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Leistikow: Why Wisconsin's Kohl Center is packed with meaning for Iowa's Jordan Bohannon

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central
While Jordan Bohannon is known for his 3-point shooting (he is No. 2 in Big Ten history in makes), he is five assists away from becoming the third Hawkeye with four 100-assist seasons (Dean Oliver, Jeff Horner).

Gordy and Brenda Bohannon were on the now-familiar journey from their home in Marion, Iowa, to the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin — roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes, depending how fast Gordy was driving. However, on this particularly cold December night, something unusual was about to happen.

Watching in disbelief from her passenger seat, Brenda saw a pheasant near the shoulder of Highway 151 launch itself into the right side of the Bohannons’ car, smashing the windshield. After the initial shock, Brenda noticed there were tiny fragments of glass in her lap and, eventually, that some of them were in her eyes. In the dark, the couple frantically pulled over to the side of the road just before reaching Dubuque, with sons Matt and Jordan in the back seat — third-grader Jordan’s face buried in his PlayStation video games, mostly oblivious to what had happened.

“He was probably wondering why his dad was pouring water into mom’s eyes on the side of the road,” Brenda recalls nearly 15 years later, with a laugh.

They were near Dubuque at that point, and certainly could’ve turned around and made the one-hour drive back home. But they pushed forward, not wanting to miss oldest son Jason’s game that night for the Wisconsin Badgers. Gordy could still see out of his side of the shattered windshield. After they arrived at the Kohl Center, Brenda was ushered into a room, where an EMT recommended that she go to a hospital. But Gordy had arranged for an eye-doctor friend back home to meet them around midnight in Cedar Rapids. So, the four Bohannons — Gordy, Brenda, Matt and Jordan — stuck around for Jason’s game against Winthrop. Gordy told his wife (mostly) in jest, “Don’t blink!”

Wisconsin won the game, yet the drama continued on the trip home when Gordy got pulled over for speeding, near Monticello. After seeing the damaged windshield and pheasant feathers stuck to the car, the police officer gave them a warning. Brenda would be fine after two visits with the eye doctor, one at midnight and another in the morning. Young Jordan slept through it all.

The bizarre-but-true story was just one early example that Jordan Bohannon’s journey to Iowa City — where he’s become one of the most prolific shooters and passers in Iowa basketball history — began on the road from Marion to Madison.

Long before he became a Hawkeye, Jordan Bohannon was seemingly on his way to becoming a Badger. He spent his younger years in the Kohl Center, both playing as a grade-schooler and watching two older brothers play for Wisconsin.

From an early age, Jordan Bohannon seemed destined to be a Badger.

The youngest of four Division I basketball brothers, Jordan wore Wisconsin jerseys to school and stashed basketball cards of his favorite Badger players in his pocket. He tagged along with his parents to most of Jason’s games, home and away.

He attended Wisconsin’s basketball camps the summer after his third- and fourth-grade years —where Jason, 10 years older, was a camp counselor and budding star guard for the Badgers. Jordan would stay in Jason’s apartment for a week, and to this day calls that a “top-five experience” because he was able to rub elbows with some of his Wisconsin idols.

At the camps on the Kohl Center floor, he dazzled. The summer after his fourth-grade year, the littlest Bohannon was named the camp MVP — of the fifth- and sixth-grade camp. That award is still framed in the Bohannons' home. Wisconsin was a thriving, top national program under Bo Ryan at that time, having finished with a No. 6 ranking in each of Jason’s first two seasons with a combined 61-11 record.

“Coach Ryan definitely took a liking to (Jordan) at that point,” Jason recalls.

The family journeys continued from Marion to Madison after Zach, the second-oldest Bohannon brother, transferred from Air Force to Wisconsin in 2011. Led by Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin reached the Final Four in Zach’s fifth-year senior season of 2013-14. Then a high school sophomore, Jordan attended the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. He sat in the front row behind Wisconsin’s bench.

