Iowa and Louisville share mutual respect and admiration
Louisville coach Jeff Walz helped in wake of Ava Jones tragedy
By Susan Harman
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith both played for a USA Basketball team coached by Jeff Walz, the Louisville coach, so this is a reunion of sorts in Seattle.
“Three years ago when I was playing for Team USA, I was the youngest one on the team,” Clark recalled. “The first time I played for the U19 team it was the World Cup. We were in Thailand, and we were playing Australia.
“I remember (Walz) came up to me before the game when we were warming up. He’s like, if we get in the situation where I’ve got to put someone in off the bench to shoot free throws, I’m picking you.”
Rhyne Howard, the former Kentucky All-American, was hit in the nose and had to leave the game.
“They called an intentional foul, and I made one of two,” Clark said. “And then I stayed in the game and he drew up a play, and Hailey Van Lith made a bucket to tie it and send it to overtime and we ended up winning gold.”
Walz was impressed that Clark confessed to making only one of two. The two have stayed in touch through social media. He texted her after her winning last-second shot against Indiana: “It hit the rim. It wasn’t all that impressive.”
“And within 45 minutes she was like, ‘Why doesn’t that surprise me (coming) from you?’ With a big smiley face.”
Van Lith and Clark roomed together for part of the trip and shared point guard duties on the team.
“Great person off the court, really funny, great sense of humor,” Van Lith said of Clark. “I have supported her through her college career, and she has supported me through mine. She’s gotten better every year.”
*Another connection. Iowa coach Lisa Bluder told of getting some help from the Louisville community amid the tragedy of Ava Jones’ accident at an AAU tournament in the city. Jones, an Iowa commitment at the time, and her family were struck by a car that drove onto a sidewalk. Her father was killed, and Ava and her mother were seriously injured.
“I reached out to Jeff, and Jeff provided a car for the family to use at no expense and it was immediate,” Bluder said. “It was like not even a thought. It was something he wanted to do for that family.”
“It was such a terrible situation,” Walz said. When we heard it and saw what took place, I reached out to Lisa and just asked if there’s anything that we can do at all. She said, I’ll figure some things out. Because they were still trying — you know, it was so new, it just happened, trying to figure out what’s going on, what’s going to happen.
“And then a few days after, she said, ‘You know, a car would be wonderful for her grandmother.’ And it took one phone call to one of our boosters, and it was, like, it’s a done deal. Do not worry about it. They have a car dealership and within 10 minutes they had her a car.”
Walz has a reputation as a bit of a curmudgeon, for lack of a better term. But to Bluder he was much more.
“I just think he’s a really good guy,” Bluder said. “That speaks volumes about a person when they’re helping you when you’re in need like that.”
*Hawkeyes dissected. Walz was asked during Saturday’s media conference what and who else besides Clark will find its way into his scouting report. Walz said, “The whole team. I mean everybody does their job.”
But he had special praise for Iowa’s fifth-year senior Monika Czinano.
“The young lady in the post that I’ve been practicing trying to say her name, but I stutter every time I say it, so it’s like it’s worthless,” Walz said. “She’s phenomenal. She doesn’t dribble the basketball. It’s quite amazing. She catches it, turns and shoots over the left or right shoulder.
“I just love the demeanor she plays with. She’s a competitor; she’s fierce, but she puts a smile on. She has fun, and I love that about players.”
He wasn’t done.
“Then they have some shooters,” he said. “You’ve got (Gabbie) Marshall, who goes out there and everybody, ‘Oh, she looks so sweet, so nice,’ and she will rip your head off. It’s what I like about her. It’s the fun part about it. And everybody knows their role, and they do it really darn well.”
*Getting to the point. Bluder was asked about her string of successful point guards and how she coaches them. She said she and Clark have developed a sort of sixth sense.
“You have to have a special relationship when you are recruiting point guards,” Bluder said. “It’s just a different relationship than you have with other players because you spend so much time with them. You have to have, kind of like Caitlin and I can look at each other and almost know what we’re thinking. We trust each other a lot. I think you have to build that relationship in the recruiting process. You have to have that connection with your point guard.”