Leistikow: Jordan Bohannon is staying at Iowa, where he was always meant to be

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Nearly two months before he was awarded a fifth year of college eligibility, Jordan Bohannon experienced an emotionally charged moment that radically changed his perspective.

Or, you could say, one that helped him rediscover the perspective he always had.

Bohannon describes the mid-March scene at the downtown Indianapolis Hilton Garden Inn on a Friday afternoon. He sat with Iowa senior classmates Ryan Kriener and Riley Till as the news broke that the NCAA Tournament had been canceled. He watched devastated friends, knowing their Hawkeye basketball careers had been terminated in the blink of an eye, broken to tears.

He hurt for his buddies, but Bohannon’s mind was also in a different place. He was planning to seek a medical redshirt after his fourth Iowa season was limited to 10 games by a second hip surgery. For months leading up to this hotel-room scene, his mind had wandered to the possibility of transferring to a more accomplished program, where he could fulfill his life-long dream to play in a Final Four.

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) reacts during a NCAA Cy-Hawk series men's basketball game on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

It had been a difficult 10 months, with May surgery on the right hip and December surgery on the left. Separate months-long stretches of rehab, in which pain and solitude can cruelly converge. Not traveling to some Hawkeye road games caused Bohannon, a Marion native and youngest son of a former Hawkeye quarterback, to feel increasingly distanced from the program he had always loved.

“I’d be a liar to say I didn’t think about (transferring),” the 6-foot-1 guard says, “and where I could go and what I could do.”

And who could blame Bohannon for thinking about an alternative plan? All of his classmates would be gone the following season; and possibly stars Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, too.

But back to the hotel.

As his teammates wept, the emotions cut deep for Bohannon, too.

"It was tough to watch … them being seniors and being Iowa kids and not being able to fulfill their dream of playing an NCAA Tournament their senior year," Bohannon says. "I think right there is when I realized there’s no reason for my mind to wander. This is the place for me. This is my forever home, Iowa City. This is where I was destined to be.

"(That) opened my eyes to how much it means to be an Iowa kid playing for Iowa."

Bohannon, who has delivered a school-record 262 3-pointers — so many of them in clutch moments — and 504 assists in an Iowa uniform, always wanted to be a Hawk. And Iowa was the only major program that wanted him back with a scholarship offer.

Jordan Bohannon stands for a portrait during Iowa basketball during media day in Iowa City Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

Being reminded of his blessings helped dig Bohannon out of admitted low points. COVID-19 social-distancing aside, he's now in about as good a place as he’s been, physically and emotionally, in a long time.

His hardship waiver approved, Bohannon is excited to complete a personal project with Wieskamp. Two years ago, he vowed to take the promising Muscatine prospect — the highest-rated recruit of the Fran McCaffery era — under his wing, an undertaking he learned from older brother Zach, who at Wisconsin did the same with a young talent in Sam Dekker (who would become a first-round NBA Draft pick). Bohannon and Wieskamp, who says he'll return to Iowa with big team goals for his junior year, benefit each other on the floor with the attention they draw from defenders.

“We’re glad we get one more full year,” Bohannon says, “and want to make the most of it.”

The odds seem promising that Garza, the 6-foot-11 consensus all-American and Big Ten player of the year, returns as well, but he has until June to make a final decision.

"I honestly don’t think, 1 through 5, there’s a team that stands with us in the country,” says Bohannon, who often speaks with unabashed confidence. “I don’t think there’s a team that has what we have, experience-wise, talent-wise coming back.”

Bohannon’s rehab is going great. His next hurdle is being cleared for 5-on-5 basketball, but that's not tenable anyway during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You might be surprised to learn he’s barely shot a basketball in 2½ months.

“My shot’s always going to be there," he boldly assures.

Instead, he's focused on preparing his body for his final college hurrah. Bohannon says he measured a “chubby” 186-187 pounds last season after rushing back to the court. Improved nutrition and diligent training have shredded fat. He's now in the 172-173 range.

He’s been cutting, jumping, running hills. What makes him happiest is not feeling hip impingement during runs and not having to feel pain when making a change of direction.

“I just feel like everything is flowing a lot better now,” Bohannon says. “Everything feels normal for once.”

Bohannon finished finals week Friday, with enough credits to graduate with a degree in Interdepartmental Business Studies.

He once thought of this as a possible time to enter the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate transfer.

But one of the most beloved Hawkeyes of the McCaffery era realizes he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

“At the end of the day, I’ve always been a guy (who’s) about ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. Me thinking of (transferring) was more of an 'I' thing and kind of (got) away from my roots, what really got me to Iowa,” Bohannon says. “Coach McCaffery was really the only coach that believed in me out of high school. That would have been really tough to turn my back on what got me to this point of my life.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.