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Archive for July, 2010

European exposure

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Apparently, Pierre Pierce can still play the game. The former Iowa basketball player - grudgingly removed from the Hawkeye roster by coach Steve Alford five years ago following the 6-foot-4 guard's second arrest in three seasons - is taking his skills to the top league in Greece next season. According to the Euroleague website, Pierce signed a one-year contract this week to play for Aris Thessaloniki during the 2010-11 season. The move to the team that plays in the top professional league in Greece follows to years of competition with Hyeres-Toulon Var Basket in France. Pierce, who was convicted on third-degree sexual assault charges in 2003 and was sent to jail two years later after pleading guilty to five misdemeanor charges following a second arrest, was originally prohibited from traveling outside of the United States under terms of his sentence. He convinced an Iowa judge in 2008 to allow him to travel abroad and Pierce landed a second -- or is it a third -- chance in the professional leagues in France. Pierce averaged in double figures in each of the past two seasons there, including aveaging 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 30 games last season. His work there is providing Pierce an opportunity to take his game to the next level in Greece. Now 27 years old, Pierce is seen a rising star in European basketball. Nobody has ever questioned his skill on the court and Pierce's ability to keep his focus on that skill will determine just how brightly his star will shine.

State of the state

Monday, July 19th, 2010
Jarrod Uthoff's announcement tonight that he will sign with Wisconsin in November should provide fans with an eye-opening reflection on the state of college basketball in the state of Iowa. The Cedar Rapids Jefferson forward had previously cut his list of college possibilities to six, saying that he hoped to remain close to home. While fans at Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa defined that as remaining within the state's borders, Uthoff's definition was a little more worldly. He picked the Badgers over a collection of programs that also included Illinois and Butler. All made sense. All are Midwestern based. All are close to home. Before jetting off with his AAU team to play games in Las Vegas this week, Uthoff indicated he saw himself as a good fit in the Badgers' system and that he liked the notion of playing for a program with a successful track record. Iowa and Iowa State don't have the luxury of selling that right now. While first-year coaches Fran McCaffery and Fred Hoiberg can sell new practice facilities, hope and the chance to help build something special, neither are in a position to wow any recruit with stories of recent success. That is state of the state right now. McCaffery is trying to clean up the mess left by the Alford and Lickliter administrations and Hoiberg is mopping up after Eustachy, Morgan and McDermott.  Because of that, Iowa will remain fertile ground for recruiters from surrounding states. The high school talent level in the state in the Classes of 2011 and 2012 is as good as it has ever been. While McCaffery and Hoiberg hope to reap benefits from that, it would be foolish to think that others won't continue to try to lure as many Iowa prep players to leave the state as possible. This isn't the first time. Roy Williams had plenty of tradition to sell at Kansas, but he made a career in Lawrence out of going into areas where home-state programs were dealing with uncertainty and convincing gifted players that leaving home was the best thing to do. Williams did just that in the state of Iowa in 1999 as Tom Davis' tenure at Iowa neared its end and Larry Eustachy was taking over for Tim Floyd at Iowa State. He reeled in Kirk Heinrich and Nick Collison at a time when the Hawkeyes and Cyclones were in a state of transition. In an age when high school-age players are jetting off to both coasts for games with AAU teams on a regular basis, it's fantasy to think that loyalty to home-state institutions is all that strong. Ask Harrison Barnes. McCaffery and Hoiberg will need to win a few of those recruiting battles if they hope to have success at their new jobs. To expect them to win them all, however, probably could be filed under the category of fantasy as well.

A late push

Saturday, July 17th, 2010
He's pushing 30 years old, but former Iowa basketball player Sean Sonderleiter is doing more than installing office furniture these days. Sonderleiter, the Des Moines native who abruptly left the Hawkeye program in late January of 2004, is currently playing for New Orleans in the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League and is turning heads with his play as he attempts to earn an invitation to the Hornets' training camp this fall. Sonderleiter walked away from Iowa's program for "personal reasons'' in the middle of the Big Ten season, returning home to Des Moines. He spent some time working as a furniture installer in his hometown before returning to the court. He has played in the NBA's D-League the past two seasons. He averaged 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds last season for Fort Wayne and averaged a double-double over the final weeks of the season. Big guys tend to mature with age and the Sonderleiter who has been playing for Las Vegas is physically more mature than the one who suited up for the Steve Alford-coached Hawkeyes. He's added bulk and muscle to his frame that has also grown from the 6-foot-9 he was listed at while playing for Iowa to the 6-11 he is listed at today.

