Farewell to senior Dom Uhl: His playing time diminished, but not his bond with teammates
IOWA CITY, Ia. — You’ve heard the stereotypes about German precision.
Brady Ellingson tells a story about Iowa basketball teammate Dom Uhl that makes you wonder.
The Hawkeye freshmen were roommates at Hillcrest Hall in the fall of 2014. Uhl, a native of Frankfurt, Germany, arrived first and decided to undertake a construction project in their dorm room.
“I got back into town and he was manually building a bunk bed, where you could easily have them make it for you,” Ellingson recalled Friday, laughing at the memory. “He had it all messed up. I had the top bunk and he left me barely any room. I could barely sit up without hitting my head on the ceiling.”
Nicholas Baer was the third member of that incoming Hawkeye hoops trio. He wandered over to get a first look at his new teammates.
“It was interesting seeing Dom the builder. That’s kind of who he is. He has a lot of hobbies, a lot of interests,” Baer said.
Dom the builder is about to leave the building.
Uhl didn’t redshirt that first season at Iowa, which means he is the team’s lone scholarship senior and will be honored (along with walk-on Charlie Rose) before Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. regular-season finale against Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Joining Uhl will be the Mangini family from New Jersey, his hosts for two years while playing high school ball and getting acclimated to life in America. Uhl's mother, Natascha, will wait to fly over in May so she can see her son graduate with a degree in enterprise leadership.
“I think the world of him,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Uhl. “A guy that's a friend to everybody and a solid contributor.”
Uhl’s playing career peaked when he was Iowa’s best bench player as a sophomore. Minutes and points have been harder to come by since then, so Hawkeye fans might have forgotten how promising of a prospect the 6-foot-9 forward was.
Uhl came to Point Pleasant Beach High School in New Jersey as a 17-year-old, following in the footsteps of a friend from back home and in search of better competition to test himself against. Two good years there, and on the local AAU circuit, got him plenty of college attention, from the likes of Temple, Boston College, Miami, Penn State, Northwestern and Iowa.
Hawkeyes assistant Andrew Francis, a New York native, convinced him to take a visit to Iowa City. Uhl was so impressed by the team that he headed to the Midwest.
Former Hawkeye player Jess Settles remembers seeing Uhl playing in the summer league in North Liberty in 2014 and thinking he was watching the next Iowa star. Uhl was big enough to battle in the post, a skilled enough ball-handler to play on the perimeter, and a tough enough defender to guard any position.
Uhl was named Iowa’s top newcomer as a freshman, scoring eight points in his Hawkeye debut against Hampton and averaging 2.1.
His sophomore season was his best. On a veteran team that finished 22-11, Uhl found his niche as the top reserve, averaging 6 points and 3.6 rebounds. He shot 50 percent from the 3-point arc in Big Ten Conference play. He scored 10 points in consecutive league games against Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan.
“I tried to come in and provide energy, make plays,” Uhl said of that season. “My shot was falling. I just played with confidence.”
Uhl was a starter early in his junior year, but with a new cast of teammates he struggled to make an impact. Eventually, his role diminished so much he scored just two points over his final eight games.
Uhl said he considered himself to be the same player, but wasn’t getting the same results.
“I got down on myself a lot. Because obviously you want to play,” he said.
His senior season has been more of the same. Uhl hasn’t played more than 8 minutes in any game and has scored only five points. He said he’s focused on being a good teammate instead and has been part of Iowa’s scout team.
Uhl has had chances to cut his ties to Iowa and head back to Germany, where he could play in one of the country’s three pro leagues.
He said he’s never considered that.
“I feel like with anything in life, you’ve just got to stick it out. I don’t consider myself a quitter,” Uhl said. “I don’t want to let my teammates down. I love the university.”
The university will get a chance to reciprocate that love Sunday. Uhl doesn’t expect to get emotional, but is excited to get to share his home court with the Manginis, who have become a second family to him and have attended many of his games.
After that, he wants to play pro basketball for a few years back home before returning to America for work, probably in marketing.
He’ll find plenty of friends here. Ellingson, a Wisconsin native, has formed a particularly tight bond with Uhl. They share a passion for soccer, and, along with Baer and Rose, play the FIFA video game for hours, each with their favorite European team.
“They used to suck, but they’re pretty good now,” Uhl conceded.
Baer will always remember Uhl for his even-keel demeanor and his constantly changing hairstyles. Uhl doesn’t like to keep a coiffure for long, altering them with the seasons. Last year, big hair was in. Before that, cornrows.
Then there was Uhl’s other legendary moment in Hillcrest. Sometime after the bunk-bed fiasco that freshman year, he decided to let a friend cut his hair in a residence hall bathroom. People gathered to watch, Baer and Ellingson among them.
“He just shaved it off,” Ellingson said with a slight bewilderment in his voice.
“It was so drastic,” Baer confirmed. “I let it happen, though. I think that was my favorite look of his.”
Whatever happens in Sunday’s game, you can bet Uhl will go out with style.