Kevin Haskin: Another Babb playing hoops at Iowa State represents another Topeka connection

Nick Weiler-Babb assumes leadership role in backcourt for rebuilding Cyclones

Another native Topekan could play a prominent role in the Big 12 this basketball season.

 

Wait. What?

OK, Nick Weiler-Babb, a junior guard for Iowa State, does not remember much about his time in Topeka.

He attended Rochester Elementary, but through only the second grade. He still visits family here, though it was his older brother Chris who made more memories as a kid in town.

Nick did leave a favorable impression, however.

“Even back then at that time, Nick was the best player on a little YMCA team we had,’’ Hayden High School coach Torrey Head said of a first- and second-grade squad that included Head’s son, Jacob.

“A lot of that came from his big brother and having someone to play with and learn from. That was when their dad (Mike) was working down at the Y and I’d pick those two up and Chris was always picking on Nick.’’

That dynamic manifested in different ways.

Imagine taking the net off a goal, using each strand to symbolize Chris’ basketball achievements, and draping it around Nick’s neck. That is the lineage, expectation and pressure he has carried as a younger brother, throughout high school in Arlington, Texas, throughout the AAU summer circuit and even now at Iowa State.

Mike Babb understands. He faced similar circumstances as the youngest of three basketball standouts when he followed his brothers, Bob and Davy, through school.

“In Topeka, everyone knows the Babb name, so I went through the same thing being a younger brother and how your name is out there and what it’s like to play behind brothers who were really good,’’ said Mike, a starter for Highland Park High School when, in 1976, it captured the only Grand State boys basketball championship ever contested in Kansas.

Not that Mike, who played at Cameron University, ever harped on his experiences much when Nick was evolving into a coveted combo guard who stands 6-foot-5 and is capable of playing multiple positions, including the point, for the Cyclones.

“We talk trash sometimes about when he was in college and I’ll tell him I’m better than him,’’ said Chris, “but he never really talks much about his success in the past. I’ve told him I can take him one on one, but he’s told me I should have caught him back in his prime but it’s a little too late now.’’

Everyone handles name recognition, and pressure, a little differently.

In the case of Nick, his laid-back approach differentiates him from Chris, who was more aggressive by nature on the court.

“Chris had to up the level of what he had to do to become a good player. So he was a gym rat,’’ Mike said. “Nick played a little bit of everything and asked himself, ‘Do I want to do this?’ when it came to following his older brother in basketball.’’

Listening to Nick, he is a far better player for accepting his brother’s guidance. Chris’ talents earned him NBA contracts with both the Celtics and Warriors before he went overseas. He is now playing in Russia.

“I had somebody to always pave the way,’’ Nick said. “He’s told me about the ups and the downs, and how to stick with everything.

“He’s taught me about being a leader and also about being the guy who has to follow. He’s put me through the stages from top to bottom.’’

Similar paths actually led Chris and Nick to the same stage, Hilton Coliseum, each as Division I transfers.

When things did not work out at Arkansas, where he played as a freshman, Nick’s transfer to Iowa State was influenced by his familiarity with players Chris once teamed with, and by former coach Fred Hoiberg.

“I like to say that Chris was Fred’s first recruit and Nick was his last,’’ noted Mike Babb.

Timing, however, prevented Nick from ever playing for Hoiberg, who moved on to the NBA when Nick faced a year sitting out per NCAA transfer rules. That year was spent learning the new system implemented by Steve Prohm.

Now, Weiler-Babb is the only holdover from the third-year coach’s first ISU squad.

When he broke in for ISU last season, Nick averaged 16.5 minutes as one of the Cyclones’ top reserves. He averaged 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds, with 55 assists and 27 steals offsetting 23 turnovers.

At 6-foot-5, he fulfilled several roles, including the point, and as a redshirt junior, he will be expected to provide that same versatility this year, along with leadership, as the Cyclones groom seven newcomers led by 6-2 guard Lindell Wigginton.

“The biggest thing he can provide, because his IQ for the game is so good, is being a coach on the floor,’’ Prohm said.

“He knows what everybody should be doing, offensively and defensively, one through five. So we need his coaching ability on the floor to make sure people are in the right spots with some of our youth.’’

The coach is allowed to shoot in the case of Weiler-Babb, whose hyphenated name is taken from his birth certificate and incorporates the maiden name of his mother, Nikki, a Seaman graduate and former Washburn softball player.

“The one thing I would like to see more from Nick,’’ said Prohm, “is offensively to really look to go score and put pressure on the defense, whether that’s from paint touches or that’s from 3.’’

The challenge that comes with a bigger role suits Weiler-Babb just fine. He led Iowa State with 14 points and five assists Friday, though the Cyclones — picked ninth in the Big 12 — fell 74-59 at Missouri.

“I’d rather be picked at the bottom and prove everybody wrong than be picked at the top and fall off after a couple of games,’’ Weiler-Babb said.

“It’s going to take us a little bit to get things together, but once we get things rolling it’s going to be a really fun year.’’

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