The art of compromise

Monday, July 12th, 2010
The NCAA Division I men's basketball committee unveiled a unique and intriguing compromise when it unveiled plans Monday for the expanded bracket that will be used for the NCAA tourney beginning next season. Instead of simply throwing the eight lowest-seeded teams onto the court to play their way into the Final 64 - something that was already raising eyebrows from coaches and administrators in conferences who traditionally find themselves as 15 and 16 seeds in NCAA play - the NCAA will sample a hybrid. Beginning in 2011, the road to the Final Four will begin with the First Four - a group of four-first round games that will mark the start of tourney. Traditional Thursday-Sunday games in the round of the 64 will now be referred to as second- and third-round games. The four games that will tipoff the event won't consist of the lowest eight seeds. Instead, two of the first-round games will feature the last four at-large teams selected to the field. The other two games will pair the teams seeded 65th through 68th, the lowest-seeded entries. In its announcement today, the NCAA said games involving the lowest at-large entries could funnel into the bracket at a number of spots. For instance, one game could feature a pair of No. 12 seeds. The other could pair two No. 10 seeds. Winners would then advance to play their natural opponent in a 64-team bracket. "With the new bracket essentially featuring four additional at-large teams, the committee determined it was appropriate to have the teams play in the first round,'' said UCLA athletics director Dan Guerrero, the chair of the NCAA tourney committee. Guerrero said committee believes the format will provide quality match-ups as the tourney begins. He's right. The two match-ups between what have been NCAA bubble teams should be highly-spirited, evenly-matched contests. During an appearance in the Quad-Cities last month, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson talked about the desire of coaches to maintain the integrity of the tournament as it grew. The committee's decision gives that a chance, allowing the final at-large entries in the field - be it an additional pick from a BCS-level conference or a second or third entry from a mid-major - a chance to determine on the floor if they belong in the field of 64. It also protects the stories that put the madness in March, maintaining an avenue for the 15 and 16 seeds to have a chance to script their own Cinderella roles as 16 seeds in what will now be known as second-round games. The NCAA committee still has some work to do. While the one play-in game the NCAA has had since expanding the field to 65 in 1999 has been played in Dayton, the schedule and location or locations for 2011 First Four games has not been set. Guerrero said several options are being considered. He said it is possible that all four games could be played at one site on one date, or games could be played at multiple sites on multiple dates. He said a combination of the two is possible. The NCAA indicated that teams will continue to be assigned to the closest geographic location while avoiding regular-season rematches and conference opponents. The additional games will all be televised by Turner Broadcasting's truTV as part of the NCAA's new 14-year TV deal with Turner and CBS.

Best swishes

Friday, July 9th, 2010
A few notes to send you into the weekend on... * Melsahn Basabe continues to put up impressive numbers in the Prime Time League. The incoming freshman forward is averaging 33.6 points and 13 rebounds per game through five games. While the PTL has never been known for its defense -- hey, it's mid-summer, not a January night at Mackey Arena or the Kohl Center -- Basabe is demonstrating the athleticism and energy that will make him an important component of Iowa's team next season. * When the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League tips off today, a pair of former Hawkeyes will be a part of the action. Jared Reiner is on the Detroit team that also includes former UNI center Jordan Eglseder of Bellevue and another former Iowa big man, swat-swatting Kurt Looby is on the NBA Development Select Team that will play in the league. Looby, a native of Antigua who arrived at Iowa with limited basketball experience, has continued to work on his game in the NBA D-League the past few years. He spent last season in Maine. Play in the Las Vegas Summer League runs through July 18. * Iowa coaches are looking at talent across the country this week during the first of two 10-day NCAA evaluation periods this month. While coaches are not allowed to speak with potential recruits during the 10-day window, they can watch all they want. New Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery spent the first day of the evaluation period in Milwaukee, where he got a close look at the Martin Brothers and Iowa Barnstormers AAU teams that include many of the state's top prep players. McCaffery wasn't alone. Coaches from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, LSU, Arizona State, Drake, Northern Iowa, Bradley and Butler were among those reportedly in the house during the first day of the Next Level Invitational in Milwaukee. Iowa was represented at other talent-filled events as well. A photographer from the Star in Indianapolis caught an image of Hawkeye assistant Sherman Dillard with a front-row seat of action going on there at the Adidas Invitational. One of the players he was watching was 6-10 Cody Zeller of Washington, Ind. Zeller continues to have an offer from the Hawkeyes as he does from Florida, Purdue, Ohio State, Indiana, Butler and Notre Dame. The younger brother of North Carolina player Tyler Zeller is expected to select five campuses to officially visit this fall once his summer play ends.

Lessons, opportunities

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
There are some lessons and opportunities to be found in the recent announcement that Brennan Cougill will be academically ineligible to compete for Iowa next season. The lessons are tough. Cougill's inability to perform at the necessary level in the classroom has denied him the chance to compete for the Hawkeyes next season. Instead of jetting off to the Virgin Islands with Iowa for the Paradise Jam, he'll be hopping in a van with his new Kirkwood Community College teammates for a trip to Marshalltown. While Kirkwood is one of the top D-II juco programs in the nation, it isn't the Big Ten. The experience will likely be somewhat humbling for an athlete who spent the past year enjoying the amenities that accompany being part of a high-level Division I program. The experience will provide Cougill with the chance to get his academics in order. If successful, he'll have an opportunity to return to a Division I program. He has expressed a desire to return to Iowa. His progress, both academically and athletically, will determine if that happens. Cougill didn't point fingers or place blame when it was announced that he was ineligible. He should be commended for accepting responsibility. Many athletes in the same situation have simply hidden behind generic statements that were likely the handiwork of sports information personnel rather than the actual sentiments of the individual. Academic assistance is available for student-athletes at Iowa. Study tables and tutors are readily accessible and typically required, especially for freshmen who often find the study habits they had in high school are not sufficient at the collegiate level. Cougill pointed the finger only at himself, saying that he could have and should have earned better grades throughout his freshman year. Improved marks would have left him with a cumulative grade-point average that would have kept him eligible for the 2010-11 season. He tried to correct things by taking an interim course following the end of the spring semester, but finished with a B instead of the needed A that would have pushed his GPA above the needed level. The fallout? Cougill now finds himself not only dealing with a tough lesson but with an opportunity. Only time will tell if he makes the most of it.