At that time, Jordan was still awaiting his first high-major Division I offer. While he also had a desire to play for nearby Iowa, Wisconsin was atop the wish list.

“It was always Wisconsin in my mind, because I grew up a Wisconsin fan,” he says. “Wisconsin was the main school … I was cheering on, always wanting to play at, because my brothers went there. It’s cool looking back, because that raised me into the competitor that I am. I continue to have that chip on my shoulder that these guys have overlooked me.”

As you probably can tell from that quote, the Wisconsin offer never came.

But before we get to that, let’s rewind a little bit.

The older three Bohannon brothers are often asked: Why didn't you pick Iowa?

The reality is, Jason was the only one of the three that had an offer from the Hawkeyes.

Jason Bohannon was 2006 Iowa Mr. Basketball for Linn-Mar and a top-100 national recruit. He had trimmed his final three schools to Iowa, Wisconsin and Stanford, and wanted to visit all three places before making a decision. Jason says that then-Hawkeyes coach Steve Alford took offense to that; as a result, Jason felt more supported by Wisconsin coaches, who encouraged him to take all three visits.

So, Wisconsin became the beneficiary. There, Jason would make 212 3-pointers, score 1,170 points, collect 105 wins, play in nine NCAA Tournament games and earn third-team all-Big Ten honors as a senior.

With Jason’s success at Wisconsin (and the dismal, ensuing Todd Lickliter years at Iowa), it’s no wonder the Bohannon family was happy to be all-in on the Badgers.

“We all wanted to play at Wisconsin,” Zach says, “because that’s what Jason did.”

Jason Bohannon was 2006 Iowa Mr. Basketball, 10 years before youngest brother Jordan, and scored 1,170 points in four years at Wisconsin.

Zach sat out one year as a walk-on in Madison, then earned a scholarship his final two years for Bo Ryan. Zach was a respected team captain for a Final Four team and scored 29 points in 31 games.

Matt would have loved an Iowa offer, but coach Fran McCaffery took fellow Cedar Rapids-area shooting guard Josh Oglesby instead. Matt would instead enjoy a terrific career at Northern Iowa. He made 268 3-pointers, scored 1,092 points and played in four NCAA Tournament games with the Panthers.

And then came Jordan. 

That’s where the Bohannon story goes from Marion to Madison … then to Iowa City.

Because this time, it was Wisconsin that didn't want a Bohannon.

After attending the Badgers elite camp in his sophomore and junior years, Jordan says he was heartbroken to hear then-associate coach Greg Gard tell him, "We just don’t think you’re Wisconsin material.” Though Ryan liked Jordan, he had announced 2015-16 would be his final year. Gard wanted to go a different direction and wound up taking D’Mitrik Trice — who still is with the Badgers. Interestingly, he and Jordan have played 133 college games; tied for the most among all active Division I players.

Jordan’s knock was that he was smaller than his three older brothers, at 6 feet tall. But he undoubtedly had the sweetest shot of them all and could knock down NBA 3-pointers with ease. Jason recalls telling everyone who would listen that Jordan would be the best Bohannon, if someone would give him a shot.

McCaffery gave him that shot, extending Jordan an offer before his senior year at Linn-Mar. Until then, Lehigh and DePaul were his top choices. He immediately committed.

“It’s the same story with a lot of mid- to high-level programs. (Wisconsin) just thought I wasn’t talented or skilled enough to play at this level,” Jordan says. “Coach McCaffery was one of the few in the country that had that confidence in me.”

It seemed a fitting spot for the youngest Bohannon to end up, considering his father was the starting quarterback on Iowa’s 1981 football team that reached the Rose Bowl.

“I always knew he wanted to blaze his own trail,” Jason says. “He would have been great in any situation, but Iowa was a great fit at the time.”

Adds Zach: “It ended up all working itself out … to carry on that (family) tradition of being an Iowa Hawkeye.”

