Leistikow: Iowa's point-guard platoon should be fun
NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Regarding his Iowa basketball team’s most up-in-the-air position this winter, Fran McCaffery may feel like a baseball manager changing pitchers.
A greater need for defense and rebounding? Go with 6-foot-6 Christian Williams.
Need a shooter who can extend the floor? Call the bullpen for 6-foot Jordan Bohannon.
Effective point-guard play is certainly a looming Hawkeye question.
A successful answer could rest on McCaffery’s ability to play situational matchups with two inexperienced options.
“We’re not the same player,” Bohannon said, “obviously.”
Williams is the crafty, nibble-the-corners sophomore. Bohannon is the freshman who brings game-changing heat. And don’t forget the closer — second-team all-Big Ten Conference wing Peter Jok is supposed to get point-guard exposure, too, particularly when the shot clock’s winding down.
Williams and Bohannon made their Prime Time League season debuts Thursday night, showing fans and media in attendance just how different their skill sets are.
In Williams, a sophomore who likely will be the starter, McCaffery can plug in the rare point guard with a 6-11 wingspan. Williams scored in a variety of ways Thursday, typically from about 15 feet and in — via jumper, tip-in or spinning through around-the-rim traffic. He finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
“He’s a different kind of point guard,” McCaffery said recently.
Williams’ growth in one year has been noticeable.
In his June 2015 PTL debut, he was timid and unsure of himself. That carried into Iowa’s basketball season. He didn’t really emerge until Game 29 — the home finale against Indiana, when he registered eight first-half points after scoring just 11 all season.
“Picking things up, I don’t think it was too difficult for me,” Williams said Thursday. “The difficulty was lack of confidence.”
That's no longer an issue. Williams looked like an assertive leader Thursday, leading his team to victory from a 15-point deficit.
Now that the confidence thing is resolved, assistant coach Kirk Speraw (aka "Shot Doctor") is helping Williams with his outside touch.
“My follow-through and arc has improved a lot,” Williams said.
That’s a key area where Iowa needs Williams to get better. But that's also where Bohannon, the reigning Iowa Mr. Basketball, can help.
You don’t see too many point guards firing (and swishing) from 30 feet — as the freshman did a few times Thursday. Bohannon canned 7 of 11 attempts from 3-point range and finished with 27 points in his team’s three-point loss.
“Thirty, yeah,” Williams said with a smile. “He’s kind of like Stephen (Curry) in that sense.”
Bohannon developed his range playing against his accomplished older brothers who played at the Division I level — Jason (Wisconsin), Zach (Air Force/Wisconsin) and Matt (Northern Iowa).
Thirty feet was about the range where Jordan could get off a shot against his older brothers, so he grew accustomed to shooting from there.
Another piece of advice from Bohannon’s brothers? Bulk up. The Linn-Mar grad said he’s increased his weight from 167 pounds in April to 182.
“I really worked on trying to get my strength up — trying to endure the long Big Ten season,” Bohannon said. “I feel like I’m getting to that point, where I’m more comfortable being around bigger, faster kids.”
Since 2012, Iowa fans — and McCaffery — have predominantly seen four-year starter Mike Gesell run the show.
But change has arrived, possibly in the form of a point-guard platoon. Come November, it'll be interesting and fun to see how McCaffery makes it work. They might even be on the floor together at times.
“He’s pushing me, and I’m pushing him,” Bohannon said. “We’re going to help each other a lot.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.