By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In nearly 30 years of covering University of Iowa athletics, some teams that have left an indelible mark.
Every team is unique and special in its own way, but some standout more than others for reasons that go beyond just wins and losses.
The 1992-93 Iowa men’s basketball team tops my list of favorite Hawkeye teams that I've covered for obvious reasons, and it’s not even close, although, the 1998-99 team is without question second on the list for having defied the odds by advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 in Tom Davis' final season as head coach.
To this day, I’m still in awe of how the players and coaches from the 1992-93 team persevered through an unthinkable tragedy that came with the death of Chris Street about midway through the season.
Street was flirting with stardom as highly skilled and highly energized 6-foot-8 junior power forward when he was killed in an automobile accident on Jan. 19, 1993 on the outskirts of Iowa City.
In addition to being a star player, Street was also the team’s emotional leader and a fan favorite.
He grew up in Iowa and cherished being a Hawkeye.
I remember thinking there was no way the team still could perform at a high level without Street, and I was so happy to be proven wrong.
Acie Earl took his game as a senior center to another level after Street’s death, and the team fed off Earl’s impact, especially on defense where he really excelled.
Tom Davis also became more than a head coach in the wake of Street’s death. Those close to the situation say that Davis deserves so much credit for how he comforted the players, and for his steady leadership, on and off the court.
The back-to-back victories over Michigan State and Michigan’s Fab Five in the first two games after Street’s death are two of the greatest and most inspirational performances I’ve witnessed in sports.
The 1992-93 squad would go on to finish 23-9 overall while advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The 27-year anniversary of Street’s death was this past Sunday, and while time has a way of clouding one’s memory, so much about that emotionally charged season still is fresh in my mind.
It was my first year on the Iowa beat for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, and I truly gained inspiration from watching up close as that team turned tragedy into triumph as a way to honor Street's legacy.
I thought about Street while watching Iowa defeat Rutgers 85-80 on Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena because he would’ve loved the current Iowa team.
He would’ve admired the players for their toughness and grit, and he would’ve been a huge fan of junior center Luka Garza, because in addition to being a phenomenal player, Garza also plays with the same energy and passion that made Street so effective and popular.
The best way to honor Chris Street's legacy is to play hard, to play unselfishly and to play with a purpose, and the currrent Iowa team is doing all three of those things.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was asked after the Rutgers game how enjoyable it is to coach this team.
“Probably as enjoyable as any I've had, and I've had some that were really fun to coach.” McCaffery said. “I will say this: since I've got in the business, you know, I can't think of a team that didn't have character and didn't try to do everything I asked them to do. I had a few clunkers in there.
"But this team kind of deals with whatever comes their way. No excuses. More importantly, we talk about accepting coaching, that's important, but I think they really support one another. So if somebody does make a mistake, nobody is yelling at them. It's like, Hey, we're going to do this now. Get to the next play.”
Street would admire the current Iowa team for its resilience, for its ability to overcome adversity and for how well it plays together.
It’s easy to forget that Iowa is without two starters, including senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, who is already Iowa's career record holder in 3-point baskets made.
Dealing with injuries is nothing like what the 1992-93 squad had to endure because death transcends sports.
But just from a sports standpoint, it's impressive what the current Iowa team is doing under difficult circumstances.
Iowa trailed Rutgers 43-37 at halftime on Wednesday, and by eight points early in the second half, but the players just kept competing and believing in themselves. Rutgers also made a late run, but Garza and his cohorts still found a way to prevail.
"In those moments, we've just got to come together, and that's what we've been able to do," Garza said.
The current Iowa team has caught the imagination of fans and is well on its way to becoming one of my favorite Hawkeye teams.
I didn't have the privilege of covering Iowa's 1980 Final Four team, because I was only a sophomore in high school at the time.
But with the teams that I've covered, the current Iowa men's basketball team is really starting to stand out.
It’ll never supplant the 1992-93 squad, but it certainly is making a strong impression.