IOWA CITY, Iowa - It’s one thing to be the understudy.
It’s another thing to be the understudy to the national player of the year.
Iowa center Josh Ogundele wasn’t going to play much last season, especially since he always felt behind everyone else because he arrived so late on campus.
So what he did was a.) try to get in shape and b.) try to learn from Luka Garza.
That’s a good teacher to have.
Garza, the consensus national player of the year, is gone now. But the lessons he left behind, and the advice he gave, have stayed with Ogundele.
“He said to me that hard work beats talent,” Ogundele said on Tuesday. “Work hard, and my game will come.”
It’s good advice — certainly it worked for Garza, who developed into a dominating player who would finish his career as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Garza’s toolbox of moves that he developed over time taught plenty to Ogundele, who never quite knew what to expect next.
“If it’s not one move, he would switch to the next move,” Ogundele said. “I tried to steal some of his moves, put them into my own game. It was hard, but it taught me a lot.
“The moves worked. Sometimes, I’d just be surprised myself, like, ‘How did he do that?’ It was just talent and skill.”
It’s been a struggle for Ogundele, a native of London who was recruited by coach
Fran McCaffery out of Worcester (Mass.) Academy.
COVID-19 restrictions prevented Ogundele from getting on campus last summer until August, a two-month deficit to the rest of his teammates.
“I believe I was very behind,” he said. “Everybody was here since June, and I came in August. Of course, I was two months behind. I’ve been very behind.”
The 6-foot-11 Ogundele was listed at 285 pounds on last season’s roster, and there was a quest to not only get into shape, but lose weight.
Ogundele played in just eight games last season, but three of those came in March, including a one-minute appearance in the first half of Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Illinois.
Ogundele was brought in because of foul trouble, and to provide a challenge for Illinois center Kofi Cockburn. Ten seconds into the game, Ogundele proved to be a big roadblock for Cockburn, who missed an inside shot.
There was also the thunderous dunk he had in the closing seconds of Iowa’s 102-64 win over Nebraska, one in which the basketball caromed off the official standing along the baseline.
“It’s been a very big learning curve,” Ogundele said. “I want to say compared to last year, I’m much more quicker, I’m much more agile, I’m much more athletic. Dunking everything.”
It’s a new season, one in which Ogundele hopes to play a big part.
“If I keep working this year, get into the shape I want to, hopefully I can start, play big minutes,” Ogundele said. “I feel like I’m a person the team I can rely on more.”
It helps that Ogundele will get a full summer of conditioning — “Honestly, I’m not in crazy great shape now,” he said — but he knows he can help.
“I want to say I’m quite fast for my size. I can switch on to guards, get stops,” Ogundele said. “I can step out and shoot it, I can drive. Obviously, back to the basket — I can post up too.”
Ogundele listed at 245 pounds now, a number that he wants to shrink.
“Before I gained a lot of weight, I ran up and down the court,” Ogundele said. “Running up and down isn’t a problem, especially as I’m losing weight. That’s how you get easy buckets.”
Ogundele understands what the Hawkeyes lost with his departure.
“That’s one thing my national coach told me — pressure is a privilege,” he said.“I’m lucky to be here. I just have to step forward — every day is a new day. I just try to do the best of my ability.”