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CEDAR FALLS — When Juwan McCloud was asked to give a scouting report on himself Tuesday afternoon during Northern Iowa’s men’s basketball media day, his answer was one that should make Panthers fans happy.
“I feel like I’m a lot like Wes, with a little bit of Deon in there, too,” he said.
The freshman from Germantown, Wis., appears to be the odds-on favorite to be UNI’s starting point guard. Kirkwood Community College transfer Hunter Rhodes is in the mix, too.
Wes Washpun and Deon Mitchell provided the Panthers with five consecutive brilliant seasons at the ‘1,’ so there is a standard of excellence to uphold.
“Of course, that’s my mentality,” McCloud said, when asked about being a starter. “But I’m just going in and working hard every day, trying to prove myself on this team. That’s it. I’m definitely a pass-first point guard, like to get the team involved first and then find my offense through it.”
“Juwan is a tremendously talented young guy,” Northern Iowa Coach Ben Jacobson said. “As soon as he gets that ball in his hands, at least for me, it immediately feels like something good is about to happen. Something fun is about to happen. He’s got a little bounce in his step, he’s got a great feel, he understands where guys are. His timing, in terms of passing, is really good. So he’s going to have an impact immediately.”
Jacobson said he anticipates one of his other two true freshmen to contribute immediately, too. Six-foot-six Texas guard Isaiah Brown has surprised the coach by his mature game and ways.
“He’s been great,” Jacobson said. “He’s 6-6, has length and can move his feet. His mentality has been terrific. Defensively, he’s very good. He’s talking all the time ... Isaiah Brown has been a little bit better than what I expected. What he has done defensively, how he has talked, how he has done things.“
Forward Tanner Lohaus is a candidate to red-shirt, though Jacobson said no decisions have been made on that, yet. Lohaus, younger brother of junior guard Wyatt, had a short senior season at Iowa City West because of a bad ankle injury, then concentrated on baseball instead of AAU basketball.
“He’s playing catch up a little bit,” Jacobson said.
Iowa State graduate transfer Jordan Ashton joins Jeremy Morgan as UNI’s other senior. He also is playing catch up because he did not join the Panthers until school started.
Four red-shirt freshmen also figure in to varying degrees. You can look for former Western Dubuque all-stater Spencer Haldeman to get some time at guard.
Jacobson mentioned the improvement of center Justin Dahl. Former Dubuque Senior forward-center Luke McDonnell had knee surgery in the offseason and wasn’t cleared for full contact until mid-August.
Former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Adam McDermott is red-shirting this season while sitting out a transfer year from North Dakota.
Jacobson was asked about his team only having four games before the start of Missouri Valley Conference play. UNI hosts Coe in the opener Nov. 12 and entertains George Mason (Nov. 30), South Dakota State (Dec. 7) and North Dakota (Dec. 10) at the McLeod Center.
“We’ve talked scheduling at different times, and it’s difficult. It is difficult to get home games,” he said. “We were pursuing a number of different things to get a fifth home game, but they all fell through. We worked hard to get a fifth home game, but weren’t able to. In a perfect world, we’d have six every year. But the situation that we’re in, and scheduling the way it is, it is going to be hard for us to get six home games. Things are really going to have to fall right to where we’d get six of them.”
Jacobson also said there has been discussion on the possible addition of a new practice facility at the school. Practice time is difficult to get at the McLeod Center this time of year, with volleyball and women’s basketball also ongoing.
Below are some of Jacobson’s comments on players:
Guard Jordan Ashton
“Jordan is in tremendous shape. I would be able to tell you he is probably in the best shape as anybody on the team right now. For not having the opportunity to be with the team all summer, to be in the position he is from a conditioning standpoint, I think that says a lot about his work ethic and what he has done to get ready for what is his senior year.”
Forward Klint Carlson
“From a year ago today to now, he is a totally different guy ... The biggest reason for Klint is that he just gained so much confidence in that month and a half stretch where he was playing so well and when we started to do better as a team. He was a big part of that, and his confidence changed tremendously. He’s got the ability to do so many things. It has taken him a little while to gain the kind of confidence you need to compete at this level. But he starts this year with that confidence.”
Point guard Hunter Rhodes
“He’s a guy with a couple years experience, so you’ve got a guy who is a little bit older. Hunter is though. As we’ve gone along these last couple weeks, he has taken on a little more responsibility and gotten a little more comfortable. You’re starting to see why he led his team to a national championship last year.”
Forward Bennett Koch
“From what we’ve seen with Bennett this month, a little bit this summer but certainly this month, he’s real close to that prominent role. If not immediately next to Klint and Jeremy. I think he’s ready to join those two and give us a third guy we can throw the ball to a lot.”
Center Justin Dahl
“I’m certain he has reached 7-foot now. When you put him and Bennett Koch next to each other, he is noticeably taller than Bennett ... He has gotten himself into great shape. For a young guy who is that big, his work ethic is tremendous. He’s 250, 255 pounds and runs well. He’s around the ball, he goes and rebounds, has good instincts, good hands. The ball seems to roll in for him instead of roll out. He’s got a lot going for him.”
Forward-center Luke McDonnell
“He is behind a little bit because of the injury he got last year. He hurt that knee and had to have surgery. He was out of full contact from Valley tournament time until mid-August. Being out that long, he’s got to catching up to do, in terms of his conditioning and some of the weight-room stuff. So he’s behind a little bit from that aspect, but, boy, we like him. He’s very skilled.”
Guard Spencer Haldemann
“He can play with the ball in his hands, he can play off the ball. He can really get going, can really shoot the basketball. We’re going to need that with Bo and Paul graduated.”
Guard Wyatt Lohaus
“Wyatt and I have talked extensively about his role changing a little bit this year. He’s a guy who can score for us. We need another guy who can put points on the board. He has the ability to do that, and we think that’s best done off the ball.”
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