A young Jordan Bohannon holds the follow-through on his game-winning shot with 9 seconds remaining at the Kohl Center on March 2, 2017.

So, you can understand why the Kohl Center means so much to the Bohannons.

And on Thursday night, a Bohannon brother will play there for the last time, when the Hawkeyes (15-6 overall, 9-5 Big Ten Conference) and Badgers (15-7, 9-6) square off at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

"That arena," Jordan says, “is definitely a special part of me."

Jason played 70 regular-season college games in the Kohl Center. Zach played 20. This will be Jordan’s third.

He’ll never forget the first.

Gordy, Brenda, Jason and Zach had made the Marion-to-Madison venture on March 2, 2017; Matt stayed home to watch the family dog. Jordan was a true freshman on a young Iowa team trying to make a late-season push for the NCAA Tournament, and the Badgers were in the fight for a Big Ten title.

Down 57-56, McCaffery drew up a play for senior guard Peter Jok, the Big Ten’s leading scorer. Bohannon fed him the ball in the lane, but his curling 12-footer hit the back iron. Iowa’s Cordell Pemsl nabbed the rebound after Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes (a close friend of Zach’s) mistimed his jump.

Pemsl saw Bohannon open on the left wing.

“I talked to (Hayes) after the fact,” Zach says, “and he’s like, ‘Right when I saw the ball headed into your brother’s direction, all I could think was, oh (crap).’”

Bohannon swished a 3-pointer with 9 seconds to go, just one of many clutch late-game shots he’s made over his five years at Iowa. Though this was now four years ago, Bohannon still says it might rank as his most memorable shot as a Hawkeye. Bohannon held his follow-through a little longer, seemingly knowing it was good from the time he released it.

"That kid's a gamer," McCaffery says. "He's always been a gamer." 

The Hawkeyes got a stop on the other end and won, 59-57.

And there were Jason and Zach Bohannon, who had their senior nights in Wisconsin red-and-white in this very building, going ballistic over a Hawkeye win against their alma mater.

"It was weird being on the other side of things there,” Jason says. “Jordan was definitely used to shooting there by (then), and it definitely showed up.”

Fans aren't allowed in the Kohl Center on Thursday.

That includes families, which means the final time a Bohannon plays there — and Jordan says this is the last time, he’s not planning to come back next season — Gordy and Brenda will be watching from home.

On that topic, there's more joy than emotion or sadness in Brenda's voice.

While she laughs in saying that Jordan “challenged us in some areas that maybe the other ones didn’t,” she knows he’s overcome a lot of doubters and years of injuries (plantar fasciitis as a sophomore, two hip surgeries in 2019) to get to this point.

“I’m so proud of him that he doesn’t let many things bother him,” Brenda says. “He really does have the mentality that everything will work out.”

Brenda Bohannon is pictured with her No. 3 jersey (worn by youngest son Jordan) and Bailey, the family bulldog.

Is he the best of the Bohannon brothers? The statistics would say yes. Jason agrees: “I don’t think it’s even an argument.”

Jordan has 1,519 points (349 more than Matt, No. 15 in Iowa history), 599 assists (237 more than his three brothers combined and 14 away from breaking Jeff Horner’s Iowa record) and 337 3-pointers (69 more than Matt and No. 2 on the Big Ten’s all-time list) … and counting.

Always a contrarian, Zach jumps in.

“In our family, we don’t count personal accolades,” he says, “we count championships.”

Jordan is the only one of the four who didn't win a state title at Linn-Mar. Jason and Matt won conference championships in college; Jordan hasn't. Zach went to the Final Four; Iowa hasn't been since 1980.

Jordan knows he's got a little more to prove. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday offers another spotlight chance to enhance his Iowa legacy. While Jordan still professes love and respect for Wisconsin and the coaches there, he sure would love to beat them.

What a story it would be, if the kid who has been making shots in the Kohl Center for 15 years walks out of there Thursday, for the last time, with a Hawkeye win.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.