The Anthony Clemmons journey at Iowa hasn’t been easy to categorize.
But “underappreciated” could be the best of many adjectives worthy of attachment to Clemmons, even if the senior guard for the Hawkeyes’ basketball team doesn't agree. “Perseverance” would work, too.
“I don’t know if 5 percent of the people in the Big Ten could go through what I went through,” Clemmons said from a good place last week while surrounded by the bright lights of the league’s media day in Chicago, “and stay at their school.”
The end of the 2013-14 Iowa basketball season was tough for everyone involved. The Hawkeyes cratered, losing seven of their last eight games. It hurt, and it sparked all kinds of outside theories about what happened behind closed doors to trigger such a free-fall from a No. 10 national ranking.
But maybe there’s some truth to this: As Clemmons goes, so go the Hawkeyes.
During Iowa’s 1-7 fade in 2013-14, Clemmons averaged 4.1 minutes per game. In the other 96 games of his career (in which Iowa has a 65-31 record), he’s averaged 17.1.
“I wasn’t playing, and there were games we lost,” Clemmons said. “There were moments where if I probably would have played, we would have won that game.
“I know if I play, there’s a high percentage chance we’re going to win.”
The easy choice for Clemmons would have been to transfer after Year 2. He made more baskets as a freshman (55) than he attempted as a sophomore (47). He made four shots — four — against Big Ten competition in the winter of 2014.
But after soul-searching and discussions with coach Fran McCaffery, Clemmons re-emerged. It wasn’t just playing time that held him back as a sophomore; it was himself.
“I was going through my little slump, I wasn’t working like I used to,” Clemmons said. “When I got back into the gym heavy like I used to and pushed myself and competed … it really brought me back.”
Clemmons bounced back as a junior: He led the team in 3-point accuracy (37.3 percent, 22-for-59) and averaged career highs of 4.8 points and 19.9 minutes per game. He was the team’s best defender. And he was clutch.
That was evident in a landmark road win for Iowa, 60-55 at North Carolina. The Tar Heels had the ball and a chance to tie late, but Clemmons stepped in and drew a charging foul on all-American guard Marcus Paige with 50 seconds to go.
“I always go back to the Carolina game,” McCaffery said of Clemmons’ impact. "When we were in a scoring drought (down 34-31), he makes a huge traditional 3-point play and takes a charge to win the game.”
In Chicago, Clemmons — with nearby Iowa seniors Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell getting more media attention — was asked if he felt underappreciated. His answer was a bit surprising.
“No,” he said. “Because I haven’t put a full season together.”
Clemmons thinks that will change this year. This is his last go-round, as he put it, and he doesn’t want any regrets.
“I’m holding myself accountable for the year I’m about to have,” Clemmons said. “It’s going to be a big jump. It’s going to be a bigger jump than what it was (last year).”
Uthoff believes it.
“A different level of confidence," the Hawkeyes' go-to scorer said. " A different persona about him."
One of Clemmons' goals is to be on the five-man all-Big Ten defensive team. He should see a lot of time at both the 1- and 2-guard spots.
“We’re both points on the floor, and we’re both leaders on the floor,” said Gesell, the fourth-year starting point guard. “It takes a lot of pressure off both of us when we’re both out there. We’re just able to attack defenses and try to pick them apart.”
The four seniors, plus junior guard Peter Jok (who started at the 2 last year, with Clemmons coming off the bench) and sophomore Dom Uhl are leading a team that is otherwise very young.
It’s possible that with that dynamic, Clemmons will be more valuable as a sixth man. He truly doesn’t care if he starts a game — something that happened 13 times as a freshman, and just 12 times since.
Things have changed for Clemmons. The career has gone up, down, way down, up, steady. What’s next? The 6-foot-2 Lansing, Mich., native predicts way up and steady.
“People have only seen flashes,” he said. “I’m trying to put a full year together.
“I know what I’m going to do this year. It’s going to be a big statement.”
IOWA BASKETBALL BEGINS THIS WEEK
Yes, believe it or not, that's true. Iowa has two exhibition dates, instead of the usual one, after losing a home date. Here are the opening exhibition details:
When, where: Thursday, Oct. 29, Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Opponent: University of Sioux Falls (S.D.)
Time, TV: 7 p.m., BTN Plus (online)
Notable: Iowa coach Fran McCaffery can play all of his newcomers without fear of burning a redshirt. The Hawkeyes have five true freshmen in Andrew Fleming, Brandon Hutton, Isaiah Moss, Ahmad Wagner and Christian Williams, plus junior-college transfer Dale Jones.