Peterson: Omaha Biliew's Iowa State commitment sends big statement about T.J. Otzelberger

Randy Peterson
Des Moines Register

The sky was falling.

Emerging star point guard Tyrese Hunter enters the transfer portal — and ends up at Texas.

A.J. Green, Northern Iowa’s three-point shooting star who recently was considered destined to be a Cyclone, ends up on an NBA roster.

Hopes of another Sweet 16 run in T.J. Otzelberger’s second Iowa State season, look dim, if not completely out of the question.

What’s a coach go do?

Big swings of momentum like that could be devastating, especially with someone trying to re-establish a program that had just slumped to its all-time low.

Not for Otzelberger, however.

The grassroots recruiter remained focus. He was resilient. He refused to panic-recruit. He didn’t let a couple of roster-building blows ruin everything he was planning to build.

More:Peterson: Iowa State basketball legend Georges Niang has powerful words to say about T.J. Otzelberger

Absolutely not, proven when the Cyclones on Tuesday night landed top-15 recruit Omaha Biliew, just a few days after four-star Milan Momcilovic joined the eye-popping 2023 recruiting class.

MORE:Get to know Iowa State's mega-recruit Omaha Biliew

So … is the sky still falling? 


Otzelberger and his staff raised the roof during the impressive 10-day Momcilovic-Biliew commitments.

Add them to top-150 national recruit Jelani Hamilton, and that’s three priority recruits for the next recruiting class. That’s three around whom further recruiting momentum can be generated. It’s three who could put the Cyclones’ 2023 class among the nation’s top five, considering they were No. 7 pre-Biliew, according to the 247sports recruiting web site.

Omaha Biliew's commitment to Iowa State men's basketball shows there's extreme momentum in T.J. Otzelberger's program.

Buzz, hype whatever you want to call it — is oozing throughout Iowa State men’s basketball circles right now. Biliew is the program’s highest-ranked recruit, per the 247 site, and Marcus Fizer, you wonder?

The 1997 recruit was a McDonald’s All-American. He would have had five stars by his name also, if Internet recruiting rankings were a thing back then.

We all know the type of impact Fizer made in Ames. It'd be unfair to compare the two, but Biliew is a top-15 recruit the last several years for a reason: He's expected to help a college program a lot. 

The 2023 class, combined with the players Otzelberger and his staff recruited for the 2022-23 season, make a two-year statement that there’s every reason to believe that Iowa State men’s basketball is back.

Never have consecutive recruiting classes been as impressive. That’s especially significant on the heels of a stretch when some people maybe wondered if the program might be headed off the rails again — after Hunter’s departure, and after Green’s entrance into the NBA Draft.

The train isn’t out of control. It’s solidly on a track that looks headed toward a bright Cyclones men’s basketball future.

Georges Niang and Naz Mitrou-Long became Cyclones in 2012. Monte Morris, Matt Thomas and Dustin Hogue joined in 2013. They were part five NCAA Tournaments and two Sweet 16s and played on teams that combined for a scorching 113-52 overall record. The most recent two classes could have similar defining characteristics. We won’t know that for a while.

More:Examining Iowa State basketball's big recruiting win with top-40 prospect Milan Momcilovic

No one expects the two recent recruiting classes to match that. Times change. The former players stayed at Iowa State four seasons. Current players are prone to leave early.

Whether that’s for the pros or for money generated from Name, Image and Likeness — some of today’s players have happy feet. Some coaches don’t adjust. Others, like Otzelberger, remain resilient. They came to their job with a plan, and didn’t waver, no matter what downturns happened along the way.

Omaha Biliew finishes a dunk while starring at Waukee High School.  The 5-star recruit committed to Iowa State Tuesday.

Otzelberger stuck with his principles. He stayed patient, while Biliew weighed initial options from the Cyclones; Georgia; Illinois; Iowa; Kansas; Michigan; Nebraska; Oklahoma State; Tennessee; Texas Tech; and Western Kentucky. T.J. stayed the course, as coaches often say, as Biliew narrowed options to Iowa State, Kansas, Oregon and professionally with the G-League Ignite.

T.J. wasn’t flustered. Never once did he alter from the blueprint he outlined when he accepted this job.

“We're going to establish the Cyclone brand throughout the Midwest,” Otzelberger said at his introductory press conference. “This is going to be the Midwest's option in the Big 12. We're going to recruit aggressively throughout the upper Midwest, but most importantly in the state of Iowa.

“People talk about recruiting all of the time but if you love Iowa State, all you're doing is telling your story. To me, that doesn't feel like recruiting — that's easy.”

I can’t predict the future for the two most recent recruiting classes. Biliew might not fill up the stat sheet, as past stars Lindell Wigginton, Talen Horton-Tucker and Tyrese Haliburton so often did, but that’s all right. Even if he averages 9 points and 6 rebounds and is a menace defensively as a true freshman — that’s fine.

He’s a high-energy player. He’s skilled. He’s talented, and this is also important:

He’s a major part of the reason there’s more Iowa State recruiting momentum than maybe ever before.

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson embarked on his 50th year of writing sports for the Des Moines Register in December 2021. Reach him at, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.