The Mean Season

April 9, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

The last several years, the Iowa basketball out of season has been pretty tough to take.  More specifically, the weeks immediately following the end of the season which has typically been from mid March through April.

In each of the last three seasons, Iowa has lost its best player; Tyler Smith, Tony Freeman and Jake Kelly.

You might be able to add Aaron Fuller to that list now, as he is leaving the Iowa basketball program.

The only reason I say ‘might’ is because some folks are quibbling over Fuller being the team’s best player.  For the season, Fuller averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds.  The scoring average was second best on a 10 win, 21 loss team, while his rebounding average was tops.

However, Fuller’s 12.3 points per game in Big Ten games only was tops on the Iowa team, with Gatens behind him at 11.8.  Fuller was 5th in the Big Ten with 7.8 rebounds per game in conference play & he was tops in the league in offensive rebounds at 3.4 per game.  Given that Iowa was 8th in the league in rebounding margin and given how much Fuller had improved from his freshman to sophomore season while taking into account he began this year with a sprained ankle, I’d say that the loss of Fuller is pretty big.

I still think the loss of Kelly is bigger, because Kelly had emerged as a dangerous player with the ball in his hands and given that he played point down the stretch, the position where the ball is in your hand more than any other, that was a tough one.

However, without Fuller, Iowa has one player that has proven he can hang in the paint and rebound and that is Jarryd Cole, who will be a senior next year.  But he can’t do it himself and even with Fuller in the paint with him, Iowa was still one of the four worst rebounding teams in the league last year.

That, and they were 10-21.

The optimist might say that with Fuller, Iowa still had one of the worst seasons in school history, so how much worse can it be without him?

Hey, I love optimists.  However, the optimist in me was hopeful that next year’s team could finish at or above .500 and make strides towards a possible NCAA tournament bid in two years, considering the event will likely be expanded by then.

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Fuller’s departure may be compounded if Cody Larson doesn’t come to Iowa.  Larson was released from his letter of intent today, yet he said he has invited Iowa to re-recruit him.

The optimists will say that Iowa isn’t out of it yet.  The pessimist in me asks how many times have you seen a kid get out of his LOI only to re-sign with the same school?

That’s double departure trouble at a similar position on the same day for a team that needed all hands on deck next year to have an optimist’s shot at finishing .500.

I understand that some of you will read this and feel that it’s defeatist…that we haven’t seen Fran McCaffery’s style of play, so don’t make assumptions like this.  Some will say that Iowa has more scholarships now and can pick up a Juco or two or otherwise.  Some will say that Iowa is in the hunt for a forward that had committed to Siena…

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I know this; if you are banking on picking up some late Juco help, as in more than one, your reality bites.  Then again, we knew that already.  It’s also a questionable strategy, as many of the best players from that level have been recruited by coaches the past year and relationships are established, and the chances of landing even one difference maker are small.

That might be selling McCaffery short, but he has just one assistant coach at this time.  Iowa may have three scholarships available to use this fall, which might be a better strategy, even if it means the 2010-2011 season will once again be rife with potholes, a short bench and even more change.

Iowa point guard Cully Payne was upbeat and cheery a few weeks back after meeting with Coach McCaffery.  He said, “One thing that really stuck with me is that he said it’s not going to be a long, grueling season.”

I hope that’s true…but it’s already shaping up as yet another long and grueling off season.

I don’t put any of this on McCaffery’s ledger.  Had Todd Lickliter been retained, Fuller was gone anyway and I wasn’t totally convinced Larson was super solid in his commitment, because of the whispers of other schools contacting him indirectly and letting him know they were interested if he wanted to look in their direction.  As for whom those schools are, just follow his recruitment the next few weeks and you’ll have your answers.

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But this is the mess McCaffery has inherited.  The good news is that he has been here before, and he has rebuilt three programs.  He knew what he was getting into when he accepted the position and we all knew that there was not going to be any magic quick fix pill to make things better overnight.

Still, it doesn’t make the double dose of bad news any easier to swallow.  Tom Kakert of HawkeyeReport.com wrote on Friday that McCaffery had flown out to Arizona to meet with Fuller’s dad.  If that happened, it was a swing and a miss.  Again, I can’t put that one on McCaffery’s books, because Fuller had made up his mind to leave more than a month ago.  When young people get something in their mind like that, especially young people from half a country away from home who dealt with a coach that didn’t really have any sort of a relationship with his players, home looks a heck of a lot better.

And home area schools sure as heck liked what they saw of Fuller in Big Ten play.

Your friends back home see that and say ‘How come you are gonna stay out there?”  That gets in your head and the next thing you know you’re gone mentally; you’ve checked out.  Coming back from that level of mental commitment is a hard decision for adults, let alone college aged kids.  I don’t fault Fuller for wanting to hit the reset button on his basketball career, either.

No matter how you slice it and no matter how you evaluate it, Iowa lost one of its best proven players and likely one of its best incoming recruits that would have served as a backup to Fuller at times next year.

It wasn’t a good Friday.

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