The Iowa junior has been terrific since a conversation with coach Fran McCaffery. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Anthony Clemmons admitted he was nervous about the conversation that was about to take place.
Wouldn't you be if the topic was asking your head basketball coach for more playing time?
"It was a drought where I wasn't playing," the Iowa junior guard said, "and I just wanted to make my voice heard and tell him I can help the team out in a lot of ways."
Clemmons approached Fran McCaffery after playing just 12 of 45 minutes during Iowa's humbling 66-61 overtime loss at Northwestern.
The coach listened — and agreed. Clemmons needed to play more.
But first, McCaffery had some messages of his own: Play tougher defense. Get after it.
"He's a very honest person," Clemmons said. "He told me what he thought I wasn't doing and what I should be doing. I just took it, and it changed my mindset."
So, they struck a deal. And the numbers say it's worked.
Iowa has since won three games in a row by an average of 23.3 points – 81-47 over Rutgers, 74-46 over Nebraska, 68-60 over Illinois.
Clemmons has been integral. Wednesday vs. the Illini, Clemmons played 27 minutes — his highest of the Big Ten season, including the final 15 of regulation — mostly at point guard.
"I thought he was great," McCaffery said of Clemmons' night – six points, four assists, one turnover and no missed shots. "He played with energy. He drove the ball. He passed it well. Defensively, he was spectacular. No mistakes in his decision making. It was flawless."
In the three games since "the talk," Clemmons has averaged 23.7 minutes, 5.3 points and 4.7 assists a game — with just two turnovers.
"Not forcing anything," Clemmons said. "That's part of my game, to make the right plays. Attack the rim, make open shots. Just be a point guard and be a leader on the floor."
Clemmons began the season in Iowa's starting lineup as the "2" guard alongside point guard Mike Gesell. He was shifted to Gesell's backup once Peter Jok ascended into the starting lineup one game before the Big Ten season.
Now, Gesell and Clemmons are finding themselves on the floor together again – except Clemmons is now playing more point. Clemmons racked up a season-high seven assists against Rutgers.
When Iowa went on a 21-2 run against Nebraska, it started with Gesell and Clemmons on the floor together.
"We play very well together," said Gesell, a fellow junior. "We came here together. We've been friends the whole time. We kind of know what each other are going to do on the court."
Clemmons was beaming Wednesday night. Being a central player feels a lot better than last year's sophomore slump – which led to Iowa's recruitment of junior-college point guard Trey Dickerson, who this week left the program because of a lack of playing time.
The Iowa backcourt, a huge question mark coming into the season, seems to be peaking. The Hawkeyes have their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.
Jok continues to improve at the "2"; Josh Oglesby has regained confidence in his shot. And Gesell and Clemmons, the defensive stopper in the group, are excelling at the point.
"We all bring something a little bit different to the table," Gesell said. "We all complement each other very well. We're all smart basketball players that get the job done."