By Don Lund
When your team wins 25 games, makes it to the finals of the NIT, returns four starters and has maybe the best depth ever, fans should be excited.
That’s why the Iowa fans are looking for a big season from the Hawkeye basketball team.
Last summer, Randy Larson, who runs the Prime Time basketball league, said Iowa had the best talent he’s seen in his 30 years of following the Hawkeyes.
Kirk Speraw, assistant basketball coach for the Hawkeyes, agreed.
“Not only do we have great depth but tremendous unselfishness,” said Kirk. “For these guys to get along and play as unselfish as they play, giving the ball up and moving the basketball. That combination of those two things... I haven’t been around anything like that.”
You start at the guard position and Iowa has senior Devyn Marble (6-6, 200), and sophomores Mike Gesell (6-1, 190) and Anthony Clemmons (6-1, 190) that have started at point guard.
“I’m just taking in the experience,” said Devyn, who made third team All-Big Ten last year. “You only get to be a senior one time. It’s my last go around. I come to practice and look forward to it. I’m enjoying my teammates and coaches. I know I can go hard in games and whoever comes in will maintain or take it to another level.”
Coach Fran McCaffery said he likes it when Devyn has the ball in his hand. For Devyn, it doesn’t matter if he plays the point or shooting guard.
“I can run either position,” said Devyn. “Yesterday I ran the two guard and was doing fine. It’s just me getting into a rhythm and balance whatever I do. Whether it’s look for my teammates or be aggressive.”
All three plus Josh Oglesby (6-5, 208) have played the shooting guard.
Add Peter Jok (6-6, 200), who may be the best 3-point shooter on the team and you have some great backcourt combinations.
Adam Woodbury (7-1, 245) set a school record with 38 starts last year at center. He had 181 rebounds, which is the sixth best ever for an Iowa freshman.
“I’ve improved and continue to grow every day,” said Adam. “I’m working real hard to get better. Playing in big games last year gives me confidence. The European trip gave me confidence and I’m trying to build on that.”
Adam played Cody Zeller from Indiana pretty well until he got into foul trouble. Cody went pro after his sophomore year.
“He was probably considered the top big man in the nation last year,” said Adam. “Being able to hold my own against him I feel like I could hold my own against anybody.”
Gabe Olaseni (6-10, 225) had 36 blocked shots last year including seven in a win over Illinois.
Coach Fran McCaffery said you could see both of them on the floor together.
“I think we complement each other well,” said Adam. “He’s an athletic freak and he does a lot of crazy things in the gym. I’m not that type of player so we complement each other in that sense and it will be good to play with him.”
Senior Melsahn Basabe (6-7, 220) and junior Aaron White (6-9, 220) both started at forward last season.
Mel became the first Big Ten player in 15 years to have at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a game. He had 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against second-ranked Ohio State when he was a sophomore.
Aaron tied Adam Woodbury with 38 starts last season. He played with team USA last summer which gave him great competition to play against.
“It was a good opportunity for me to go up against some of the best players in the world. Not only in the United States but to go overseas and play some of the top guys in Russia and Australia,” said Aaron, who led the Hawks in scoring 15 times last year. “A big summer for me. I learned a lot and gained a lot of confidence. I’m looking forward to having a good year with the team this year.”
Aaron likes the fact that the Hawkeyes have so many different types of players in the front line.
“Everyone has a different game,” said Aaron. “Jarrod has a different game from Kyle Meyer, Woody is a banger, Gabe is a runner, Gabe is athletic, Mel is athletic and everyone plays a little different.”
Senior Zach McCabe (6-7, 235) has started 39 games in his first three years. He can play the power forward or the small forward and he shot 45 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.
Jarrod Uthoff (6-9, 208) is the wild card in this group.
Jarrod has had to sit out two years in a row after red shirting at Wisconsin his freshman year and then sitting out last season when he transferred to Iowa.
Jarrod was named Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the year in Iowa when he graduated from Cedar Rapids Jefferson in 2011. He has a great outside shot and is quick enough to get by players his own size like he did when he matched up against Adam Woodbury last summer in Prime Time.
“It’s been good to go against Adam and Gabe. With their length and size and having to guard them in PTL down low is going to do nothing but benefit me. I’ve worked hard on my game this off-season,” said Jarrod. “I’m looking forward to this season.”
Jarrod also said that the summer trip overseas helped him a lot.
“Going overseas, that trip was huge for us in terms of team bonding,” said Jarrod.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Meyer (6-10, 225) and junior Darius Stokes (6-7, 203) round out the scholarship players.
They add depth and make good match-ups in practice.
Now the biggest question will be can Fran McCaffery find a way to blend all this talent together?
Can you imagine a front line with Adam, Gabe and Jarrod?
How about Jarrod, Aaron and Melsahn?
You could go small with Anthony, Mike, Devyn, Aaron and Jarrod…
As a coach, Fran must be excited everyday to come to practice and put the pieces in place.