Uthoff Iowa's No. 2 scorer, rebounder Rick Brown/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. – I listened in disbelief as my daughter's boyfriend told a story about Jarrod Uthoff and the economics class they shared last year at the University of Iowa.
"He's always talking," Logan said. "He never shuts up."
Jarrod Uthoff? Iowa's standout junior forward, who uses an economy of words when he's interviewed?
"If you get a topic I'm interested in, I actually start talking," Uthoff said. "If I'm not really interested, I just sit back and observe."
In other words, I told Uthoff, you don't find media types very interesting.
"That's a good one," he said, punctuating his comment with a laugh that filled the room. "I didn't see that one coming."
Uthoff would rather let his actions speak for him on the court. He's the No. 2 scorer and rebounder and leading shot-blocker on a Hawkeye team that takes a 21-10 record and a six-game winning streak into Thursday's Big Ten Tournament opener at the United Center in Chicago.
An economics major, Uthoff will graduate in May. Then he'll start working toward a graduate degree — likely in sports management — next year. His most interesting class this semester?
"Any class I can argue in would be a class that I'm interested in," Uthoff said. "I love to argue. I'm always asking why. That's been my personality since I was a little kid. Ask me to do something, or tell me the way something is, and I'm going to ask why."
Uthoff's free-spirit personality is refreshing in the cookie-cutter, cliche-rich world of college sports. His car has vanity plates that read "SLMDUNK," a gift from his sister when he was a junior at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. But he doesn't watch college basketball on television. Truth is, he doesn't even have cable TV.
"I'm too busy to pay all that money to watch it once a week," said Uthoff, an avid outdoorsman. "I'm too cheap."
But he can hoop. Following back-to-back redshirt seasons — one at Wisconsin, the other at Iowa after transferring — Uthoff's college career off to a mediocre start last season. He averaged 18.2 minutes, 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds a game off the bench. But he's started all 31 games this season, averaging 30.1 minutes, 12.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while blocking a team-high 51 shots.
"He's really become a complete player, playing with great confidence," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Uthoff survived the ups and downs by staying on an even keel, a trait that serves him as well as his quizzical thirst for knowledge.
"He's always been the even-keeled kid that he is now," said Jerry Ask of Cedar Rapids, Uthoff's AAU coach for four seasons starting in 4th grade. "Whether he's playing good or bad, whether he's getting praised or yelled at, he never changes expressions. A very polite kid. No hot dog in him. He always had a motor and he never seemed to get tired."
The youngest of five children, Jarrod was always tall and athletic for his age.
"When he got in third or fourth grade, and he was big enough to handle the ball and shoot properly, that's when we got him playing basketball," said Dale Uthoff, Jarrod's older brother. "He was more natural playing baseball. But we all knew he had the physical capabilities to be a really good basketball player."
Dale, 12 years older than Jarrod, graduated from Drake and had a job lined up that started a few months later. So he spent a summer taking Jarrod to basketball camps. He also bought him a Goalsetter hoop that went up in the driveway of the family's home in Marengo.
"I was pretty pumped about it," Jarrod said. "I was always out there."
At the end of the summer, Dale saw an ad in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Ask was looking for a player to join his Cedar Rapids Tornadoes fourth-grade AAU team.
" 'You should try this,' " Dale told Jarrod.
So they made the 30-mile drive to Cedar Rapids to attend a tryout, conducted in Ask's driveway. Jarrod made the team. The Tornadoes played for the State AAU 4th-grade title, losing to a Salvation Army team that included Uthoff's Iowa teammate, Josh Oglesby, and Northern Iowa's Matt Bohannon.
What's in store for the red-hot Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Tournament? Andrea Melendez/The Register
Four years. A lot of practices, a lot of games. And a lot of trips from Marengo to Cedar Rapids.
"His parents (Dale and Diane) invested a lot of time and a lot of gas money to get him to everything," Ask said. "They never missed."
Uthoff's AAU teammates were all in the Cedar Rapids Jefferson school district. So Jarrod moved in with his sister, Erika, in Cedar Rapids and joined them. He went on to become Iowa's Mr. Basketball in 2011, selecting Wisconsin over multiple Division I offers.
He redshirted his first season with the Badgers, but it never felt like home. Uthoff transferred to Iowa, sat out another year and then slowly shook the rust off his game. This season, he's made the most of his extended minutes.
"That was always my goal, to play Division I basketball," Uthoff said. "My other goal was to play in the NBA. I thought that was a long shot. Now it's neat that I'm here (at Iowa). And the next goal is achievable."