Junior forward Uhl works to be Iowa's second option
WATERLOO, Ia. — Next month, Dom Uhl will return to Germany, where he first picked up basketball at the age of 10, a decision that eventually led him to Iowa.
The 6-foot-9 Hawkeyes forward goes back home once a year to reconnect with his old basketball-playing buddies and his mom, Natascha.
“I miss it a lot,” Uhl said Sunday after his Prime Time League game at the Cedar Valley Sportsplex. “I just chill with my friends. I haven’t seen them in a while.”
Those 16 days in Frankfurt will be a respite for Uhl before he returns to Iowa City for a junior season in which he’ll be leaned on for leadership and consistent production. Uhl averaged 6 points and 3.6 rebounds last year while coming off the bench for a veteran Hawkeyes team. This year, Uhl will be one of only three upperclassmen (seniors Peter Jok and Dale Jones being the other two) on a team seeking a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Uhl has spent the summer preparing for a heavier workload, trying to improve his outside shot and his post moves while packing muscle onto his 217-pound frame.
“Same things I worked on last summer,” Uhl said. “My shot is looking better, although I’m missing a lot of shots in the PTL.”
Uhl was 1-for-7 from 3-point range in his team’s loss Sunday, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds. Those would be ideal averages for him in Iowa’s actual season, but are less impressive in summer-league competition against an assortment of lower-division players.
“I definitely have to step up,” Uhl said. “Rebounding, scoring — whatever the team needs me to do — defense, my all-around game.”
Uhl played center at times last year, admittedly not his position. He’s more comfortable on the perimeter, which is where he was when he began playing at age 10, choosing basketball over soccer, long before he shot up to 6-9 and moved to New Jersey to play high school ball against U.S. competition.
At Iowa, Uhl came under the mentorship of Gabe Olaseni, a 6-10 shot-blocking ace from England. The Europeans bonded, and Olaseni instructed Uhl: “Stay focused, stay confident. You’re going to have your ups and downs; just stay with it.”
Uhl had both last season. His lone start, in mid-November against Coppin State, produced his biggest outburst to date: 18 points and seven rebounds.
But there weren’t enough games like that. Uhl failed to reach double digits in scoring in his last 16 outings. He also found himself backing up Adam Woodbury at center at times, which could be especially challenging on the defensive end.
“I kind of got used to it,” Uhl said. “But last year was more of a team effort, because we only had Woody as a true 5 man, so we all had to work together.”
This season, sophomore Ahmad Wagner figures to start at center, with freshmen Tyler Cook and Jordan Pemsl as potential backups. Iowa might not employ a true post player in favor of a freewheeling offense geared around Jok, a talented long-range shooter and the only proven scorer on the team.
That would suit Uhl’s style, too. He has a guard’s mentality in a forward’s body, shooting 45 percent from the 3-point arc last year. But he’s also trying to be a better finisher in the post, where he can take advantage of his height and springiness.
Uhl and Jok frequently have one-on-one battles in practice. It’s a good chance for the understudy to measure himself against the star.
“We’re going to really rely on him a lot,” Uhl said of Jok. “He’s definitely tough to guard. He won the last time we played, so …”
So after Germany, it will be back to the gym for Uhl. The Hawkeyes — and Jok need him to keep defenses honest, on the wing and in the paint.