Iowa's Hannah Stewart is thriving at center, no longer 'fish out of water'
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Hannah Stewart took six shots last year for the Hawkeyes. In the entire season.
She made two of them — both 2s — and hit one of four free throws for a whopping total of five points. That was all spread over 27 total minutes, and those were spread over the 12 games she played in out of Iowa’s 33.
Not an ideal start for ESPN's No. 85 recruit in the Class of 2015.
So, no. Stewart didn't get much preseason fanfare this summer, especially considering Megan Gustafson and Chase Coley — both ahead of her on the depth chart — were returning.
Maybe there should’ve been some excitement.
Through 13 games, Stewart is third among Hawkeyes with 10 or more shots in field goal percentage (58.3 percent), fifth in scoring (6.9 points per game) and second in offensive rebounds (16). And that’s all while playing the ninth-fewest minutes. She's averaging 23.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, both third on the team.
For comparison, Gustafson’s per-40 numbers are 26 points and 16 rebounds. Ally Disterhoft’s are 25.2 and 7.1. Chase Coley, Iowa’s other big off the bench, averages 9.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per 40 minutes.
"She's playing well for us. She doesn't force anything," coach Lisa Bluder said after Stewart collected a career-high eight rebounds against Robert Morris. "She doesn't create things. She just takes what's there and that's what's great.
"She's doing a really good job backing up Megan."
And that’s the change — the catalyst for Stewart’s ridiculously efficient second season. She’s playing behind Gustafson. She's at the center, or 5, position.
Bluder said she tried playing Stewart at power forward, or the 4, before this year. But at that position you’ve got to be able to spread the floor. You need a consistent outside shot and you need to be laterally quick enough to switch onto smaller players on the perimeter.
And that wasn’t for Stewart. The sophomore from Minot, N.D., is built a lot like Gustafson — 6-foot-2, strong upper and lower body. She muscles her way under the basket for easy buckets and flashes a nice, high-release 8- to 10-foot baseline jumper.
Perfect for a center.
"She’s just been a really bright spot, in my opinion," Bluder said. "I think Hannah’s been playing so well. I think moving her back to the 5 position has been really good for her. We were trying to make her a 4 and it just wasn't working. She was a little bit a fish out of water out there; she just wasn't comfortable. And I think once we played her out there and then moved her back to the 5, it was almost a relief for her — like, ‘Yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.’"
This production is what Iowa expected when Stewart committed two Octobers ago. She was a big-time recruit for Iowa, picking the Hawkeyes over Gonzaga, Oregon State and Northwestern.
At least 20 offers flocked her way after a video game-like high school career that featured ... deep breath ... three consecutive state titles, four all-state honors, and school records in career points, career rebounds, career blocks, career steals and rebounds in a game.
"I think she’s done a really good job transitioning to the 5," Gustafson said. "I’ve been trying to help her get to know the plays and what to do. She’s doing a really good job, especially like getting the offensive boards, and she’s able to get some easy looks because the guards have done a really good job of setting her up."
Stewart backing up at center has allowed Coley, who played at both the 4 and the 5 last year, to carve out a role as the power forward off the bench.
Bluder runs a four guard, one center look in her starting five. But that second unit — Platoon Two — features a more traditional three guard, two forward lineup with Stewart at center and Coley at power forward.
Coley has a consistent mid-range jumper from either elbow and she can shoot the 3 — as least Bluder promises she can. Coley’s made one of two 3-point attempts so far. A small sample size, but her form looks smooth and natural, a perfectly good outside stroke.
Stewart is stronger inside than Coley, and Coley is better outside than Stewart. It’s a nice fit.
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.