Clemmons expects to be targeted after Izzo's comment

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Anthony Clemmons’ health is of high importance to the 16th-ranked Iowa basketball team. It’s also of interest to the nation’s No. 4 squad residing in East Lansing, Mich.

Iowa’s top defensive player, Clemmons says his ailing hip is “95 percent,” but he still can’t do everything he’d like to be doing in advance of Thursday’s ESPN-televised showdown at Michigan State.

“I’m not able to push myself like I want to,” the 6-foot-2 senior guard from Lansing said Tuesday. “But I’m able to get up and down and compete at a high level with the guys.”

Antthony Clemmons wasn't himself in Iowa's most recent game, Jan. 5 against Nebraska. He is battling a sore hip.

Clemmons knows he’ll be a marked man in Thursday’s game, and not just because he’ll have a slew of friends and family at the Breslin Center, and not just because he played high school ball with Michigan State stars Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes.

It was Clemmons’ lockdown defense that held Forbes to three points (a game after he scored 32) and impressed Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in Iowa’s 83-70 victory over the then-No. 1 Spartans on Dec. 29 in Iowa City.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if Forbes (comes) out and tries to go for 40 (points), after the remark Izzo made,” Clemmons said.

Izzo, after his 16-1 team’s only loss of the season to date, said of Clemmons: “Our own homeboy did us in. He took (Forbes) to the cleaners.”

Adding to the Hawkeyes’ defensive challenge this time around is the return of Valentine, one of the nation’s top all-around players who sat out the first Iowa meeting.

Izzo said Tuesday that Valentine would likely be back in his starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 19. Valentine played 23 minutes and scored 10 points off the bench Saturday in his return to the Spartans following recovery from a knee injury.

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For the Hawkeyes (12-3, 3-0 Big Ten Conference) to have a chance at a season sweep over one of the nation’s heavyweights, Clemmons' effectiveness is key.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday that Clemmons was “fine.” He's expected to start Thursday.

“Sunday was an off day, and he was in the gym on his own,” McCaffery said. “That's when he knew he was ready.”

Clemmons injured his hip in a late-game collision Jan. 2 with Purdue 7-footer A.J. Hammons. He returned to the court three days later against Nebraska, but wasn't himself.

“I toughed that out a lot. I probably should not have played that game,” Clemmons said Tuesday. “But my nature, my heart told me, 'Hey, why not?'”

Clemmons started against Nebraska, but was held without a point in 17 minutes in Iowa's 77-66 win.

“After I sat for a second and tried to come back out and play, (that) was probably the most pain I’ve been through in a long time,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons said Tuesday’s practice would be telling in how well he could perform in his hometown for the last time as a college player. He’s been resting and getting extensive training-room treatments for the sore muscles surrounding his hip.

“I’m not able to cut as quick as I was before,” he said, “but I’ve been working on it a lot and it’s feeling a lot better. I’ve been getting a lot of reps with shots and changing directions. Time can tell. (Tuesday’s) practice will say how well I can contribute.”