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A day of their own

Thursday, January 31st, 2013
As fans continue to debate whether Iowa and Nebraska should face each other on the football field on the Friday after Thanksgiving, officials from both schools will proceed with plans to continue what was initially a two-year experiment. Nebraska has played on the date for years, meeting old Big Eight rival Oklahoma on the date and following that with games against Colorado once the Big Eight became the Big XII. When Iowa officials were asked to consider a move from a Saturday date to a Friday date, they wisely chose to agree to a two-year deal with a promise they would review the situation after that point. Their reasoning was sound. Iowa had never hosted a game on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the modern era and officials wanted to see from a logistical standpoint if what worked on Saturday would work on a Friday when many businesses are open and when nearly every student is away from campus. There is no question that the post-holiday date can make it tricky for some fans to make it to the venue, especially with the 11 a.m. kickoffs dictated by television the past two years. And for the first time in 30 games, Kinnick Stadium was not sold out and was far from full for the final game of a 4-8 season last Black Friday. A total of 69,805 tickets were sold and many were sold to Cornhuskers fans who wanted to watch their team attempt to play its way to the Big Ten title game. The previous year, Nebraska played in front of its usual full house in Lincoln. Both games attracted national network television, and although Iowa lost both (20-7 in Lincoln in 2011 and 13-7 last season in Iowa City) the ratings were solid and gave important exposure to both programs. As much as anything, the opportunity to have a somewhat unique window makes the Black Friday match-up away from crowded competition the following day a valuable commodity. Wisely, both schools are seeking Big Ten approval to continue the series on Black Friday. It gives the Hawkeye and 'Huskers programs a day of their own and allows both programs to build on the Heroes Game aspect of the event, a chance to honor individuals and provide charitable donations to worthy organizations. This is a rivalry in its infancy, but the past two years have given it a decent foundation to build on. Coach Kirk Ferentz has been no fan of extending the Big Ten schedule into Thanksgiving week - something I don't necessarily disagree with - but the outcome of that battle has been settled at a higher level and Big Ten teams will continue to play on the weekend into the foreseeable future. It makes sense that the Hawkeyes and Huskers have a day of their own.

Words that mattered

Sunday, January 20th, 2013
Before and following Iowa's 70-66 win over Wisconsin tonight, a pair of Hawkeyes listened to heartfelt words which mattered. Before the game, freshman guard Mike Gesell had the chance to meet and talk a bit with Mike Street, the father of Chris Street. After the win, Aaron White paused and talked with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who took time during the handshake line to compliment the Hawkeye sophomore on his play. Both players took the words to heart. Gesell said his conversation with Mike Street provided some perspective on the player whose life was being honored at tonight's game. "It was an honor to talk with him and get to know more about his Chris,'' Gesell said. "In listening to what he had to say, I've learned not to take things for granted, to make the most of every opportunity that I have.'' The words resonated with Gesell, as did Ryan's conversation with White. The sophomore had just finished a 17-point, 7-rebound performance which finished Wisconsin's perfect start in the Big Ten. Ryan worked his way down the handshake line in normal fashion, but paused when he reached White and complimented him on his game. "He said he wished he wouldn't have overlooked me in Ohio,'' White said. "He had recruited out of Drexel, which is near my hometown, and he said he wished he would have looked a little more in that area.'' White's story has been well documented. Iowa was the only Big Ten program to offer him a scholarship. "He talked to me for longer than I thought he would. He said 'Good job shooting your free throws. How did I let you get out of Ohio?''' White said. "That's high praise coming from a guy like that. His resume speaks for itself. ... For him to stop and means a lot to me, especially after a big game like that.''

