NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. – Despite living much of the year a continent and multiple times zones away, Matt Gatens’ passion for Iowa basketball has only gotten stronger.
“It’s been cool to step back and be a fan again,” the former Iowa star said last week. “A little more stressful, I’d say.”
The 6-foot-5 Iowa City native has played professional basketball overseas the past three years — one season each in Spain, Ukraine and Turkey. He’ll soon learn his plans for Year 4.
Gatens was the bridge between the Todd Lickliter and Fran McCaffery eras at Iowa. He played two years for each, enduring season win totals of 15, 10, 11 and 18 games. He never got to play in the NCAA Tournament, but he’s taken pleasure in watching McCaffery’s last two teams get there — even if it was in the wee hours with the 7-8 hour time difference.
“My first year, I’d stay up and watch them (live),” Gatens said. “Then I realized I should be sleeping more, and I started taping them.”
This summer, he’s been giving back to the Hawkeyes — for the first time as a pro joining the Prime Time League, the 29th-year summer program that features Division I players from Iowa and Northern Iowa. He was on the same roster as Iowa freshman guards Brady Ellingson and Andrew Fleming. His PTL coach was Jess Settles, who said Gatens would make a terrific coach someday if he chooses that path.
“He didn’t take offense when we ran sets for Fleming or Ellingson. He got that perspective,” said Settles, who at No. 9 on Iowa’s all-time scoring list is one spot behind No. 8 Gatens. “Part of that is being a coach, and part of that is being a former Hawkeye wanting those two guys to have more opportunities to get better.
“He was all about those guys, even though most guys in his position would have shot the ball 25 times.”
The two players are capable of carrying a heavy scoring load.
Gatens lived in North Liberty this summer with his wife, Erin, and played in six games and averaged 18.8 points and 14.5 shot attempts. That allowed Fleming, a promising 6-foot-4 guard from Nashville, Tenn., to flourish with averages of 25.8 points and 21.6 shot attempts.
“I just try to help them out in any way possible,” Gatens said. “I go over to open gym with them, and play a little bit or work out with them once in a while. It’s cool to still stay in touch (with the program), and at the same time work on my game and stay in shape.”
Last season while playing in Ankara, Turkey, Gatens averaged 8.9 points and 28.0 minutes a game while shooting 48.4 percent — his best mark as a pro.
Although the NBA remains a dream of his, Gatens is relishing the opportunities his overseas career has provided.
Gatens, a City High alum, and Erin, originally from Marion, were married in August.
Now, they wait to hear where the journey heads next.
“I don’t know how long I’ll do it. We’ve enjoyed it so far,” Gatens said. “We’ve seen countless countries and countless places and get paid to do it.
“As long as (Erin) keeps enjoying it and I do, we’ll keep trying it. The ultimate goal is to come back here and play. If that doesn’t work out, we’ll have some awesome experiences over there.”