It's Joe Toussaint's Iowa basketball team now. And he's more than ready for the challenge

For two years, Iowa point guard Joe Toussaint has been ready to step up.

He was thrown into early duty as a freshman in 2019, starting the last 20 games for an injured Jordan Bohannon. In 2020, he returned to his backup role but appeared in every game and was one of the team's top perimeter defenders.

Several player departures from last year's team and Bohannon moving to shooting guard has cleared the path for Toussaint to finally take on the major role he's been striving for. The last two years of work and patience led to this opportunity. 

"Toward the end of freshman year into sophomore year," Toussaint said, "that's when I started to pick it up and put the pieces together. I feel more confident, I feel like I've grown up more, I just feel more alive." 

A large part of Toussaint's off-season involved rehabbing his surgically repaired ankle. After a week completely off his feet, he began training in the gym doing as much as he could for as long as he could. 

"I would literally form shoot (while still in a boot) in front of the basket for three hours," Toussaint said. "I did that for two weeks, I got out of my boot and couldn't move much but was walking so I was still coming in to form shoot and then I went home (to New York)." 

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There, Toussaint received physical therapy and began to move better. He transitioned to stationary dribbling and moving back further in form shooting from right in front of the basket to the three-point line but was still doing so flat-footed. 

After six weeks total, Toussaint was given the green light by Iowa trainers to begin jumping. Now that he's healthy, his practice routines are vastly different that past ones.

"I've just been working on my jump shot ever since," Toussaint said. "I don't take layups in workouts anymore, that's like second nature to me. I've just been shooting the ball a lot and shooting well now, shooting with confidence." 

During his career, Toussaint has shown the ability to stress defenses with his penetration. But the scouting report on his weakness is well-established: He's not been a threat as an outside shooter. 

In two years, he has a 39% field goal percentage and is shooting 29% from three-point range. 

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Iowa guard Joe Toussaint speaks to reporters during a Hawkeyes men's basketball summer media availability, Thursday, July 15, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Now, an upperclassman and presumed starting point guard, he's taken that next step in his development. The question is now: Will it translate to games? 

"It's just repetition, to be honest," Toussaint said. "That's all that I needed. I felt like my jump shot was there I just needed repetition and confidence, which I've always had. That comes from within." 

Toussaint has seen himself as a leader in his first two years but hasn't always felt the need to use his voice. With players like Bohannon, Garza and Wieskamp on the roster, he defaulted to them many times as the voices of the team. 

Throughout the summer period, especially during team scrimmages, Toussaint has emerged as one of the loudest voices on the court. 

"(Practices) has been very competitive, like very, very competitive," Toussaint said. "I'm very competitive and hate losing. I make sure my team always wins, if we get two bad shots I'm always screaming 'We can't do this no more, we need to get stops or get a better shot.'" 

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Iowa guard Joe Toussaint speaks to reporters during a Hawkeyes men's basketball summer media availability, Thursday, July 15, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

One player who's aided his confidence was Bohannon, who reached out to Toussaint personally after he decided to return for a sixth season to let him know that he's not going to interfere with his development at point guard. 

"He was one of the first players that I called," Bohannon said. "I told him, 'This is your team now, the ball is going to be in your hands and you're making the important decisions.' This is going to be his team and his ability to kind of build off of that experience from my hip surgery three years ago." 

By all accounts, the starting point guard position is Toussaint's to lose. 

He's ready.

"Definitely going to look different," Toussaint said. "We have a bunch of different players with different skill sets. We will 100% be faster, 100% more athletic so we're going to pressure the ball. On offense, I feel like we have a variety of skills.

"It's going to be really fun and different. And I'm really happy to embrace this new role that I have of playing fast and running the show." 

Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com