A different era

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Tom Davis believes the University of Iowa is doing the right thing by celebrating the life and the contributions of Chris Street on Saturday, recognizing them at Saturday's home basketball game against Wisconsin 20 years to the day after a traffic accident took the life of the forward. "Chris' death impacted so many people across the state and I think it is good that people will have a chance to remember how special he was and the values he had,'' Davis said. "He died so young, but he had accomplished a lot. I think the way it impacted people says a lot about Iowa and what kind of state this is and the goodness of its people.'' That tragedy, as much as anything during his tenure as Iowa, illustrated to Davis the strength of the bond between fans and players in the Hawkeye program. It was a different era, a time when Iowa had three radio networks broadcasting each game, when the coach's weekly show on Sunday drew solid ratings across the state on local television and when fans could count on virtually every game being shown on the same television channel. "There weren't as many cable channels, there wasn't Twitter or Facebook and people's lives were different 20 years ago,'' Davis said. "People felt a real connection with the players. I don't know if the situation would be the same today.'' Time and the shock of the situation have blurred Davis' memory of what transpired in the hours and days following Street's death. He recalls being informed of the accident in a telephone call from long-time Iowa trainer John Streif. "A lot of what happened after that, the details, they're gone. The shock and trauma of such a tragedy, all I can recall is wanting to do anything I could.'' Davis believes his entire team, from the coaches to the managers to the players on the floor, gained strength from Mike and Patty Street, the parents of the Hawkeye who committed to the program he always wanted to be a part of prior to his junior year of high school. "I think our players thought so much of Mike and Patty, and of Chris' sisters, that the respect they had for them helped all of us move forward,'' Davis said. Davis believes the character that Street displayed, from his roots as a standout multi-sport athlete in high school to his willingness to interact with fans, especially youngsters, had a lot to do with the way Hawkeye fans respected Street. Davis, who still calls Iowa City home in his retirement, said he still fields questions about Street when he makes rare speaking engagements. He said it remains difficult to this day to speak about the tragedy that claimed a young player who had such a promising future ahead of him. "He was your typical good Iowa high school kid and I suspect that is one reason so many people relate to him the way they do,'' Davis said. "Everybody felt a loss.'' Davis remains unsure if he will attend Saturday's game, which will include a halftime ceremony remembering Street. "We'll see,'' Davis said.

Veteran’s day

Sunday, January 13th, 2013
Three freshmen may be in the starting five for the Iowa basketball team this season, but today was clearly a veteran's day as the Hawkeyes collected their first Big Ten victory of the season. Aaron White, Josh Oglesby, Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe and Eric May led Iowa to its 70-50 win at Northwestern. The Hawkeyes' largest win over the Wildcats since 1998 was a collective effort led by players who have been there and done that. They've competed on the road, dealt with the rigors of a Big Ten schedule and learned that dwelling on bad outing can lead to a pair if a player cannot move on. Sunday, White, Oglesby, Basabe, McCabe and May moved on from Iowa's previous struggles to earn a win. They did it on a day when Adam Woodbury went 1-for-7 from the field, Mike Gesell went 1-for-8 and Anthony Clemmons finished 0-for-2. The work of Iowa's veterans did not go unnoticed by Northwestern coach Bill Carmody in his postgame remarks. "Their veterans were the difference in this game, they won it for them,'' Carmody said. "That's the way it has to work in the Big Ten and that is something I've been telling my veterans. They have to get it done if we want to be successful. Anything you get from the young guys is gravy. It's the veterans who win games in this conference.'' Iowa's veterans proved that point today.

Tough talk

Friday, January 11th, 2013
Iowa basketball players have heard a steady diet of tough talk from their coaches this week. That won't change after tonight's 62-59 loss to 22nd-ranked Michigan State. The Hawkeyes gave coach Fran McCaffery only half of what he wanted when he criticized his team's toughness following Sunday's blowout loss at Michigan. "We didn't play with any toughness, and that's disappointing,'' McCaffery said following the loss to the Spartans. "Offensively, we played with no toughness whatsoever. Defensively, we did. On the glass, we did. But you have the other end of the floor, OK?'' He pointed to Iowa's 18 turnovers and a lack of offensive execution as examples that the Hawkeyes have room to grow in developing the mental toughness it takes to compete in the Big Ten on that end of the floor. McCaffery found an example in the way the Hawkeyes coughed up the ball against Michigan State's defense, which turned 18 turnovers into 24 points and a road win. "They don't change defenses. They don't press. You can't turn the ball over 18 times because when you do, it's dunks and lay-ups. He we are working hard to stop them, and then we're giving up lay-ups off of turnovers. Can't do it.'' McCaffery was unhappy with his team's ability to run the offense that was called. He concedes that the Spartans' typically-stout defense had something to do with that, but he points to an inability to consistently run what has been called as another area Iowa needs to shore up. "What you have to be able to do is execute your offense whether you are running motion or set plays,'' he said. "We worked a lot in the last three days on that, and we didn't do it. What we ended up doing was having some good players make some good plays at times.'' The Hawkeyes' inability to execute in critical situations came back to haunt Iowa, which watched the Spartans do just that as they overcame a four-point deficit in the final two minutes to move over .500 in Big Ten play. "A little bit of what happened is because of how they play. You know, there is going to be a little bit of that,'' McCaffery said. "The X is going to be on the O. So your screening action is going to be a little different, they're going to knock you out of your timing and spacing and things of that nature, but you've got to be able to get the ball to where it needs to get to and space the floor accordingly and run a set play if you need to. We couldn't do that today.'' Guard Mike Gesell said the Spartans made it tough on Iowa, but in some instances the Hawkeyes made it tougher on themselves. "We did a lot of good things on defense, especially coming off of the Michigan game, but on offense, that didn't carry over. We've got a lot of work to do. We've got to get tougher and we know it.'' In case they forget, they will likely be reminded a time or two over the next couple of days as Iowa prepares for Sunday's game at Northwestern. "It's a mental toughness, an understanding of how you're going to run certain things offensively,'' McCaffery said. "We know we have to execute effectively because the team we're facing next is one of the best at that.''

