NORTH LIBERTY — Jarrod Uthoff competes with and against Iowa players in the summer Prime Time League. He communicates with regularly them during games. But when the game ends, he makes his way to the opposite gym at the North Liberty Recreation Center and shoots either by himself or with non-Iowa players.
It’s an awkward arrangement this summer for the 6-foot-8 Uthoff — and his future Iowa teammates. Uthoff, a Marengo native and Cedar Rapids Jefferson graduate, left Wisconsin after the spring semester under restrictions that he couldn’t receive a Big Ten scholarship for at least one year. Even more challenging, he couldn’t initiate or receive contact from any Big Ten school official.
That holds true even today. Uthoff picked Iowa despite the restrictions but until he attends a class this fall, he can’t speak with anyone in the athletics department. Uthoff’s future Iowa teammates — some of whom have known him for years — are dissuaded from talking publicly about him except in the most generic terms.
“It’s kind of difficult,” Uthoff admits.
Uthoff was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2011, averaging 26.1 points at Jefferson. Before his senior year at Jefferson he chose Wisconsin over Iowa, Iowa State, Illinois, Indiana and other high-major programs. After redshirting last season, Uthoff requested his scholarship release from Wisconsin. Initially it was granted with heavy restrictions and included 26 schools. Uthoff’s situation exploded into a national story until Wisconsin officials retracted the restrictions to only Big Ten rivals.
Uthoff, a 6-foot-8 forward, has to sit out this season but will be eligible to earn a scholarship and play as a sophomore in 2013-14. Based on his PTL performance, Uthoff should fit in right away.
In his second PTL game, Uthoff guarded multiple players, including Iowa forwards Aaron White and Eric May. While the style of play doesn’t compare to a Big Ten game, the league features Big Ten athletes competing in a man-to-man defense. Uthoff defended both players adequately along the perimeter and in the post.
Uthoff hit 5-of-7 shots from the field and grabbed nine rebounds. White, a sophomore, scored 22 points that game, most of which were against other players.
“He’s so even-keel,” White said of Uthoff. “He’s so comfortable with the ball. He plays at a great pace. He never rushes anything. It seems that he knows what he wants to do with it. He’s got a good turnaround game. He’s got that little shimmy jump-shot. He might not look as strong as he actually is in the upper body, but I think he’s got good strength. He’s just crafty. There’s a reason why he got a scholarship to Wisconsin and Bo Ryan wanted him.”
Nobody would talk about how Uthoff would fit in at Iowa and a few players were reluctant even to mention how Uthoff competed in the game. Iowa sophomore guard Josh Oglesby played with Uthoff on the AAU’s Iowa Barnstormers, and the two competed against one another as crosstown high school rivals. Oglesby, who plays alongside Uthoff on Vinton Merchants/Mike Gatens Real Estate in the PTL, raved about Uthoff’s abilities but had to stop himself in mid-thought because of the restrictions.
“He just lets the game come to him,” Oglesby said. “Smart guy. Long, he’s athletic, he’s sneaky athletic. He can shoot it, rebound. I think the biggest things for him is to put a little weight on so he can start banging more. I think he’s going to be great.”
Junior Zach McCabe also competes with Uthoff and Oglesby on the same PTL team. McCabe said Uthoff is more in control on the court than most PTL players.
“He doesn’t force stuff,” McCabe said. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes like obviously I do. He’s patient, he looks for his shot, he gets people involved. When he has his shot, he takes it.”
As a red-shirt last season, Uthoff didn’t play in either Iowa-Wisconsin game. The Hawkeyes’ up-tempo style of play under coach Fran McCaffery struck Uthoff, and he took some mental notes from both Iowa victories.
“The way they played,” Uthoff said when asked about those games. “I like the way they played as a team. That’s the thing I noticed right away sitting on the bench.”
Uthoff changed his attitude about Iowa’s program after the Hawkeyes’ 67-66 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. When Uthoff was a high school junior, Iowa barely filled 5,000 seats for home games. Against Wisconsin, Iowa listed its attendance at 14,248.
“The fans were pretty crazy,” Uthoff said. “Craziest I’d ever seen Carver for sure.”
Uthoff credits Wisconsin coaches for improving his all-around skills, especially his ball handling. Since leaving Madison, the PTL or pickup games are Uthoff’s only avenues for basketball with his future teammates.
“That’s why it’s (the PTL) really good,” Uthoff said. “I get to play with the guys here. I can’t really have any contact with the coaches or anything.“Every time you play, you learn more and more about a player and his skill set and what he can do. The more we play together the better.”