AMES, IOWA — Fresh out of college and 23-years-old, Steve Prohm wanted nothing else for his life but basketball, so there he was in the basement of a dormitory at the smallest Division I school in the country prepared to be a volunteer assistant.
Centenary College was far from the glitz and glamour of big time college basketball. The college was all of 900 students, his boss Billy Kennedy was making 40-something thousand dollars per season and Prohm was living in the basement of a dormitory on campus.
Are you sure this is what you want to do? people would ask. He may be living in a small room on campus called “the dungeon,” eating school cafeteria meals and working at Blockbuster because his basketball gig was voluntary, but, yes, this is what Steve Prohm wanted.
And so his coaching career began.
He worked for Kennedy for 12 of 13 seasons as an assistant, going with him from Centenary to Southeastern Louisiana and finally Murray State, where he would replace Kennedy as head coach in 2011. In four seasons as head coach, Prohm went 104-29 and guided the Racers to the NCAA tournament.
Tuesday, Prohm couldn’t help but reminisce. He thought about those days in “the dungeon” and one moment a few years later. He was standing next to Kennedy as an assistant at Southeastern Louisiana in the NCAA tournament when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Can you believe we’re here? Kennedy asked him.
Now, Prohm was standing, some 17 years removed from that volunteer basketball job, just off midcourt at the Sukup Basketball Complex in west Ames as the 20th men’s basketball coach in Iowa State history preparing to coach in the Big 12.
Can you believe you’re here?
“I think now it’s hitting me,” admitted Prohm, who signed a 5-year conract worth $1.5 million per season. “I think now you realize what this level is all about. It’s cool and exciting and I’m very fortunate. There’s a lot of people that coach basketball and get paid a lot of money to do it, but it’s not about the money being great, I just love being out here with these kids, teaching them and seeing them grow.”
Prohm, who arrives at Iowa State on the heels of four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and back-to-back Big 12 postseason titles, will be tasked with replacing Fred Hoiberg, although he insists those aren’t his intentions.
“Everybody says it’s about replacing him,” Prohm said. “I’m not here to replace him. You can’t even think in terms of trying to replace him. What you do is you don’t try to replace him, you just try to use him as a great resource to help you continue to build this program and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Prohm has used Hoiberg as a resource before. When he would be cooped up in his hotel room during road trips while at Murray State, Prohm would watch Big Monday. He watched Iowa State play. He took notes and stole plays. He would see Iowa State trailing by 10, flip the channel and come back to see they now led by 10. He dreamed of coaching on national TV and Big Monday himself.
When speculation started in early May that Hoiberg might depart for Chicago, Prohm mentioned the job to his wife. Man, he told her, that’d be a great place to coach. The job seemed far-fetched. Then a few weeks later his agent called saying Iowa State was interested. On Sunday, he met with Iowa State administrators in Atlanta and Monday he was offered the job.
Prohm held a meeting Monday night with players, and all have bought in.
“Walking out of the meeting I just felt more comfortable because he displayed a personality we could all get along with and could relate to,” Jameel McKay said. “He was preaching that it’s a players-first program and we all truly believe he’s just going to steer the ship and help us get places we want to be.”
Tuesday, Prohm turned the page.
“Now it’s time to get totally invested in Ames, Iowa, and to get totally invested in those guys right there,” Prohm said, pointing to his assembled team. “Those guys right there, you are my priority. You will always be my first priority. We will not let each other down. We’ve got great expectations and I told you, ‘Let’s just be great today and then we’ll be great tomorrow and then we’ll do something special.’ It’s not going to happen overnight.”
He should know. All Steve Prohm ever wanted as a fresh graduate in 1998 was a life in basketball. He could only dream about a day like this. So for that moment a basement dorm room with one window and cafeteria meals would have to do.
Can you believe we’re here? he stills remembers hearing. Days like today, when Prohm chokes up talking those he loves, still make it hard to believe.
“The thing I’ll talk to my guys about all the time is if you put yourself around good people and make good choices, good decisions and do the right thing, good things will happen for you if you stay faithful,” Prohm said. “And that’s today. Hopefully this can be our new home and we can be here for a long, long time.”