Leistikow: Jordan Bohannon wants to play this year for Iowa. But is it the right move?
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The camera lights were on Wednesday, and so were the Iowa basketball uniforms. The season is getting closer, with the Hawkeyes’ Nov. 8 opener less than a month away.
That’s about the amount of time Jordan Bohannon has left to mull a significant choice about his basketball future.
To try to play for the Hawkeyes this season … or not.
What seemed impossible to him 4½ months ago when he was lying on pillows, unable to get out of bed in his parents’ basement while eating his mom’s grilled cheese and tomato soup, suddenly seems tantalizingly possible.
Bohannon is running again, albeit with a new stride after May surgery to shave bone off his right hip and repair a labral tear. He's not practicing yet; that might happen in a week or two.
But the fiery competitor whose deft 3-point stroke and propensity for clutch baskets helped lift Iowa into the NCAA Tournament a year ago is feeling his competitive juices flowing again. He’s got the itch to give basketball a go this season.
But is it the smart thing to do?
“It’s weighing on me, because it’s a really weird situation I’m in,” Bohannon said Wednesday, where the three-year starting point guard and school's all-time leader in 3-pointers was the star attraction at the team’s annual media day. “I want to be able to contribute to the team. Watching from the sideline, I don’t think I can help the team as much.
"I want to be out there. I want to put the jersey on.”
The plan since May 22, the day Bohannon had surgery, was always to take a redshirt season. He has one available entering his senior season. In an exclusive interview with the Register the day before surgery, he was adamant that if he wasn’t 100% by the start of the season, he wasn’t going to play.
He was told the recovery would take between five and nine months.
The way he felt then, he was resigned to redshirting. He was tired of playing through painful plantar fasciitis as a sophomore; then he successfully masked hip pain throughout his junior season.
The surgeon told him on a scale of 1 to 10, the severity of damage to his right hip was a 9. Bohannon first injured the hip before the exhibition season but didn’t tell coach Fran McCaffery or trainer Brad Floy about it until he fell on it again in a later-season game against Ohio State.
"Probably took a little more ibuprofen than I should have before and after games,” he said. “But it got me through it."
Then surgery, followed by two grueling months of rehab. June and July were the worst; they challenged his mental state as much as anything. But there was one day in June, about a month after surgery, that gave Bohannon his first glimmer of hope about his health.
When he was able to walk up the stairs — 22 of them, he said — for the first time at his parents’ house in Marion, it was a really happy day.
Progress came gradually.
Wednesday, he said the pain was gone.
"These last three weeks, I’ve really progressed," he said. "Probably the most I have all four or five months together."
The feeling now?
"A lot happier than I was four or five months ago," he said. "In a better position, physically and spiritually these last five months."
But could he really play effectively? He hasn’t even begun to practice yet. Although, in his own confident way, he confirmed his shot is still pure — "like riding a bike." Bohannon put up 1,600 shots Monday.
McCaffery sounded ultra-confident that if Bohannon attempts to play but experiences more hip pain that Bohannon could shut it down and receive a medical-hardship waiver. NCAA rules outline that a player can apply for a waiver — which, in this case, would give Bohannon a fifth year of eligibility — if he plays in 30% or fewer games on the team's schedule, as long as those games occur in the first half of the season. If McCaffery’s right, Bohannon could play in up to nine (or 10, depending on the math) games until Jan. 7 at Nebraska, the halfway point of Iowa's season.
OTHER OPTIONS: Sizing up Bohannon's replacements if he sits
Iowa has games against Texas Tech, Michigan, Syracuse, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa State and Cincinnati in the first half of a challenging slate.
But Bohannon, who likes to tweak the NCAA any chance he gets, isn’t quite as sure about getting a medical hardship. He knows that as soon as he steps on the floor, there’s no guarantee he would get a fifth year.
“You can never leave it up to the NCAA,” he said, only half-joking. “They’ll throw a curveball at you no matter what.”
Bohannon will undoubtedly have days when he’ll feel like he can average 20 points a game and lead the Hawkeyes back to the NCAA Tournament; there will be others when the 22-year-old feels like he’s unnecessarily rushing into what could be the last season he plays basketball.
Still, it was clear from Bohannon’s answers Wednesday that he is itching to see what he can do.
He's a competitor. It's hard to imagine him dressed in a suit and tie on game days for the next five months.
“I’m going to try to get out there and play,” he said, “and whatever happens, happens.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.