Archive for October, 2009
Former Iowa basketball coach Lute Olson and the Hawkeyes' 1980 Final Four team is holding a weekend reunion beginning today in Iowa City. The team will be honored at Saturday's Iowa-Indiana football game and will attend the Hawkeyes' intrasquad scrimmage that follows at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa coach Todd Lickliter hopes that Olson might speak to this year's Iowa team as well. "I've always had a great deal of respect for coach Olson,'' Lickliter said Thursday at the Big Ten basketball media day in Chicago. "I recall attending a coaching clinic in St. Louis that coach Olson spoke at when he was at Iowa. I was probably coaching high school ball at the time and he gave a presentation on how to handle pressure defense that I got a lot out of. I probably still have the notes somewhere and I spoke at that same clinic a couple of years ago, in part because of how much information I gained from attending it.'' Lickliter's Butler teams played in the Arizona tourney that Olson's Wildcats hosted several times and the pair talked shortly after Lickliter was hired as Iowa's coach three years ago. Lickliter welcomes the chance to introduce his team to the players and coaches who led Iowa to its most recent Final Four appearance. He strongly believes that links to past successes can only strengthen programs. "That's one reason one of the first things we did when I arrived here was hang pictures of our Big Ten championship teams in the locker room when I got here,'' Lickliter said. "Our past is important as we build our future.'' While names like Lester, Brookins, Waite, Boyle and Krafcisin may not be familar to players who were born a decade after those players became Hawkeye heroes, Lickliter hopes this generation of players will an appreciation for the players and coaches they will meet this weekend. "I would think most of our guys will know of the success that Lute Olson has had and that they will appreciate what he has to say,'' Lickliter said. "It will be good to have those guys back on campus.''
A few former Hawkeyes are making news these days. Former Iowa guards Tony Freeman and Jake Kelly were among players receiving mention today when the Missouri Valley Conference named its preseason all-conference teams. Freeman, preparing for his senior season at Southern Illinois, was named to the six-player all-conference team while Kelly, who will be a junior at Indiana State, received honorable mention in the preseason balloting of league coaches, sports information directors and media. The group picked Northern Iowa to repeat as the Valley champion in 2009-10, selecting the Panthers' Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Adam Koch to the league preseason all-conference team. Another former Hawkeye is preparing for his 10th season in the NBA. Ryan Bowen is on the opening day roster of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He's had a good run in "the league'' and has come a long way since he was knocking down jumpers and starring on the tennis court for Fort Madison High School.
Ronnie Lester was more than an all-American basketball player at Iowa. He was and continues to be an all-American person off the court as well, something the 1981 Iowa graduate illustrated today when he handed over a check for $100,000 to help fund renovations at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Lester's dollards are targeted. They will help fund a new training room that will carry the name of longtime Iowa trainer John Streif, a man who has spent the last 37 years providing care to Hawkeye athletes in a number of sports. Lester, who helped lead Iowa to its most recent Final Four berth in 1980, was among the players whose ankles, knees and wrists have received treatment over the years from Streif. Now the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, Lester calls Streif ''a terrific friend to me for more than 30 years'' and labels his dedication to the Hawkeyes "legendary.'' He considered the donation a way to show his gratitude to Streif, a 1970 Iowa grad who currently serves as an assistant athletic trainer and travel coordinator for Iowa athletics. Lester is among the members of a committee working to raise $20 million to assist in funding the $43 million project. He's also an athlete who didn't forget an individual who helped him along the way. There's something very refreshing about that.
