Iowa freshman Jack Nunge shows off a polished game in Prime Time League playoffs
NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Jack Nunge kept getting free for uncontested dunks early in Sunday’s Prime Time League playoff game.
But Nunge is just a freshman, so you knew there would be a reckoning at some point.
Sure enough, Hawkeye sophomore Tyler Cook darted from Nunge’s blind side to block a dunk that appeared to be already in the cylinder. Later, Cook kept backing Nunge down, twice sending him skidding across the lane on his rear end while Cook completed thunderous dunks of his own.
“He’s got to get in the weight room a little bit,” Cook said afterward of his new 6-foot-11 teammate. “He’s bigger than I thought he was. He’s not weak by any means. I just happen to be a strong dude. I’m sure once practice starts he won’t be letting that happen as much.”
Did Cook tell Nunge he was sorry?
“Never,” Cook said. “I know if he did it to me he wouldn’t apologize either.”
There’s little chance Nunge will be pushing Cook around anytime soon. But he did get a measure of revenge Sunday by scoring 34 points to help his team advance to the PTL semifinals at the North Liberty Community Center. Cook finished with 30 points, 20 of them coming via dunks.
It was a tantalizing matchup for Hawkeye fans to witness. Nunge showed again that he has a polished offensive game, just as comfortable stepping outside for 3-pointers as he is slipping to the basket for dunks. Nunge’s shot was a little off Sunday — he made just 2 of 9 from the arc — but he said he considers himself more of a wing player and that he models his game on his favorite NBA star, Kevin Durant.
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“It’s always a battle,” Nunge said of his personal duel with Cook. “He’s played in the Big Ten, so he’s used to it. He knows how to play, and it’s something I can really learn from.”
As for the blocked shot:
“My hand was already going down,” Nunge said. “I thought the ball was in the rim and he stuck his hand (in) and he blocked it. It was one of the best blocks I’ve ever seen.”
Nunge can be a real find for Iowa. He was lightly recruited until his senior season of high school in Indiana, and Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery was the first coach from a major-conference college to offer him a scholarship. Nunge grew up in Coralville, so his familiarity with the area and the Hawkeyes also was a factor.
Now it’s a matter of finding a role for himself. Nunge said he can play any position from shooting guard to center, and it’s that versatility that appeals to McCaffery.
“If I have a matchup on the wing that I can drive on, I’ll take it,” Nunge said. “Or if I have a post matchup. Whatever coach needs.”
Cook said it’s been beneficial for Iowa’s post players to have Nunge and fellow 6-11 freshman Luka Garza in practices. Going up against that kind of size is good preparation for the Big Ten Conference season.
Nunge said contending with 6-9 sophomore Ryan Kriener has been his biggest challenge in those practices.
“He’s got really good footwork,” Nunge said. “He can go by you and go up strong.”
Another adjustment for Nunge has been the deeper 3-point arc combined with bigger, faster defenders.
“Even the foot longer, it makes a difference,” Nunge said of the college arc. “The speed is probably the biggest adjustment, so sometimes you’ve got to get your shot off faster than you did in high school. People are contesting it and so it’s really hard to get used to. Summer is helping out a lot with that.”
Nunge has been putting up big point totals throughout PTL play. The games are just exhibitions, but it’s been a good entry point for college play, Nunge said.
“He knows how to get to the rim. He knows how to get his shots off,” Cook said.
“I think the fact that he’s this good now is scary. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to be like once the season starts.”