IOWA CITY, Iowa – Entering his senior season with the Iowa men’s basketball team, Anthony Clemmons is loaded with confidence, but he also knows where he stands.
He hardly is a star, and might not even be a starter this season, although, Clemmons gave every indication at media day on Wednesday that he expects to start this season. The 6-foot-1 combo guard basically told reporters that he plans to perform so well as a senior that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery won’t have a choice, but to start him.
“Either or, I’m good both ways,” Clemmons said. “But what I’m bringing this year, he’s going to keep me in the lineup. It’s probably not even going to be a question because what’s best for the team is to keep me in the lineup. That’s what it is.”
Before you accuse Clemmons of being cocky, he also was his harshest critic on Wednesday, acknowledging that his career as a Hawkeye has been plagued by inconsistency.
The Lansing, Mich., native now feels a sense of urgency to change that with time running out on his career.
“What motivates me this year is it’s my last year,” said Clemmons, who has started 25 games as a Hawkeye. “No one has really seen what I’m really capable of. They’ve just seen flashes of the good things that I’ve done. I haven’t put a whole season together where I’m at my best.
“So that’s really motivating me, just knowing that it’s my last year and knowing that I have so much more I can bring out. I’m pumped for it.”
You could argue that Clemmons is one of the biggest keys to the season because imagine how much stronger the team would be with him contributing on a consistent basis, especially on offense where his struggles mostly have been.
Clemmons always brings it on defense, but he isn’t nearly as reliable on offense, evidenced by his 3.9 career scoring average. That’s what has to change in order for him to be more consistent. That doesn’t mean just scoring more points, but also making the right decisions as a passer and limiting his turnovers.
With four returning starters, we already know a lot about this Iowa team. We know that Jarrod Uthoff has star potential as a 6-9 small forward, that 7-1 senior Adam Woodbury is a force in the paint, that 6-1 Mike Gesell is a dependable point guard and that 6-6 Peter Jok is a gifted scorer from the perimeter.
It’s harder to describe Clemmons because if we’re to believe him, we’ve only seen parts of his game. He doesn’t have to be one of Iowa’s primary scorers this season, but the team also can’t afford for Clemmons to go through long stretches where he hardly scores, either.
His lack of consistency still shouldn’t take away from the fact that Clemmons has helped lay the foundation under McCaffery, who is entering his sixth season at Iowa. The seniors face the daunting task of trying to improve on what already has been accomplished under McCaffery, thanks in large part to them.
Iowa has improved in each of McCaffery’s first five seasons with last year’s team, which was led by all-Big Ten senior forward Aaron White, raising the bar by winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2001. If Iowa continues the current pattern of success under McCaffery, a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999 awaits this season.
“Now, we’re not just happy making the tournament and winning a game in the tournament,” Clemmons said. “We want more. And our goal is to attack everything we do.”
The challenge facing the current senior class is much different than what the seniors faced early on under McCaffery at Iowa. A winning season is all that McCaffery’s second senior class had to accomplish in order to improve on the previous season. It did so by finishing 18-17 overall.
“We’ve taken a step every year and the more years we keep taking steps, the harder it’s going to be,” Woodbury said. “So we don’t want to just get to the Sweet 16. We’re trying to go further and further and maybe take even a bigger step. It’s always encouraging to see a program move in the right direction and we’re just try to continue in the right direction for ourselves as well.”
The seniors are trying to take something that’s already in good condition and make it very good before leaving. That’s no easy task.
You could argue that the jump from being good to very good is more difficult than the jump from being bad to good.
McCaffery is known for hyperbole and he didn’t disappoint on Wednesday by calling Clemmons one of the best sixth-man in the country last season. McCaffery said it while answering a question about whether Clemmons or 6-9 sophomore Dom Uhl would fill the one open spot in the starting lineup from last season.
“You would expect Clemmons to be out playing people at this point in time,” McCaffery said. “We really had two full practices, and we obviously started working out in June and had some work in July and some workouts in September. You would expect others to be farther along.
“But the question becomes is there a better fit in the starting lineup? And do we go back to a guy that, one of the best six men in college basketball in many ways last year? You could bring him in, he could score for you and he could play the point for you. He would make big plays at critical times in the game.”
Whether he starts or not, Clemmons will play a prominent role this season as Iowa moves on without White and fellow 2015 seniors Gabe Olaseni and Josh Oglesby. The question is; will it be more of the same from Clemmons? Or has he saved his best for last?
The answer to that question could go a long way in determining whether Iowa continues its pattern of success under McCaffery.