Schwartz: Hawkeye Hoops Come Full Circle

October 8, 2015

Written by David Schwartz

Here’s one thing about college sports: Teams are always in rebuilding mode, even when it feels like they’re not.

Three years ago freshmen Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury entered the Iowa men’s basketball program. They mixed their talent with inexperience, made some plays, made some mistakes, and took their first steps into a larger world.

In games they found their way. In practice they found their redshirted teammate, Jarrod Uthoff. A transfer from Wisconsin, Uthoff was required by NCAA rules to sit out a season. He watched his teammates, even if he might not have felt like one.

The seniors that year? There weren’t many. The only notable senior was Eric May, a highlight dunker. As a senior, he accepted the responsibility of leading by example. But as a teacher May was complemented by a strong junior class that included Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe.

Now it’s 2015. Gesell, Clemmons, Uthoff and Woodbury are the seniors, the ends of their college careers already in sight. College sports, right? Careers begin and, before you know it, they end. The freshmen students become the senior teachers.

This year’s Hawkeyes feature seven – seven! – freshmen. Five true freshmen and two redshirts:

F Nicholas Baer (RS)

G Brady Ellingson (RS)

G Andrew Fleming

F Brandon Hutton

G Isaiah Moss

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F Ahmad Wagner

G Christian Williams

That’s 41 percent of the total roster. The seniors will need to perform on the court, especially with Aaron White graduated, but what they do off of it will be just as important.

“We were once there as freshmen, so we know how patient we have to be,” Clemmons said Wednesday. “But we also know how we have to carry ourselves, have an expectation for ourselves. We can’t come down to a level of mediocrity just because someone’s not as ahead as we are. It’s real important. We’re taking on a leadership role as the next step.”

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The Iowa athletic department welcomed boosters and media to its practice facility Wednesday to meet the team. The freshmen wandered around, a little lost, their eyes wide or glazed over.

This was nothing new to the seniors. Gesell – poor, patient Mike Gesell – must have stood in the same spot for 30-45 minutes answering the same questions. He was a rock.

Clemmons and Woodbury did their parts, too. They calmly answered questions, unflustered by the microphones and mobile phones shoved in their faces. But media frustrate Uthoff. It’s easy to understand why. At these kinds of events – “media days,” as they’re called – media members like myself ask mindless, obvious questions. Questions we already know the answers to. But we need the quote, so we ask anyway.

Do you feel more pressure as a senior?

The Big Ten will be tough, don’t you think?

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Uthoff shined most with the boosters. Especially their kids. He signed autographs and posed for every picture. He was kind and welcoming. And talk about a long day – Wednesday night Uthoff and some teammates signed autographs for kids at the University of Iowa Hall of Fame. The last kid through the line – my daughter, coincidentally – got the same smile and “hi” from Uthoff that he had been giving for the previous six hours.

These are the sorts of lessons seniors teach. Do you have to practice hard, listen to coaches, and execute during games? Of course. That’s the minimum. Being a high-profile college athlete, however, demands more.

Clemmons, Gesell, Uthoff and Woodbury are teaching the freshmen how to carry themselves. How to balance basketball and school. How to be a young grownup, just as May and Marble did for them a few years ago.

In college sports, it’s the circle of life.

“We lost some great seniors last year with Aaron White and Gabe [Olaseni] and J.O. [Josh Oglesby],” Woodbury said. “They were always good leaders, on and off the court. So it’s time for our guys to step up and try to replace that role.”

 

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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