Iowa freshman Ryan Kriener is getting back into the game

Mark Emmert

NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Ryan Kriener slammed the basketball to the court Thursday in a moment of both triumph and catharsis.

The Iowa freshman forward was celebrating his team’s hard-fought 80-78 victory in the Prime Time League championship game at the North Liberty Recreation Center, a win not sealed until the opposing team’s second shot for a tie rolled off of the rim and into Kriener’s hands as the horn sounded.

Kriener also was overjoyed that an unsettled summer that began with a mystery illness that threatened to keep him out of the league altogether, and which contributed to a loss of 11 pounds, ended with him scoring 15 points and 10 rebounds in the title game before posing alongside fellow freshman post player Cordell Pemsl in a team photo.

Ryan Kriener led Spirit Lake to the state tournament in March before embarking on a weird summer as an incoming Iowa freshman forward.

“After I got told that I was getting pulled (from the PTL draft), I didn’t know if I was going to get to play,” the 6-foot-9 forward from Spirit Lake said. “I didn’t really fear it, but if it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen.”

It happened because whatever was ailing Kriener — he still doesn’t know what it was and says he no longer cares — cleared up weeks ago. When Hawkeyes star Peter Jok, battling a couple of minor injuries of his own and needing to take time out to compete in the Nike Skills Academy, missed the last few games of the PTL, Kriener was able to step in alongside Pemsl.

Kriener scored 11 points and made eight rebounds in his first summer-league game, his playing time curtailed a bit because he was unfamiliar with the offensive sets drawn up by his coach, Ray Swetella. He followed that with 19 points and seven rebounds in a semifinal victory Sunday, showing little signs of rust.

On Thursday, Kriener displayed the part of his game that distinguishes him from Iowa’s other incoming post players (Pemsl and Tyler Cook, who was on the team that lost) when he hit a couple of 3-pointers. He also flashed some nifty footwork around the basket, particularly on one post move that resulted in a traditional three-point play.

“I knew him pretty well. But I didn’t realize that he could shoot the ball as well as he could,” said Pemsl, a Dubuque native who grew up tangling with Kriener on the AAU circuit.

“Ryan’s more comfortable letting it go outside and trying to finesse his way through (to the basket). I would rather more catch the ball back to the basket 15-18 feet out and swing and make my moves like that.”

The question for Kriener, down to 236 pounds, is whether he can stake out a role with the Hawkeyes immediately. He’s been battling sophomore Ahmad Wagner in practice, while Pemsl and Cook typically duel. He said the four of them — plus junior Dom Uhl — are all interchangeable at the forward and center positions, particularly in transition on offense.

“I feel like I bring a good shooting touch to the bunch. I space the floor a little more, and those guys are really good around the basket and rebounding,” Kriener said of Cook and Pemsl.

Kriener said the coaching staff instructed him at the beginning of the summer to lose some of his 247 pounds and then build it back up with muscle. Two weeks into his on-campus workouts, whatever illness he contracted hit him hard.

“I knew something was up before that. I just felt terrible,” Kriener said. “But it’s just my personality to keep grinding, keep running hard.”

After that practice, he spoke to the trainer and was sidelined until his symptoms subsided.

Now he’s trying to catch up, and the three summer-league games were evidence that, at least offensively, Kriener’s on track. Kriener was less successful when trying to stop the muscular Cook from getting to the basket.

But he’s as comfortable on the perimeter as inside anyway, a product of growing up playing guard before a growth spurt in eighth and ninth grade opened new possibilities.

“It definitely helped being able to play the perimeter, and it was just a bunch of hard work to add a post-up game,” Kriener said.

“Coach (Fran McCaffery) hasn’t really discussed roles yet, but I’m just doing whatever I can to play.”

Hawkeye summer-league stats:

Name                         PPG     RPG    APG

Tyler Cook                 22.3       7.0      2.6

Isaiah Moss               22.0       6.3       1.7

Nicholas Baer            21.5        12.2     4.0

Jordan Bohannon      20.2        3.5        2.8

Ahmad Wagner         19.0        7.3        3.0

Dom Uhl                     17.9       8.9        2.6

Cordell Pemsl            17.2       10.0       2.7

Ryan Kriener             15.0        8.3         1.3

Brady Ellingson          14.7       4.1        2.3

Maishe Dailey             14.4       3.7        3.6

Christian Williams       13.8       10.4      2.6

Peter Jok                     8.0          4.5       0.5

Riley Till                      4.9          1.8        0.0