Brown: Rust-free Uthoff considered one of Big Ten's best
IOWA CITY, Ia. — College basketball’s powers-that-be reduced the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 in the men’s game this season. Thank you, said Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff.
“I like it because of the way we play," said Uthoff, Iowa's leading returning scorer and rebounder. "We’re more up-tempo than a lot of teams. I think it will be good for us. I wouldn’t mind a 24-second shot clock.”
Not surprising, since Uthoff has mastered the art of squeezing the most out of a condensed career. Iowa’s 2011 Mr. Basketball as a senior at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, he had to wait two seasons to get started. There was a redshirt season at Wisconsin followed by a transfer to Iowa. In retrospect, sitting on the sideline that long was tougher than Uthoff ever imagined.
“I was always in the gym, always working hard, but you can’t replace experience,” Uthoff said. “Those two years really hurt me, more than I thought they would. When I came back and started playing, I had the nerves of a freshman. Not being in there, or experiencing it for myself, set me back.”
Uthoff made his college debut in 2013-14. He showed glimpses of top-shelf play, but struggled with consistency and finding a rhythm off the bench. He had a breakthrough season as a junior. His playing time increased, from an average of 18.2 minutes a game to 30.3. He was the Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer and rebounder.
Heading into his senior season, Uthoff has been voted one of the Big Ten’s 10 best players. And he’s put himself in a position to be the Hawkeyes’ go-to guy.
“I wish he did have another year, but I’m glad we have him this year,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “And he’s ready to go on to the next level. I think he can play in the league, and that’s what I want for him.”
The league that McCaffery speaks of is the NBA. The same league that uses the 24-second shot clock that Uthoff would like to see in the college game.
Sitting two seasons is not ideal, but Uthoff had someone he could lean on for advice as he waited patiently to start his college career.
McCaffery transferred from Wake Forest to Penn after his freshman season in 1977-78. After sitting out his redshirt season, McCaffery tore an Achilles tendon three games into his sophomore season and was lost for the year.
“I knew what it was like, and we talked about that,” McCaffery said. “His attitude was great. He was in the gym every day, working on his game. He was on the scout team, and he did a great job there. The toughest thing was his first year back. But he just kept coming.”
Uthoff averaged 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds as a junior, up from 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds as a rusty sophomore.Twice last season, Uthoff made clutch jumpers in the final seconds of games. One of them won the game at Minnesota. The other took the game at Northwestern into overtime.
“I don’t have a problem with shooting that shot,” Uthoff said.
Already the owner of a degree in economics, he’s one of four seniors and five players with significant starting time who will be expected to lead and teach. The upperclassmen will have to nurture a six-man recruiting class.
“It’s actually pretty difficult,” Uthoff said. “But we have guys who want to learn, who want to work hard. It’s a lot easier when guys have that mentality.”
And a lot easier than sitting on the sidelines for two seasons.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.