It took only two days for the Iowa basketball program to suffer its first significant injury of the 2009-10 season. Junior college transfer Devon Archie injured his right shoulder during the Hawkeyes' second workout of the season and will miss 4-to-7 weeks, coach Todd Lickliter announced today. That could lead to a return to the court as soon as Iowa's Nov. 15 season opener or it could keep the 6-foot-9 Archie on the bench for as many as eight games. An Indianapolis native, Archie's strength lies in his shot-blocking ability, something Iowa lacked a year ago and something he hopes to add to the mix during the upcoming season. He averaged 6.8 points, 6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season at Vincennes. The timing of Archie's injury should allow him ample time to return prior to start of Big Ten play and Iowa's depth is slightly improved over where it has been in recent years although this probably puts additional pressure on Brennan Cougill to perform early in his freshman season. The Hawkeyes' first public appearance is Oct. 31, when Iowa holds a scrimmage approximately 30 minutes after the Iowa-Indiana football game. That game at Kinnick Stadium is now scheduled for an 11 a.m. kickoff and will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2. Iowa also announced a pair of interesting ticket packages on Monday, hoping to coax some fans back into the stands at Carver-Hawkeye. One is a six-game weekend package for $120 that includes games with Drake, Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana and a choice of one of three non-conference games. The other is essentially a seven-game package and is priced at $90. The weekday package includes tickets for games with Virginia Tech, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan in addition to a "free'' ticket to one of two other non-conference games. Director of athletics Gary Barta spoke at a luncheon in Davenport earlier today and he said season ticket sales for basketball have been steady. Iowa students have purchased 1,400 season tickets, up from 900 a year ago. Barta is hopeful that growth in tickets sold late last season will carry over to the 2009-10 ticket base. Iowa saw a slight increase in average attendance last year after six years of lower numbers.
No matter what the future may hold, media days always provide a bit of fresh air, a starting point to a new season. It was no different today for the Iowa men's basketball team, which had five new faces on the floor to go with seven returning players from a team that finished one game under .500 a year ago. Two of the newcomers have been waiting for this day for some time. In-state recruits Brennan Cougill and Eric May made early commitments to the Hawkeye program and were living out life-long dreams on the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "This is where I've always wanted to be,'' Cougill said. "I've been watching Iowa play basketball all my life and now, I get a chance to be a part of it and it is exciting to have a chance to help turn this program around.'' The 6-foot-9 post player from Sioux City Heelan weighs in around 260, but has shed nearly 20 pounds since arriving on campus in June. He's also made noticable strength gains that will help him compete for playing time inside. May is a versatile 6-5 player who could fill a variety of roles for Iowa during the upcoming season. The former Dubuque Wahlert prep is anxious for Friday night, when the Hawkeyes will hold their first formal practice. "It's been a long time coming,'' May said. "I've wanted to be a Hawkeye forever and Friday, that's when it begins for real. I know there is a lot of hard work ahead for me, but I'm ready to put that in and see where it can take me.'' Neither player enters practice with a clear picture of what their role might be on this year's team, something that will play out over the next few weeks and months. "I don't have any expectations,'' May said. "I'm just going out with the idea that I'm going to compete hard and do what I can to get better every day and go from there.'' Iowa will make its first public appearance on Oct. 31, when the Hawkeyes hold an open scrimmage 30 minutes after the Iowa-Indiana football game. There will be no charge for the scrimmage, which is being held on a weekend when the Hawkeyes will honor their most recent Final Four team. Iowa's 1980 Final Four team will celebrate its 30-year reunion that weekend. Lute Olson, the coach of that time, is expected to be in attendance. Olson and the team will be honored during the Indiana football game as well.
Jake Kelly didn't only dish out assists for the Iowa basketball team. The former Hawkeye also benefited from an assist by his former Iowa coach. Kelly talked about his decision to leave the Hawkeyes and transfer closer to home in an article that appeared today at ESPN.com, discussing how he wrestled with where he wanted to be following his mother's death. "As the season went by and it started getting further and further from the time she died, I knew Iowa wasn't where I was supposed to be,'' Kelly told the website. "Then I went home for Christmas break and it was such a sad time without her, but my family was there. I kind of knew I needed to come back and be with my family.'' Kelly didn't reach a final decision until the season ended, but followed a younger brother back to the family home in Terre Haute, Ind., where Kelly will continue his career at Indiana State. He informed coach Todd Lickliter of that decision in late March, at the same time that three other Hawkeyes were punching their tickets out of town. But Kelly's decision was different and before the NCAA made its decision, Lickliter wrote a letter to the organization on Kelly's behalf. The Iowa coach told ESPN.com that he went as far as to write that Kelly deserved the chance to take the floor with the Sycamores this season, a decision the NCAA agreed with last week when it granted Kelly a hardship waiver that allows him to begin his junior season next week when practices begin. "Sure, it was a difficult thing to do. We would have loved to have Jake as a Hawkeye,'' Lickliter told the website. "But I don't think you don't do what's right because you're feeling sorry for yourself or you're going through a rough time. I trusted him. I believed him and I could see nothing gained by making him suffer more.'' That provides a hint as to what type of coach Gary Barta hired a little more than two years ago.
