Across the college basketball landscape, the success of most winning programs can be traced back to one or two players — players whose arrival ushered in new areas at their respective schools and whose individual greatness immediately elevated their programs as a whole.
For the Iowa State Cyclones, that player is Ashley Joens.
Joens, a 6-foot-1 guard/forward from Iowa City, has become one of the greatest players in Cyclones history, her decision to stay home and play for Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly more or less dragging the program out of mediocrity. The Cyclones have gone a combined 65-29 (.691) since Joens’ freshman season in 2018-19; they had gone 63-60 (.512) in the four seasons prior.
Fennelly is thankful, too. After a close loss to Texas A&M in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, he quipped that anyone who doesn’t think Joens is one of the best players in the country “needs to look at other sports.”
Whether or not one agrees with Fennelly’s assessment, the impact Joens has had on Iowa State through three seasons is undeniable. It’s now time to look forward to the 2022 WNBA Draft; just how good of a player is Joens, and which of her collegiate skills should WNBA coaches be looking at when evaluating her as a draft prospect?
Honors and statistics
Joens has been gathering accolades since her very first year at Iowa State. 2018’s No. 26 overall recruit (ESPN HoopGurlz) and Miss Basketball for the state of Iowa, Joens averaged 11.7 points per game and knocked down 72 threes as a freshman, earning Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors in the process.
Joens’ collegiate career has ascended rapidly since then. She scored 20.5 points per game as a sophomore and a whopping 24.2 as a junior, averaging no fewer than 9.5 rebounds per game in each of those seasons. She was a top five finalist for the Cheryl Miller Award (given to the nation’s best small forward) in 2020 and won the award in 2021, while also garnering national attention on the Wade and Naismith Trophy watch lists.
As expected, Joens was once again named to the Cheryl Miller Award watch list prior to the 2020-21 season. She was also named to preseason watch lists for the Naismith and Wade Trophies, as well as the Wooden Award.
Internationally, Joens has been involved with USA Basketball for several years, having been part of teams that won Gold in the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 and U19 World Cup competitions. She also participated in trials for Team USA in the 2021 AmeriCup competition.
How she helps the Cyclones
Looking at Joens’ basic per-game stats, it’s easy to tell what her primary role is at Iowa State: score the basketball.
It’s something she does quite well. According to Her Hoop Stats, in 2020-21, Joens was one of just eight players in all of Division I to average at least 20 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent on 2-pointers and better than 35 percent on 3-pointers, and her 24.2 points per game ranked second (to Iowa’s Caitlin Clark) on that list. Simply put, she’s a threat to score from virtually anywhere on the court — though she vastly prefers 3-pointers and shots in the paint to long 2-point jumpers — and despite knowing full well who Iowa State’s go-to player is, opponents just can’t stop her.
That Joens regularly faces the brunt of opponents’ defenses and still scores at the volume and efficiency that she does is something to admire. As a junior, Joens led the country in free throws made (181); while Fennelly has attributed this to opposing teams “beat[ing] the crap out of her,” it also speaks not only to Joens’ toughness, but the versatility of her game.
As is typical of most great scorers, Joens is capable of torching defenses in a multitude of ways. About 14.4 percent of Joens’ possessions last season came on post-ups (Synergy Sports), and she scored 1.118 points per possession on them, ranking in the 93rd percentile. She also drew a shooting foul on 23.7 percent of those post-ups, her 6-foot-1 frame simply too much for most of her individual matchups to handle.
In summary, Joens’ offensive repertoire has few evident weaknesses, if any. She’s also an excellent rebounder for her position, ranking in the 95th percentile in rebounding rate as a sophomore and 92nd percentile as a junior. Joens’ prowess in the post and on the glass gives the Cyclones the option to field smaller lineups and further space the floor. While it remains to be seen just how much of her foul-drawing will translate to the professional level, such potential lineup optionality will surely factor into a WNBA team’s decision to draft her.
Watch her play
Big 12 play is still a few weeks away, but Iowa State has a few intriguing matchups on its schedule in the meantime. The Cyclones will travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU on Thursday, Dec. 2 in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Soon thereafter, No. 13 Iowa State and No. 8 Iowa will renew their rivalry on Wednesday, Dec. 8 on ESPNU. The combined offensive talent between the two teams will make it a must-watch game.
All statistics and team records for the 2021-22 season are current through Nov. 23, 2021.