Party on

Monday, December 31st, 2012
Only one thing spoiled the New Year's Eve bash Monday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena - somebody invited Indiana. The fifth-ranked Hoosiers ultimately displayed why they are the favorite to win the Big Ten title this season, making just enough plays in critical moments to survive a 69-65 scare from the Hawkeyes. Neither team played particularly well, especially on the offensive end of the floor, but at least one thing was drawing rave reviews from every locker room beneath the 15,400 seats at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The atmosphere in the joint was worthy of an upper echelon Big Ten battle. That is something that hasn't been said a lot lately. The sellout was just the fourth in the games Iowa has played in the three seasons Fran McCaffery has coached the team and for the first time in years, it felt like old times. Beckoning back to an era when Iowa basketball was a consistent factor in the Big Ten race, the place was jumping. Fans arrived early, stayed late. That didn't go unnoticed. "We kept telling our guys that if we got a win at Carver it was going to be a big deal because not many people are going to be coming in here and winning,'' Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "I hope their fans keep it up. That was a great atmosphere, exciting to be in as an opponent.'' McCaffery praised the racket the crowd was making as well as did his players. "The fans were great. It was as loud as I've heard it,'' forward Aaron White said. "It's the way we want it to be every time we play. I know our fans will keep coming out. That's the way they are. And, we need to keep working so we can hold up our end of the deal, too, and give them the win they want.'' Crean believes those wins will come. "I like watching Iowa play. They play so hard, so competitively,'' he said. "Coach McCaffery mixes lineups, and he's got a lot of versatility.'' McCaffery was impressed with his team's fight. "We have great character on our team. We fought hard. We hung in, but we have to understand is the anatomy of the game,'' he said. "This game is different than any other game we played before or any game we will play in the future. "So, you have to understand what we have to do to win, and what are the things that we can't do, because if we do those, we are going to lose this game. They did a little better job at that than us. A little bit more experienced, a little tougher on the road. We have some things to learn, and we will.''

Here and there

Friday, December 28th, 2012
Overseeing practice as his team works toward Monday's Big Ten opener against Indiana wasn't the only preparation Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery was concerning himself with Friday. The Hawkeye coach was preparing his program for the future as well, following Iowa's afternoon workout with a recruiting trip. While high school gyms in Iowa are quiet from a competitive standpoint during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, that's not the case elsewhere and McCaffery is among a number of college coaches who will make the most of this week to evaluate potential future players. In tournament settings across Illinois, for example, coaches have ample opportunities to watch multiple prospects in one gym on the same day. From Proviso to Pontiac to Pekin, prospects are being challenged by multiple games within a short timeframe and giving coaches a glimpse of the mental toughness as well as the physical skill they possess. With no remaining scholarships currently available for Iowa's 2013 recruiting class, McCaffery is currently shopping for 2014 and beyond. Before leaving today, he discussed in general terms his thoughts on the Hawkeyes' 2014 recruiting. "I think we are doing pretty well,'' McCaffery said. "We've locked in on a few guys. I think it's a good class. We've had a number of people on campus. We'll see.'' At first blush, McCaffery said Iowa's recruits are need based. "You typically target what you lose,'' he said. "We'll look for a wing guy who can play the point and we'll look for some post guys so we've got to get some forwards, preferably versatile ones.'' That doesn't necessarily mean Iowa would look the other way if talent at another position would express an interest. "If you have an opportunity to get somebody who is a great player at a position, you're going to try to get them anyway,'' he said. Asked about the importance of the Chicago area as Iowa recruits, McCaffery said it is among the areas the Hawkeyes have targeted. "We've worked Chicago since we've gotten here and it's been good to us over the years,'' he said. "A lot of terrific players, terrific coaches, a lot of really good players who have come in ready. "But you know, like I always say, if we don't get somebody from Chicago, we'll get somebody from somewhere else that can play.''