Iowa's basketball program is ranked 10th -- and we're not talking about in this year's Big Ten preseason polls. The Hawkeye program ranks 10th in the nation in the all-time Sagarin rankings, an all-inclusive rating of all existing Division I programs that is included in the new ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia that is scheduled to be released in bookstores nationally this week. Jeff Sagarin, whose regular-season poll is widely followed from week to the next as bracket junkies try to figure out who will get the shaft on selection Sunday, has compiled a historical list of college hoops' top programs from the start of the 1937-38 season through last year. It's probably no surprise that Kentucky tops the list, edging UCLA for the top spot on rankings that includes Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana in its top five. The Hoosiers are among eight Big Ten programs to land in the top 15 in the all-time list. Illinois is ranked sixth, one spot ahead of Duke, while Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa round out the top 10. Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State fill the 13th through 15th spots. Wisconsin ranks 28th, Northwestern is 77th and Penn State falls in the 82nd spot on the overall poll. Sagarin offers a top-40 ranking of programs for each decade as well beginning with the 1940s. Iowa surfaces in the top 10 twice -- ranking eighth in the 1950s when the Hawkeyes made a pair of Final Four appearances and eighth in the 1980s, a decade that began with Iowa's most recent Final Four berth under Lute Olson and included the Hawkeyes' most recent regional final appearance under Tom Davis. Sagarin's best by decade: 1940s -- 1. Oklahoma State, 2. Kentucky, 3. Illinois, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Indiana 1950s -- 1. Kentucky, 2. Illinois, 3. Kansas State, 4. Kansas, 5. Indiana 1960s -- 1. UCLA, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Duke, 4. Ohio State, 5. Kentucky 1970s -- 1. UCLA, 2. North Carolina, 3. Marquette, 4. Kentucky, 5. Indiana 1980s -- 1. North Carolina, 2. Georgetown, 3. Indiana, 4. Illinois, 5. Kentucky 1990s -- 1. Kentucky, 2. Duke, 3. North Carolina, 4. Kansas, 5. Arizona 2000s -- 1. Duke, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina, 4. Florida, 5. Michigan State In addition to the Sagarin rankings and plenty of data -- box scores from NCAA tourney games from the Sweet 16 to the title since 1939, for example -- the book used a selection committee to rank the game's 50 greatest players, 15 greatest coaches, 15 greatest teams, 10 best NCAA tournaments, 10 greatest individual tourney performances, 10 best tourney buzzer beaters, 15 best programs to never win it all and 50 best nicknames.
The NCAA has a heart. The organization announced today it has waived its year-in residence requirement for Jake Kelly, making the Iowa transfer eligible to compete at Indiana State during the upcoming season "due to his extraordinary personal circumstances.'' Kelly opted to transfer to the Missouri Valley Conference program in March, nine months after he witnessed the death of his mother in a plane crash that took place during a family vacation trip to Florida in the summer of 2008. The waiver allows Kelly to compete immediately without sitting out the normal one year the NCAA requires for athletes who move from Division I program to another. The uniqueness of Kelly's situation, and the delay in his decision to transfer, slowed the NCAA as it worked through a waiver process that includes criteria which addresses unique situations and extenuating circumstances that are not outlined in the organization's rules. When that happens, each case is reviewed individually with the interest and well-being of all student-athletes in mind. Indiana State presented Kelly's request to the NCAA late this summer, a request that included support from Iowa officials. Approval alllows the honorable mention all-Big Ten guard to play this season for the Sycamores on a campus that is a handful of miles from where he grew up and from where his father and other family members live. Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna, in a statement, said the process was handled well by the NCAA. "This decision will mean a lot to his close friends and family. I think that this is really going to help him and his family with the healing process,'' McKenna said. "The ability to have his mind on school, basketball and our team while playing will be the best thing for him.'' Kelly attended Marshall High School in Marshall, Ill. -- a little over 10 miles from Indiana State's Terre Haute campus -- until his junior year of high school when he transferred to Carmel High School in suburban Indianapolis. This is one case where the NCAA got it right. Kelly's circumstances deserve the waiver he was granted. Iowa will miss a player who was beginning to come into his own at the Big Ten level, but this situation involved more than basketball. There are still fans who lump his departure in with the exits of three other players last spring. Truth be told, timing was about the only shared element. Kelly's situation, and his deeply personal struggles to deal with the witnessed death of a parent in a tragic accident, justify his decision and desire for a change of scenery. Thankfully, the NCAA understood that as well.