Harty: From the gridiron to the hardwood

Pat Harty
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Maybe it's because Indiana is the Iowa football team's opponent Saturday, but for whatever reason, I had basketball on my mind during Kirk Ferentz's weekly press conference Tuesday.

While most of the player interviews centered on the continued obsession over Iowa's two-headed quarterback arrangement, I called an audible, much to the surprise of Iowa senior strong safety John Lowdermilk.

I asked him and senior tight end Ray Hamilton the same question: Who among all the Iowa football players, a roster that includes more than 100 candidates, is the best at playing basketball?

"This is not what I expected to talk about this week," Lowdermilk said.

That didn't stop Lowdermilk from talking, even some trash at the expense of some of his teammates, most notably starting free safety Jordan Lomax, who was a star sprinter in high school, but who apparently leaves something to be desired as a basketball player.

"Lomax is terrible," Lowdermilk said. "Oh, he's bad. We actually had a bet one time if I could beat him 11-0. It was like a $10 bet or dinner or something like that. I think I was up 10-0 and he finally scored on me."

Lowdermilk, on the other hand, lettered four times in basketball in high school as a point guard. He helped his high school team in Ohio advance to the regional finals as a junior and senior.

Fellow Ohio native Ray Hamilton also lettered four times in basketball in high school. That's probably part of the reason he seemed thrilled when the conversation shifted to hoops Tuesday. Hamilton, who starts at tight end, had spent the previous 30 minutes or so trying to say all the right things about Iowa's delicate quarterback situation under the glare of the media spotlight.

Hamilton assumed the reason I asked him about basketball was because senior defensive tackle Carl Davis had been boasting about being the best basketball player on the Iowa football team. Davis made no such claim, but Hamilton still wanted to set the record straight.

"You should ask those guys," Hamilton said while pointing to Lowdermilk and senior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, both of whom were being interviewed by reporters at the time. "They'll give you an honest answer. We've all played together before.

"We've got some good basketball players. Just looking over there, I see Lowdermilk, Kevonte and Carl. But me and Carl always go back and forth about who's the best."

I never got a straight answer on who is the best basketball player on the Iowa football team, but Lowdermilk came close to naming a starting five with him as the point guard and Martin-Manley as the shooting guard. The frontline consisted of Davis at center and Hamilton at power forward.

Lowdermilk didn't mention a fifth starter, although he assumes from what he's heard and read about senior receiver Damond Powell that he would get the nod. The 5-foot-11 Powell is probably the most celebrated basketball player on the Iowa football team, earning Mr. Basketball accolades in the state of Ohio as a senior.

"I've never seen Damond Powell play, but I hear he's pretty good," Lowdermilk said. "He's from a Toledo school and I remember hearing about him in high school."

Lowdermilk has seen Davis play basketball on numerous occasions, and let's just say Big Carl, who is listed at 6-5, 315-pounds, is no slouch on the hardwood.

Hamilton said fans might be shocked at what Davis can do on the basketball court despite his considerable girth.

"He's good, he's athletic," Hamilton said Davis, who is the nephew of former Iowa men's assistant basketball coach Rich Walker. "He can drop-step dunk. You guys will think he's too big to do it, but he can play."

Hamilton played on the same high school basketball team in Strongsville, Ohio as current Iowa basketball player Aaron White. They have remained friends in college, with the 6-5, 252-pound Hamilton often teasing White about who used to be better in basketball.

"I still talk a little crap to Whitey to this day about who was the leading scorer our sophomore year," Hamilton said. "He tries not to talk about it."

Teasing each other about basketball provides the Iowa football players with an escape from the daily grind. The players had some free time during preseason practice this summer and formed their own basketball roster using Iowa football players.

"We were messing around with the roster and making cuts and things like that," Hamilton said. "I forget who ended up as our staring five. But yes I was on it, if that's what you're looking for."

The Iowa football players mostly avoid playing basketball as a precautionary measure. It's definitely prohibited during football season, although Hamilton still manages to get his fix, sometimes at the expense of White, who twice has made third-team all-Big Ten in basketball.

"I can't play any basketball; it's too big to risk an injury," Hamilton said. "But I'll go up and I'll mess around with Whitey, bugging him about a 3-point contest or just something competitive.

"But he laughs at me now because he, obviously, has taken his game to another level, but I haven't in basketball. It's all fun and games when I'm playing basketball or just shooting around."

Lowdermilk described himself as a slashing point guard who compensated for being a questionable shooter in high school with his size and physicality.

"I wasn't the best shooter," said the 6-2, 210-pound Lowdermilk. "But it didn't really matter because most of the point guards who guarded me we're smaller than me, so I would just kind of go to the hole."

The basketball questions eventually ended and it was back to business as usual for Lowdermilk and his teammates Tuesday.

However, the image of Davis performing a drop-step dunk despite weighing over 300 pounds will last forever.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or