Bring on your criticism, Jordan Bohannon is a point guard on a mission for Hawkeyes

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The Iowa men’s basketball team lost 19 games last season, and point guard Jordan Bohannon felt the weight of them all.

If there were negative words being directed at the Hawkeyes, Bohannon inevitably saw them.

“To be the best, you have to take in all the criticism,” Bohannon said Thursday at Big Ten Conference basketball media day here. “We had a lot to prove to everyone and we didn’t live up to expectations at all. We have a different hunger this year.”

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon poses for a photo during Hawkeye media day at Carver Hawkeye ArenaMonday, Oct. 8, 2018.

If that seems like too much to put on one player’s shoulders, Bohannon will tell you he wants even more responsibility in his junior year. It’s why he’s been running the hills around Carver-Hawkeye Arena to get into better shape now that the plantar fasciitis in his right foot has finally subsided. It’s why he’s spending less time on his primary skill — shooting — and more on ball-handling and defense these days.

It’s why Bohannon has promised to be a more vocal leader for a team that desperately needed one during a 14-19 season that went off the rails in the first month and never got back on track.

Iowa tied for 11th in the Big Ten last winter. The Hawkeyes are picked to finish 10th this year in a preseason media poll.

This is exactly what Bohannon wanted to hear, and yes, he was well aware of it before a reporter brought it up Thursday afternoon.

“I think we’re doing this all for ourselves now instead of trying to listen to things from the outside. It’s hard to shut out the outside noise knowing there’s not a professional team in Iowa,” Bohannon said. “Sometimes I need it to get the extra motivational chip on my shoulder knowing there’s all these people that doubt us. There’s people that doubt me individually.”

Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery is not among the doubters of his 6-foot-1 floor general. He was the one who encouraged Bohannon to take charge of the team when warranted, to pull the players together for a quick word of encouragement, or admonishment.

McCaffery also wants to get more out of Bohannon in less playing time. Bohannon averaged a team-high 34 minutes per game in Big Ten play last year. By the end of the season, he was spent, even having to leave the court for injections in an overtime loss to Michigan that sent Iowa packing from the Big Ten Tournament.

“I haven’t had too many shooters like him,” McCaffery said of Bohannon. “I want to move him around. I don’t want to just say he’s a point guard, just say he’s a ‘2.’

“I’d like to get him coming off screens because now you give him space to make a play for himself or give it to someone else. He’s got a great pull-up game. A pull-up free-throw jumper is like a layup. If you trail him on a screen, he’s going to bury the 3. They’re going to chase him everywhere, which is going to allow post-up possibilities. So I’m excited to give him that flexibility.”

It’s McCaffery’s son, Connor, who figures to allow for that flexibility. It was supposed to happen last year, but Connor McCaffery was limited to four games after an injury, illness and eventual surgery. He’s back as a 6-foot-5 backup point guard, a prototypical pass-first player at that position.

Bohannon said he’d gladly play all 40 minutes in a game, but understands the thought process. He would love to be better-rested when Big Ten play rolls around.

He averaged 13.5 points on 43 percent shooting from 3-point range last season. He had 178 assists against 68 turnovers. Each of those numbers was an improvement on Bohannon’s freshman season. But the turnover number, in particular, rankles him.

Now, Bohannon wants to have a bigger impact late in games, and even as the clock winds down in first halves. It’s where he’s most critical of his play last year, believing he didn’t communicate well enough in those situations. The Hawkeyes lost nine games by nine points or less.

“I knew things were trending downhill. We were losing games that we shouldn’t have. That was the story of the entire season,” Bohannon said.

“I can be more vocal in certain instances, make sure things run smoothly.”