Iowa hoops players forced to grow up

Hawkeyes dealing with division of minutes, competitiveness; demands on them

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IOWA CITY — When Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Jordan Bohannon, Ryan Kriener and Maishe Dailey got to campus last year, they and the rest of the Hawkeyes knew that group would earn playing time right away.

Together with redshirt freshman Isaiah Moss, Cook, Pemsl and Bohannon got the bulk of that work, often displacing older players like Dom Uhl, Ahmad Wagner, Christian Williams and Brady Ellingson for playing time. The entire team seemed to back up what they said this time last year, that the camaraderie was such that it wasn’t going to be an issue. There never seemed to be bitterness in any direction.

Well, now the roles are reversed, to a certain extent. A year later, it’s Luka Garza and Jack Nunge coming in, likely taking away minutes from some in the aforementioned group. There are only so many minutes to go around, after all. It’s going to force everyone to mature at a faster rate — or else the whole thing could crumble.

Like last year, they said the right things Monday at Iowa’s media day.

“It’s the same thing as last year,” Pemsl said. “I’m going to get my opportunity; they’re going to get theirs. Luka is going to bring a huge presence in the paint for us this year. I’m not worried about minutes being taken away or whatever. I’m just going to go out and do what I have to do to prove to coach I should be on the floor. I know everyone else on the team is going to do the same thing.”

They all still want to be The Guy.

They all want to play every minute they can. That hasn’t changed, and won’t change.

Pemsl pointed out what should be obvious by now: this group is a smart one, and one that knows what they got themselves into. The sophomore from Dubuque said he knows what Nunge and Garza are going to bring, and all that’s done is make him focus on things he can do to make himself valuable — like losing weight after surgery and being more explosive.

Throughout last season, as well as this summer when discussing practices in advance of their European trip, the Hawkeyes all would give a wry grin when asked about how intense practices were. Nunge and Garza both were asked if they’re being pushed by the older forwards. Both laughed that, “you have no idea,” kind of laugh.

On Monday, those grins were joined by laughter in reiterating the intensity still is there. Things like Pemsl’s explosiveness, Cook’s aggressiveness, Wagner’s physical assertiveness and Kriener’s drive get amped up.

“Of course we all want to be the guy,” Cook said. “As a competitor, you want to be that. Once we step out of the square, we’re friends again. But I think everyone would tell you, once practice starts and we get to competing, it gets ugly sometimes — which is good.”

How mature this group actually is remains knowledge held only by Coach Fran McCaffery, his staff and those players.

To ask McCaffery, though, how much the players are growing up matches the people they are. He’s been high on each of them as individuals as long as he’s been able to talk about them. Still, it’s not perfect every day.

It can’t be. They’re human and most of them aren’t yet upperclassmen.

“I think there’s a certain maturity level that we have based on the character of the individuals we’re talking about,” McCaffery said. “You know, at the same time, I would say we had the best first week of practice I’ve ever been associated with. Our second week of practice was not so much. We had mistakes, and we took a step backwards, so that’s part of it. So now we have to come back in week three and do a lot better.”

Whether it’s newcomers working to take their spot, demands on their time for workouts, school and travel or increased attention for being talented, these Hawkeyes have been forced to grow up.

That won’t stop anytime soon, especially if they’re as good this season as they expect to be.

“You think you’re growing up and you get here and you realize it’s a whole other level,” Pemsl said. “Mentally, it’s a big step for us. I think all the freshmen last year took that step. I think the freshmen this year are doing that as well.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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