The possible secret behind Jarrod Uthoff's Big Ten weekly honor

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Of the 5,000 or so of you that made it through the snow to the Iowa-Nebraska basketball game Monday, you might've noticed after starting lineups were announced an animated figure inside the Hawkeyes' pregame huddle.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery? Nope. It was Jarrod Uthoff. Yes, Jarrod Uthoff — the quiet, businesslike, focused swingman for the Hawkeyes.

Sportswriters have learned to have their next question ready when interviewing Uthoff, who politely gives concise, direct answers.

But he has become a more vocal leader by design in the past three Iowa games. The evidence was in the pregame huddle in Monday's 70-59 win over the Cornhuskers. He was shouting, pumping his fist.

"Hopefully it helps the whole team," Uthoff said. "It helps me."

There's a noticeable difference on the stat sheet. Tuesday, the Big Ten Conference noticed — naming Uthoff its player of the week, no small achievement in a deep 14-team league.

Uthoff was specifically honored for back-to-back showings at Ohio State and vs. Nebraska in leading Iowa to a 2-0 league start, averaging 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 7-of-14 from 3-point range. Uthoff delivered clutch 3s toward the end of both wins, helping the Wisconsin transfer to his first career Big Ten weekly honor. The last Hawkeye to get it was Devyn Marble on Jan. 13, 2014.

Uthoff's three-game body of work has been even more impressive — he had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in a Dec. 22 win against North Florida to close the nonconference season.

The 6-foot-9 junior made the change from "relaxed" (his word) to aggressive before the North Florida game, which followed disheartening losses to Iowa State and Northern Iowa.

"Ever since North Florida," he said Monday, "I've made a concerted effort to bring more energy to the table."

No specific reason, he said, with a typically brief Uthoff explanation.

"I had energy that day," Uthoff said. "So I got hyped before the game."

The Hawkeyes have looked like a different team in their last three games, using an aggressive approach to generate easy scoring opportunities. Iowa has attempted 89 free throws in a 3-0 stretch, making 74 (for 83.1 percent) compared to opponents' 30-for-43.

A lot of that circles back to Uthoff, Iowa's ultimate X-factor.

"He is who he is. He's a unique guy," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after the 71-65 win at Ohio State. "He typically doesn't get rattled by anything. By virtue of how aggressive he was, to me, that's what he needs to be. He could be a special player in this league."