IOWA CITY — Jarrod Uthoff often watched his teammates on television and wondered how he could have helped his team win.
Iowa’s close road losses this year bit at him nearly as much as for those who endured it on the court. Uthoff, now a 6-foot-10 red-shirt freshman, couldn’t travel with the team and watched those games either alone or with his family.
Uthoff never said he could outperform another Iowa player. He’s too team-oriented for that. But he wondered if he could have helped in one small way to win even one of those games.
“It’s very frustrating, getting so mad at the TV every time,” Uthoff said. “It’s very tough ... just that we lost the game. We had it. Then all the sudden it turns around. It looks like we’re going to win the game and it’s tough to watch.”
The emotions that gripped Uthoff this year will dissipate in perspiration. After sitting out this season as a restricted athlete, Uthoff will play forward the next three years for Iowa and Coach Fran McCaffery expects him to “be an impact player next year.”
“The thing I like about (Uthoff) is,” McCaffery said, “you can play him as a long, shot-blocking post player or you can play him on the perimeter and the guy who can put it on the deck, hit a pull-up jumper, hit his 3 and make a play for someone else off the dribble.
“When you put that skill set together, you have a very impressive player. I think with the other players we have, it’s something we desperately need.”
When you ask Iowa’s coaches and players about Uthoff, they rave about his versatility. Uthoff handles the ball effectively and is an inside-outside player with a consistent jump shot. Any one of those skill sets would help him fit in next year. All of them elevate him to a match-up disadvantage.
“He’s sneaky long,” Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw said. “He gets his hands on deflections and blocked shots. He’s got a good sense on how to play, good feel, he’s unselfish, he can also shoot the basketball very well. But he gives us some length in there that you can never underestimate. He’ll bring a different set of skills that will complement everybody else’s skills.”
“Sometimes he’s shown flashes of how good of a player he can be just how he takes people off the dribble,” Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe said. “He has dribble combinations. He rises up and shoots right over people. He’s 6-10, he’s actually the same height as Gabe (Olaseni) when they measured him, so he has a lot of ability, I’m interested in seeing how he’s going to fit in our team.”
While Uthoff’s game at times looks effortless, his path to Iowa City was filled with potholes. After graduating from Cedar Rapids Jefferson as the state’s 2011 Mr. Basketball (26.2 points, 11.2 rebounds), Uthoff landed at Wisconsin and opted to red-shirt in 2011-12. He later decided to transfer but was restricted from contacting potential schools without Coach Bo Ryan’s approval.
Ryan immediately denied permission for Uthoff to contact any Big Ten schools, Marquette and Iowa State. Ryan then added the entire ACC and Florida. The situation blew into a high-profile dust-up and led to intense scrutiny of Ryan. After a stress-filled week for all parties, Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez allowed Uthoff to seek any school outside the Big Ten.
“I was embarrassed in some aspects, that it had to get that big,” Uthoff said. “I realized that (Wisconsin) wasn’t going to work for me. I wanted to go someplace else. I really didn’t want to make it that big a deal; I just wanted to leave and go to the next school and be happy.”
Uthoff, an economics major, visited Creighton and Iowa State but chose Iowa. He was excited to play for McCaffery, who diligently recruited Uthoff before he picked Wisconsin. The decision cost Uthoff travel privileges and a scholarship, but he’ll earn both next year.
Uthoff has grown two inches and put on about 25 pounds from his days at Jefferson. He worked heavily on his ballhandling and lifted weights four days a week. He was allowed to practice, and he gave his teammates great looks. He simulated opponents on the scout team and brought both skills and intensity, which his teammates appreciated and respected.
“He hasn’t played basketball in two years,” Iowa junior guard Devyn Marble said. “To come to practice every day having the hunger and motor to practice at an elite level knowing you’re not going to play, it takes a lot to do that. Sometimes I ask him how do you do it because I want to know.
“He can knock shots down; that’s what he does. Versatile, can play the three or the four. Learning the offense, he’s done a good job for us on the scout team, giving us a realistic look at what we might see facing an opponent.”
But competing against Division I athletes in practice the last two years doesn’t compare to game action. Uthoff can’t wait to don his No. 20 jersey in a game environment. It’s what keeps him going.
“I miss being out there on the court,” he said. “It’s not like anything else, especially here. Average attendance is up there. I’ve never played before this many people, and I’m excited to do it.“What do I bring to the table next year? Just whatever I do best. Just do whatever I do best to my greatest ability, and that’s all anybody can ask to bring.”