The Hawkeye men’s basketball team finally did something it hasn’t done in four years... have a winning record.
Four straight losing seasons were tough to deal with for a Hawkeye fan like me who has been following them since the mid ‘60s.
Iowa finished with an 18-17 record, won a Big Ten tournament game and an NIT game.
I had a chance to sit down with assistant coach Sherman Dillard last week to talk about last season, the players coming back and the new recruits.
Coach Dillard has 27 years of coaching experience as an assistant or head coach. He spent six years as a basketball marketing representative for Nike before joining the Hawkeyes in 2011.
Sherman was a three-time academic All American playing guard at James Madison (1973-78).
The first thing I had to ask coach Dillard was how and why he came back to coaching at Iowa.
“That old adage ‘once a coach, always a coach,’” said Sherm. “When I was with Nike, I wasn’t coaching. I kind of felt the need to get back into college coaching.”
Fran McCaffery took over the Iowa job and saw Sherman at a Final Four that spring.
They had a couple of conversations on the phone, Sherman came to Iowa City to visit and he jumped on board.
Coach McCaffery has done well at every stop he made.
“I wanted to partner with someone like that,” said coach Dillard. “Fran’s a terrific human being, a great character guy and a terrific X and O person. I don’t think I could have found a better situation based on my set of circumstances. I consider myself very fortunate to land a gig like this with someone like Fran.”
The Hawkeyes started the season 3-0.
They stumbled in the next two games getting smacked by Creighton, 82-59 and Campbell, 77-61.
They finished the preseason 8-5.
Bryce Cartwright was nicked up and Iowa was up and down.
“I think that was a function of just growing pains,” said coach Dillard. “When you’re trying to grow, coming from where we were, you have a thin margin of error. We had to deal with a little bit of adversity at the beginning of the season to prepare for the rest of the season. I certainly believe that adversity we went through early in the season made us a better basketball team.”
The Hawkeye lineup included Eric May, Matt Gatens, Zach McCabe, Melsahn Basabe and Devyn Marble.
Bryce Cartwright, Aaron White, Josh Oglesby and Andrew Brommer were coming off the bench.
The Hawks opened the Big Ten season with a 79-76 loss to Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but bounced back with huge road wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Badgers were ranked 11th at the time.
Iowa lost two more to Ohio State and Michigan State before knocking off Michigan at home.
The Hawks followed it with a three-game losing streak before back-to-back home wins against Minnesota and Penn State. It was the first time since 2007 that the Hawks swept Minnesota.
Two more losses put Iowa’s record at 13-13, 5-8 in the Big Ten.
Five games were left and the Hawks had to win three to have a chance for a winning season.
Two straight home wins against Indiana and Wisconsin helped.
Matt Gatens led the way with 30 against the Hoosiers and scored 33 versus the Badgers.
Iowa finished the season losing two out of the last three and finished 16-15, 8-10 in the Big Ten.
Aaron White and Bryce Cartwright started the last half of the Big Ten season and Melsahn Basabe brought some good energy off the bench.
“I think early on I’m sure our fans could attest that there was some apprehension about how good this team could be,” said Sherman. “I think that’s a credit to Fran because he commandeered the ship and kept us right on course and we would be fine. I never saw doubt in the faces of the players and certainly not on the coaching staff. Sometimes a failure or setback creates more focus and I really believe that’s what happened to this basketball team.”
Like I said before, I have been following the Hawkeyes since the mid ‘60s and have seen some great players on the Hawkeye basketball court.
Super Sam Williams was the first great Hawk that I saw play (maybe twice because back then hardly any games were on TV). I listened to most of them on the radio.
Sam was the MVP in Big Ten in 1968 when the Hawkeyes tied for the Big Ten championship. Super Sam was a 6-3 forward who averaged 25.3 points per game.
John Johnson and Downtown Freddie Brown were on the 1970 Iowa team that went 14-0 and was knocked out by Jacksonville in the NCAA tournament.
John was the league MVP and averaged 27.9 points. Fred, who was a junior, averaged 17.9 that season and 27.6 the following year.
I probably saw those two play on television three or four times.
Jump ahead to Ronnie Lester in the late ‘70s. Ronnie was a four-year starter and I saw him play quite a bit as more games were on the tube.
B.J. Armstrong and Roy Marble were two great Hawkeyes that were on TV all the time and I got to see them a lot.
There are some other great Hawkeyes that I’ve seen play and I’d have to put Matt Gatens as one of them.
I saw Matt play in the Prime Time League in the summer of his freshman year in high school and the last four years as a Hawkeye.
Matt finished his Iowa career the sixth best all time scorer, the second best three-point shooter and one of only two Hawkeyes to score over 1,600 points, have over 400 rebounds, 250 plus assists and 125 plus steals. The other was Roy Marble.
Matt might not be the best athlete to play for Iowa, but I’d have to say he was one of the best all-around Hawkeyes.
Matt was not only a good scorer but was one of the best defenders in the Big Ten.
Coach Dillard first met Matt when he was a freshman in high school. Matt was invited to one of Sherman’s summer camps.
“Matt has always displayed this air of confidence,” said the coach. “This year he really stepped up to that next level of being a true leader. He led on the court, coming early to practice, staying late after practice and I know this for a fact that players will respect you if you walk the walk.”
Matt did that and more, and helped lay the foundation for future successful Hawkeye teams.
The only thing I questioned about Matt is that he doesn’t like peanut butter.
When I did a story on him last summer he didn’t want one of my really good Monster Cookies because they have peanut butter in them. That’s the first time I remember anyone turning down a Monster.
This is the first of a two-part story about the Hawkeye basketball season with insight from assistant coach Sherman Dillard.
Next week I’ll talk to Sherman about the Big Ten Tournament, the NIT, players coming back and the new recruits.