Five freshmen are focus of Iowa's exhibition win

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – They rookies arrived together, all five walking with single-minded purpose. No words, eyes straight ahead as they entered Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Joining a team with four returning starters and five experienced players, the next few weeks will be important for freshmen Ahmad Wagner, Andrew Fleming, Christian Williams, Brandon Hutton and Isaiah Moss as they jockey for a spot in coach Fran McCaffery's playing rotation.

Thursday's 99-73 exhibition victory over NCAA Division II Sioux Falls offered a few clues. Wagner, a 6-foot-7 forward, and Fleming, a 6-5 guard, look to be ahead right now. Wagner was the first rookie off the bench in both halves.

"He's been playing really well," McCaffery said.

Fleming finished with eight points, and got off nine shots in 14 minutes.

"He was aggressive," McCaffery said. "He's always going to be aggressive. He's not afraid."

The tricky part of this guessing game is that it's just that. One day, a rookie or two might stand out. The next day, a different one.

"And then you add that with positionally, what do you need?" McCaffery said. "We need size and another handler. That changes things."

On Thursday, Williams had some good moments and both guard spots.

"I thought he was terrific," McCaffery said. "He clearly understood our concepts defensively."

Hutton and Moss didn't play until the final minutes, and McCaffery said they've got some catching up to do. But who, and how many of them redshirt, can't be answered.

"I don't know yet," McCaffery said. "I really don't."

What is certain is that this team is going to ride the experienced five-player core of Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff, Peter Jok and Anthony Clemmons.

Gesell had 24 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot. He had three early turnovers that surprised McCaffery, but played through it.

Jok had 18 points and made four of seven 3-pointers. He's still working at becoming a complete player.

"He's playing at a very high level offensively," McCaffery said. "Defensively, he's got to get a little better. I told him that because I want him to be great."

Uthoff had a quietly effective game, with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Clemmons contributed at both ends.

"Everything is better when he's on the floor," McCaffery said.

Dale Jones, a junior college transfer, and redshirt freshman forward Nicholas Baer also made their debuts Thursday. Baer, who made a pair of 3-pointers, looks like he'll be in the playing rotation. McCaffery said he's capable of playing all five positions.

"A lot of guys physically can play five positions, but they can't mentally play five positions," McCaffery said. "They'll never remember five positions. But he will."

All five positions.

"Really?" Baer said. "I think the point coach was making is that I know all five positions. I'll go wherever he puts me."

Fourteen players saw action Thursday. That number will shrink as the start of the season draws closer.

"We've got a great group of core guys who know what to do," Gesell said. "We're just trying to bring the freshmen along. We're going to need them this year. There's a lot of potential and talent in that class."

Not all the rookies will see the floor this season.

"You've got to come and compete every day in practice," Wagner said. "There's a lot of minutes there. But as long as we're winning games, that's all that matters to this team."

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.