The next chapter

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012
Today's 30-point win over Coppin State ended one chapter for the Iowa basketball team and marked the beginning of another. Coach Fran McCaffery's team worked its way to an 11-2 record during the non-conference portion of its schedule without playing a single game decided by fewer than seven points. It's tough to say how the Hawkeyes will react when they find themselves in that situation because frankly, they haven't been tested yet. The two games that they lost, to Wichita State in the finals of the Cancun Challenge and at Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, were decided long before the final gun sounded. The same could be said for most of the 11 wins. Iowa State and UNI tested the Hawkeyes, as did Gardner-Webb. Iowa may have told us as much about their make-up in that game as any, overcoming a 20-point deficit to win. What is clear is that this Hawkeye team has improved defensively and certainly has more dimensions than the first two teams McCaffery has had to work with in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have mixed and matched lineup combinations frequently, and typically the 11 players that are seeing action for the Hawkeyes on a regular basis are all getting a chance as McCaffery searches for the right button to push against a particular opponent. He will have options as Iowa enters the Big Ten play, something that hasn't been the case in Iowa City since Steve Alford was on the bench. Those options will allow Iowa to re-invent itself on a game-by-game basis based on what challenges are presented by the opponents. Devyn Marble's offensive development, and his ability to slide anywhere from the 1, 2 or 3 position in the lineup, will prove valuable in the weeks ahead. The team's lone senior, Eric May, provides similar possibilities at the 2, 3 and 4. Iowa will be tested early and often in Big Ten play, facing two teams ranked in the top six nationally in its first two games in Indiana and Michigan. We'll learn as much about the Hawkeyes in those two starts which precede a home game with Michigan State as we have learned about Iowa in the opening months of the season. That's just the way it works. McCaffery was asked if in retrospect he would have preferred to have added another test or two to the nonconference schedule Iowa just completed. His short answer: No. The schedule this team faced included a handful of challenges - a stretch of six games in nine days, a quick trip to Mexico for two games in two days, a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a pair of rivalry games. McCaffery believes that is enough of a challenge for this particular team and a starting five which includes three freshmen. As Marble said following today's game, Iowa hasn't faced a team of Indiana's caliber yet this season. That changes one week from Monday when the Hoosiers take the court at Carver-Hawkeye for a New Year's Eve matinee. It's the start of the next chapter in the development of this Hawkeye team.

Working through it

Thursday, December 20th, 2012
After fans filed out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight, 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson was knocking down a few jumpshots from the right wing before skating home to Cedar Rapids. Never hurts to work on your game, something Iowa forward Aaron White can relate to. It's been a struggle from the perimeter this season for the sophomore. He's knocked down 4-of-22 attempts from 3-point range this season. That included a 1-for-4 effort tonight against South Carolina State when he knocked down a 3 ball early in the second half on a shot he thought never had a chance. White shook his head as he looked at assistant coach Andrew Francis after burying the shot which gave Iowa a 57-22 lead. "Sometimes a shot feels good, but won't go in and sometimes one that doesn't feel good coming off your hand goes in. That was one of those shots I thought never had a chance,'' White said. Known for the time he spends working on his shot, White figures the only way to regain a bit of an edge from the outside is to do what he does every day. "Keep on shooting,'' he said. White said he is working to keep his release point high and the routine, it will never change. "I can't be working on my shots enough because they aren't going in,'' White said. "In my mind, shooting is about the bottom line - you've got to make them - and the only way to do that is to keep shooting them until they drop.'' With his 1-for-4 game tonight, White actually improved his season shooting percentage from 3. It went from 16.7 percent to 18.2. He shot 28.6 percent from behind the arc a year ago as a freshman.

May day

Saturday, December 15th, 2012
Eric May quietly played one of his better games in an Iowa basketball uniform today. The Hawkeye senior came off the bench and scored just two points, but don't underestimate the importance of his contributions in the Hawkeyes' 80-73 victory over Northern Iowa. As Anthony Clemmons dealt with foul issues, May provided a calming influence on an Iowa offense which coughed up the ball 13 times during the first half, struggling with the quickness and aggression of the UNI backcourt. May played 17 minutes after the break and helped the Hawkeyes deal with the Panthers on both ends of the floor. "They have good perimeter scorers and (Devyn) Marble, May and (Mike) Gesell, did a terrific job on defense,'' Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "Eric has been through it with those guys before. He knows how to play against those guys, how they drive the ball, how they jump stop, and he stepped in and made plays.'' That was important for Iowa, particularly early in the second half as the Hawkeyes kept the Panthers at arms' reach, never letting UNI get any closer than a two-possession game. "That was a good team that we beat out there,'' May said. "... We have a lot of guys who can help and we pick each other up. That was huge.'' So was the contribution provided by the only scholarship senior on the Hawkeye roster. "We need him to be able to step in and do that,'' Marble said. "We need everybody.'' In addition to the defense he provided, May also dished out a career-high seven assists and did not record a turnover.