How good is Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp as a true freshman? 'I just love that kid,' Tom Izzo says.

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Even after a quiet game, Iowa freshman Joe Wieskamp was singled out for praise by an opposing basketball coach.

“For some reason, Wieskamp has not played as well against us,” Michigan State’s Tom Izzo said Thursday. “But I just love that kid, love what he brings.”

What Wieskamp typically brings is a refined skill set that is rarely seen in a rookie player. It shows up on the stat sheet. It also shows up on closer study of film. It certainly shows up in practice sessions.

“I like to think I taught him a few things. But he seems to pick it up so quickly it’s hard to tell if I taught him or he just learned it himself,” Hawkeye forward Nicholas Baer said. “He’s just a sponge. You don’t have to tell him anything twice.”

Wieskamp, a 6-foot-6 wing from Muscatine, arrived on campus in June and was in the Iowa starting lineup when the season began in November. He’s averaging 11.5 points and 5 rebounds. He’s a 43 percent 3-point shooter. He has a chance to rank in the top 10 all-time among Hawkeye freshmen in those categories (only Jess Settles can also say the same). He’s already tied Isaiah Moss for seventh place among Iowa rookies with 29 3-pointers made.

But it’s what he does without the ball on offense, the maturity he brings to the defensive end of the court, that truly sets Wieskamp apart.

Fran McCaffery said Wieskamp, a four-star recruit, is the most polished freshman he’s coached in his nine years at Iowa. That includes Devyn Marble and Aaron White.

“His complete skill set and his ability to impact the game, I always say in various locations on the floor. He might blow a game open with his 3-point shot. It might be drives to the basket. Get and-ones. We post him up. He gives you tough baskets,” McCaffery said of Wieskamp. “But he also can move his feet laterally and defend. He rebounds. He rebounds in traffic. He has a keen understanding of time and score and what we need and what we don't need. He doesn't do anything crazy ever.”

Iowa freshman Joe Wieskamp drove past Michigan State's Kyle Ahrens for this challenging second-half layup Thursday. He was held to five points, but is averaging 11.5 and staking his claim as one of the best rookies to ever play for the Hawkeyes.

Wieskamp was held to five points and three rebounds in Thursday’s 82-67 loss to Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He sank an early 3-pointer and made a challenging reverse layup in the second half. His heady defensive play resulted in a pair of steals, both a result of anticipation of where the ball was going to end up that required him to think three steps ahead.

Still, it was his least productive showing in a Big Ten Conference game. Wieskamp was limited to eight points the first time Iowa faced Michigan State. He has averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in Iowa’s other seven league contests.

Wieskamp has had some magical ones already. He was the most important player in Iowa’s Jan. 9 win at Northwestern. He put on a perfect shooting display in last Sunday's home win over Illinois.

Wieskamp will look to bounce back, along with the No. 21 Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-4 Big Ten), in a 4 p.m. Sunday game at Minnesota (14-5, 4-4). It’s a safe bet that he will. You can watch it unfold on FS1.

“He’s not a guy who’s scared of the moment. Nothing’s too big for him,” Baer said of Wieskamp.

Baer and Wieskamp are Iowa’s primary small forwards, the former the team’s lone senior, the latter its only true freshman seeing playing time. So they’ve formed a unique bond.

Baer said he was most impressed with Wieskamp’s court presence in a 72-67 win over Bryant on Dec. 29. It would have been a horrible loss for a Hawkeye team with NCAA Tournament aspirations.

“It was a really stressful game for all of us,” Baer recalled. “He comes down the last 4 minutes and makes two huge buckets for us and helps us get some stops.”

Wieskamp is the all-time leading scorer in Iowa high school history for a Class 4-A player. That was the reputation that preceded him to Iowa City.

Wieskamp said he started to think long ago of ways to get into the scoring column when his college career began. He knew he wouldn’t be getting the volume of shots he saw in high school. He is averaging less than eight per game this winter.

“I’ve been trying to do a lot of little things. Get the offensive rebounds (he has 29, second-most on the team). Run out in transition,” Wieskamp said. “Just make the easy plays.”

Actually, he more often makes difficult plays look easy.

Wieskamp said he wanted to prove that he’s much more than a scorer and is happy that he’s started down that path. He is most proud of his rebounding. He’s also surprised himself with his defense.

“To have guards who can rebound makes us that much better,” he said.

“I didn’t think I’d be this good of a defender at this level as I have been. But I know there’s still a lot of lapses in my game. I’ve still got a lot I’ve got to improve on.”

Those are some scary words for opposing Big Ten coaches.