NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. – The past, present and future of the Iowa men’s basketball program were on display Thursday in the opening night of the Prime Time League.
The focus of this column will be on the future, or more specifically, four of the six incoming recruits who made their PTL debuts on Thursday.
I’ll start with incoming freshman guard Christian Williams since he played in the first game.
Two things are obvious when you see Williams in person for the first time. His listed height of 6-foot-6 seems accurate, but he’s razor thin.
So Williams should plan on getting used to being in the weight room because gaining more strength is a must for him.
He also seemed timid and nervous at times during Thursday’s game. But that’s understandable because this a big step for Williams, moving away from home to attend college on a basketball scholarship.
He arrived on campus only a few days ago.
“Everything is pretty new right now,” Williams said.
What impressed me most about Williams, besides his length, is that he plays unselfishly, like a true point guard. He looks more like a shooting guard, but Williams prefers to play point guard.
“I prefer the ball in my hands, that’s what I do best,” Williams said.
His timing couldn’t be much better with Iowa’s top two point guards – Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons – both entering their senior season.
“They told me if I work hard then I have a good chance,” Williams said of filling the void at point guard.
Williams considers himself fortunate to be on the same PTL team as Gesell. Their team escaped with an 89-87 victory on Thursday at the North Liberty Community Center.
“Mike’s a real good guy,” said Williams, who is from Decatur, Ill. “He’s helped me out a lot from the first practice and tonight.”
Williams played more of a support role during Thursday’s game. He seemed more content distributing the ball then looking for shots. He only scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field, but his combination of size, quickness and ball-handling skills are impressive.
He just needs some time to develop.
Next on the list is 6-7 incoming freshman forward Ahmad Wagner.
He also needs time to develop offensively, but should help immediately on defense because of his athleticism and his willingness to hustle and guard multiple positions.
Wagner does the little things that don’t show up in a box score, but help to win games. He always looked to set picks during Thursday’s game and he worked hard on defense, which isn’t always the case in a summer league game.
He also made 5-of-7 field-goal attempts, and I can’t recall him taking a bad shot or trying to force the issue on offense.
Wagner has the kind of athleticism that’s been missing from the Iowa roster lately. He is talented enough that he could’ve played college football as a receiver. Kentucky reportedly offered Wagner a football scholarship, while Ohio State apparently considered it, according to Wagner, who is from Huber Heights, Ohio.
“They told me if I wanted to be serious about football that they would offer,” Wagner said of Ohio State. “But I just said I wasn’t going to. I was going to focus on basketball and sign with Iowa.”
Let’s now move on to junior-college transfer Dale Jones, who comes to Iowa with a reputation as a 3-point shooter.
One thing that’s undeniable about the 6-8 Jones is that he plays with tremendous confidence on offense. I understand that it was just a summer league game, but Jones looked comfortable launching 3-point shots from just about everywhere on the court.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery might not be comfortable with it in real prime, but a confident and productive 3-point shooter is just what Iowa needs. Jones made 4-of-10 3-point attempts in Thursday’s game.
Jones will have the opportunity to fill the void left by all-Big Ten forward Aaron White, who used up his eligibility this past season.
“I’m not trying to out-do what he did, but just play the role that coach McCaffery wants me to play and help the team get as far as last year’s team or every further,” said Jones, who is from Waterloo.
Jones said it doesn’t matter to him whether he plays power forward or small forward. He played more like a small forward during Thursday’s PTL game, mostly roaming the perimeter and looking for shots. He took some questionable shots, but he also made a few.
His team fell so far behind in Thursday’s game that it was hard to evaluate Jones because there wasn’t much defense played in the second half. I saw enough of Jones, though, to believe that he is a gifted shooter who can help Iowa space the floor on offense.
“I feel like I bring out a lot of mismatches,” Jones said. “You can play me on the wing as a bigger three-man or you can play me at the four against slower forwards.”
Jones is eager to play with senior-to-be forward Jarrod Uthoff, who made third-team all-Big Ten last season.
“I feel like me and Jarrod Uthoff really stretch the floor,” Jones said. “I liked the situation coming here.”
Brandon Hutton is the fourth and final player to be highlighted in this column.
What impressed me the most about Hutton, a 6-4 Chicago native, was his willingness to play defense. He sort of reminds me of former Hawkeye Kenyon Murray, who excelled as a defender. Hutton made Northern Iowa guard Wyatt Lohaus work for everything during Thursday’s game, including just bringing the ball up the court.
“I feel like I was doing a good job on him, but I need to learn how to be a bit more disciplined,” Hutton said. “A lot of times I would see the ball loose and I’d go (bump) into him, so that’s a foul. That’s me just learning.”
Hutton showed flashes on offense while scoring eight points on a 4-of-8 shooting from field. He was similar to Williams and Wagner in that he didn’t try force the issue on offense. He didn’t haunt for shots, either. He shot when he had open looks, but his quickness and tenacity on defense stood out the most.
Small forward would seem to be Hutton’s best position, even though he’s short by small forward standards. But look for him to guard multiple positions on defense. A team can never have enough versatile defenders.
Iowa’s incoming recruiting class consists of six players, but one of them – shooting guard Andrew Fleming – didn’t play Thursday because his PTL team had a bye.
The sixth player in the class, shooting guard Isaiah Moss, isn’t playing in the PTL this summer because of academic obligations that will keep him in his hometown of Chicago until he enrolls at Iowa this fall.
UTHOFF UPDATE: Jarrod Uthoff didn’t play in Thursday’s PTL game because of a sprained left foot. He said the injury was “no big deal.”
Uthoff just wants to be healthy by the time he competes in the inaugural Nike Basketball Academy, which will be held June 26-30 in Santa Monica, Calif. Uthoff is among 20 players who were invited to the event.
“Injuries like this you don’t want it to drag on for the whole summer,” Uthoff said. “So you want to get it taken care of right away.”