Leistikow: Disrespect fuels a galvanizing summer for Hawkeye hoops
IOWA CITY, Ia. — All summer, Iowa basketball players have discovered that healthy motivation is a mere mouse-click away.
Last week’s early 2018 NCAA Tournament projection from CBS’ Jerry Palm?
Iowa wasn’t even among the "first four out."
How about the Hawkeye-less bracket published in June by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi?
Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon responded with a three-letter tweet.
A team that regularly started three freshmen a year ago while posting 19 wins and tying for fifth in the Big Ten Conference at 10-8 has noticed the repetitive slights.
“When I really got that chip for this season was — I think it was CBS — came out with (offseason power rankings) and put us 10th in the Big Ten, behind some teams that we clobbered last year,” sophomore forward Ryan Kriener said Wednesday. “… I think that was the biggest slap in the face. That really set the mind right, for me.”
A still-young team — yes, it must replace the 19.9 points per game of off-to-the-pros, first-team all-Big Ten guard Peter Jok — carries a supreme amount of confidence and swagger.
And what better way to galvanize a hungry group than a 12-day trip to Europe?
The last time the Hawkeyes took a foreign trip of exhibition games, which the NCAA allows a program once every four years, came after the 2012-13 team reached the NIT championship game.
The 2013-14 group, led by Devyn Marble and Aaron White, charged into the national top 10 that season before producing the first of coach Fran McCaffery's three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with Iowa.
These Hawkeyes feel like they’ll be able to make a similar, if not more impressive, post-Europe jump.
“Obviously, finishing last year in the NIT is not the goal this year,” fourth-year junior Nicholas Baer said. “The goal is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. I think we can do that with this roster.”
The team departs Sunday, with the first of their four games in three countries taking place Tuesday in Heidelberg, Germany.
McCaffery plans to give everyone an equal balance of minutes on the trip. Most guys will sit out at least one game, so others can get a healthy dose of minutes.
Winning doesn’t matter much.
Seeing basketball progression, however, does, and it’s been easy for a veteran such as Baer to spot during the 10 bonus practices this university-financed foreign trip allows for.
“As the summer’s progressed,” Baer said, “I think it’s been clear that everybody’s made the proverbial jump.”
Media members got a peek inside Iowa’s basketball practice Wednesday. Players were loose and laughing.
That doesn’t mean it lacked intensity.
“In practice,” sophomore forward Tyler Cook said, “we’re competing harder than we were a year ago.“
McCaffery was seen grinning ear to ear. He should be.
Credit to him and his stable of assistant coaches: This is easily the deepest and, with the additions of impressive big men Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, probably most talented team in McCaffery's eight years at Iowa.
“We have more low-post scoring threats than we've ever had,” the coach said, amid of a flurry of quotes praising player after player. “We have so many guys that can score inside.”
MORE IOWA HOOPS
- Cordell Pemsl ready to (finally) be healthy
- Fran, Connor McCaffery getting used to father-son, coach-player dynamic
Plugged-in Iowa fans are starting to recognize the program's momentum, even if the national pundits don’t.
And now comes a perfectly timed trip to Europe. Just before school starts and the pressure of another season hits, a roster of already tight-knit players gets to play basketball and tour the world together.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity, and they're excited about it," McCaffery said. "I think they're excited about doing it with each other, which is more important.”
There aren't plans to televise or live-stream the games. Back home, it'll be below most basketball radars.
Just like the Hawkeyes have been all summer.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
HAWKEYES’ EUROPEAN TRIP SCHEDULE
Tuesday — vs. German All-Stars (Heidelberg, Germany), 1 p.m. CDT
Aug. 10 — vs. Swiss All-Stars (Baden, Switzerland), 1 p.m.
Aug. 12 — vs. Milan All-Stars (Vedano, Italy), 1 p.m.
Aug. 14 — vs. Vicenza All-Stars (Vicenza, Italy), 12:30 p.m.
Look for reports from each game at HawkCentral.com. For more information, visit hawkeyesports.com/europeantour.