Leistikow: Uthoff's month in Vegas enhances NBA Draft stock

Chad Leistikow

As a journalist, I appreciate authenticity in sources. That’s one reason I enjoy talking with Jarrod Uthoff.

When he says staying near the Las Vegas Strip allows him to focus on basketball, I don’t have to wonder if the statement is paradox or truth.

Slot machines and poker rooms aren’t for him. After all, this is the guy who didn’t have cable TV or Internet during his senior year at Iowa.

“That’s what I love about this place. There’s no distractions for me,” Uthoff said. “I go to the gym. I go to my apartment. That’s it.”

Until boarding a plane Tuesday, that was the former Hawkeye All-American’s life for the past month. He is about to participate in the NBA Draft Combine, essentially a five-day job fair that begins Wednesday in Chicago.

While staying alone in a one-bedroom Vegas apartment, Uthoff went to bed diligently at 8:30 p.m. — the same time as my 5-year-old on a school night — so he can have maximum energy for the day ahead.

He wakes up at 6 a.m. and builds a day around weight-gaining diets and morning and afternoon workouts (with about a dozen other NBA hopefuls) at Impact Basketball’s Vegas training facility. Sprinkle in phone calls with his fiancée, and that is Uthoff's entire routine.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s why his San Francisco-based agent, Adam Pensack, who has been doing this for more than 10 years, says Uthoff “has taken this process more seriously than anyone else I’ve ever been associated with.”

It’s why while watching him during an amazing senior year at Iowa, I’ve felt his selfless on-court approach would translate better to pro ball than in college.

It’s why at least a handful of smart general managers who will pick late in the first round June 23 have shown extensive interest in Uthoff. That list includes the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise known for going after high-character, experienced personnel. They brought in Uthoff for a private workout last week for a reason; they pick No. 29 overall.

Uthoff, who turns 23 next week, packages a unique skill set I haven’t seen in more than 30 years of Hawkeye basketball: wiry length (6-foot-9, 217 pounds), the ability to score in bunches (30 points in the first half at Iowa State), supreme range (many of his 66 3-pointers last season connected from NBA distance) and a defensive instinct that helped him lead the Big Ten Conference in blocked shots (2.6 a game).

“There easily could be a place for him in the 20s,” Pensack said, “for teams who do value his experience and size and shooting ability.” draft guru Chad Ford put Uthoff No. 25 overall on his big board. Other draft websites have Uthoff going in the middle to late second round, the same vicinity former Hawkeye Aaron White (No. 49 overall) was drafted by the Washington Wizards a year ago.

White wound up spending the past year playing in Germany, underscoring the big difference between top-30 first-rounders (guaranteed three-year contracts worth at least $900,000 annually) vs. second-rounders (no guarantees).

If Uthoff works his way into the top 30, he’ll be the first Hawkeye first-rounder since Ricky Davis went No. 21 overall in 1998.

The Combine is where some of the roughly 70 invited prospects will parlay scrutinized health tests, game play and interviews into millions.

The best way Uthoff can close a first-round sale? Be himself.

It was no secret he disappeared late in some of Iowa’s narrow losses last season (like not taking a shot in the final nine possessions at Ohio State). When I talked with him Monday night, Uthoff agreed with my assertion that he would better thrive professionally as a secondary player — that his style is “absolutely an advantage."

"I’m going to be a role player to begin with at the next level," he said.

So he didn't pack a me-first agenda in his carry-on to Chicago.

“(The Combine) is not about standing out; it’s about being true to your game and what you can do," he said. "I think people recognize that for what it is. I don’t need to be concerned about going out there and dropping 40 (points).”

The NBA (and this combine) is loaded with alpha males. But as franchises such as the Spurs and Golden State Warriors have demonstrated, a team construct's lifeblood is having guys with beta qualities, too.

That’s why one NBA scout told me recently his franchise (who also happens to pick in the 20s) likes Uthoff so much. He brings a combination of skill and commitment that any sensible team should want — with none of the headache.