For Ben Carlson, relationships are paramount. That's good news for Iowa State.
PLYMOUTH, Minn. — Al Harris coaches the D1Minnesota 17U squad. So, in other words, he coaches plenty of Division I-level prospects dealing with the pressure of Division I-level recruitment.
He tries to help his players navigate the process with one piece of advice.
"It’s about relationships first," Harris told the Register this past weekend. "Style of play and academics and those things come after. But that relationship is huge."
One of his star players, four-star St. Paul product Ben Carlson, seems to agree. The versatile, 6-foot-9 forward said his relationship with a college's coaches and its players will be paramount when he makes his decision.
That's good news for Iowa State coaches, who first started building a relationship with Carlson when he was a freshman, offered him as a sophomore and have recruited him as a high-level priority ever since. They visited him in St. Paul on May 2.
"I really like them. Coach (Steve) Prohm is a really good guy. He's one of my favorite coaches — just a really good guy. I like their staff, too," Carlson told the Register. "I just feel like I connect with (Prohm) really well. Some coaches are like that. You just connect with them well, and he’s one of them."
Of course, the Cyclones aren't the only ones positioned well for the top-70 prospect.
Carlson said Xavier, Stanford, Wisconsin, Purdue and Wake Forest are among the schools heavily involved right now. He took official visits to Xavier and Purdue this year. Gonzaga, Virginia, Indiana and Michigan are also showing strong interest.
There's a chance more offers come. Since last AAU season, Carlson has developed a solid 3-point shot to pair with his explosive athleticism. He also lifts three times a week with his high school's trainer, and he has bulked up significantly over the past year.
Translation: Carlson has the quickness, strength and versatility to play either forward position in college and to guard both outside and inside.
"He does everything that you ask him to do. Very physical kid," Harris said. "Rebounding nightmare. Definitely protects the rim. Crazy around the basket, the way he blocks shots all over the rim.
"When he gets to the collegiate level, he’ll easily be able to be somebody that can guard 1-4 or maybe 2-5."
Added Carlson: "Defense is something I always try to bring every day, and I think that’s what college coaches have been telling me. That’s how you play right away — playing defense. You don’t play because you score. You play with defense and rebounding."
Although he isn't from Iowa, the Cyclones have recruited Carlson as if he were an in-state target. Carlson notices, and he said it means a lot that Iowa State views him that way. He said Prohm or assistant coach Daniyal Robinson call or text him at least a few times every week.
"It just shows how much they want me as a priority," he said.
By now, you've also probably heard that, Marc Carlson, Ben's dad, played for the Cyclones in the early 1990s. Ben said Iowa State was always on TV while he was growing up, and he rooted for the Cyclones when he was young.
Carlson has taken three unofficial visits to Ames — one this past August and then two in the fall of his sophomore year. Beyond relationships, Carlson said a team's crowd and home atmosphere will also factor into his decision.
"I know they’ve got one of the best atmospheres in college basketball with Hilton Coliseum," he said. "I like playing in front of a big home crowd — I like getting the crowd excited. They have that every single game they play. So just being down there, that’d be a great atmosphere to play in for a home game. Their fans travel really well, too."
Iowa is also recruiting Carlson, although he said he doesn't hear from the Hawkeyes as much as other schools in the picture. Coaches came up to a few of his games this year.
"I know coach (Fran) McCaffery pretty well, because his son (Patrick) played on the 17U team last year," Carlson said. "He’s a good guy. I like coach (Sherman) Dillard, too. I like their staff."
In terms of his timeline, Carlson said he plans to play the spring and summer out, see where his recruitment stands, take some more official visits in the late summer or fall and then make a decision sometime before his senior season.
He said he could see himself taking one of those officials to Ames.
"Definitely," Carlson said. "They’ve been talking to me since the beginning, so I think I’d probably want to go down there again just to get a good feel."
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.