time and time again the answer has been rather simple.
“I just want to help the team win,” Dejean-Jones has said.
The words don’t delve into what exactly Dejean-Jones might feel. After all, he did arrive at Iowa State from UNLV last summer hoping to be the next playmaker who could transform this Iowa State team only to find himself in this position now nearing the end of his final college season.
Through the season’s first 20 games, Dejean-Jones was one of the Cyclones’ key playmakers. Then he arrived late for Iowa State’s contest against Texas Tech in early February and Jameel McKay forced coach Fred Hoiberg’s hand with a starting debut that was hard to dispel. Dejean-Jones moved to the bench permanently and arrived in Hoiberg’s office in west Ames not long after with a message.
“Whatever I can do to help this team win,” Dejean-Jones told Hoiberg at the Sukup Basketball Complex, “that’s what I want to do.”
So maybe the words Dejean-Jones often shares carry more meaning.
“I just didn’t want him to think anything was going to be wrong with me that would be detrimental to the team,” Dejean-Jones said of that conversation. “I just wanted him to know I’m all aboard doing whatever it takes to win.”
Coming off the bench in seven of the regular season’s final eight games — he started for the Cyclones on Senior Night — Dejean-Jones averaged 9.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game off the bench.
When Iowa State needed him most, Dejean-Jones made his presence known. He scored 16 points in a victory at Texas late in the season and then poured in 15 in the regular season finale against TCU in Iowa State’s second-half comeback that helped it seal a 2-seed in Kansas City.
“I think he’s handled it great,” Hoiberg said of the change in Dejean-Jones’ role. “It took him a couple games to get acclimated to that, but he’s been very good. He’s been really important. In our game at Texas I thought he was the player of the game for us, and at TCU you could argue the same thing.”
Here Dejean-Jones was now, in Kansas City for his first Big 12 Championship appearance, as Iowa State prepared for the unknown. The Cyclones entered the final 24-hour period before their postseason debut still uncertain if they would face Texas or Texas Tech in the quarterfinals.
The answer to that question may have been on hold until late Wednesday night, but another question Hoiberg has heard often recently was not.
“People ask, ‘Who’s your most important player?’” Hoiberg said Wednesday after practice at the Sprint Center. “I think it’s our bench. All three of those guys have very important roles to come off and try to keep momentum if we play well [and] if we get off to a bit of a slow start they have to go in and pick up energy and get us going.”
Dejean-Jones might be as important as any, and Iowa State needs the senior to step up in his final stretch now more than ever before.
“He’s accepted it and done a good job with it,” Hoiberg said of Dejean-Jones. “Obviously in our most important stretch looking ahead, he’s going to have to play well if we want to go on a run.”