UNI hoops newcomers getting comfortable

Brown, McCloud, Ashton, Rhodes all gelling with existing Panthers through Prime Time League play

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NORTH LIBERTY — It’s easy to get carried away with summer league basketball.

The relative lack of defense and gaudy numbers tend not to be fully predictive when it comes to in-season production, but college hoops fans and followers love the chance to get to see future Northern Iowa and Iowa products in the Prime Time League.

For the players, stats don’t matter as much as feel and comfortability. So the last few weeks of PTL games for UNI hoops newcomers have been a tremendous learning experience.

“I’m feeling good now. I’ve played a couple games with college players, know more what it’s like, and I’m feeling good about it,” said incoming UNI freshman Isaiah Brown following his team’s defeat in the PTL quarterfinals Thursday night. “The tempo has been a big change. High school is kind of slow; this has been really fast-paced. I’ve had to get used to that tempo. I feel good about it now.”

Brown joined fellow incoming freshman Juwan McCloud, Kirkwood transfer Hunter Rhodes and Iowa State transfer Jordan Ashton as new-to-UNI products competing in the PTL. They’ll be joined by Tanner Lohaus as the fifth piece to the newest class of Panthers in the fall.

Between workouts in Cedar Falls and PTL games, the new blood have meshed well with their UNI counterparts and have learned a lot in a short period of time.

Brown, a lanky 6-foot-5, 170-pound guard, has shadowed UNI senior-to-be Jeremy Morgan, and has spent a ton of time in the weight room. His build isn’t yet reflective of having been in a college environment, but he said he’s worked hard at it this summer, and plans to continue that process with earnest.

“Coaches want me to stay on the weights, and I’ve gained a couple pounds already this summer, so I just have to stay with it over the summer,” Brown said. “Once I gain a little weight and get where they want me to be, I can start getting into the gym and I’ll be even more comfortable.”

Brown was the only one among the new UNI players to play in Thursday night’s PTL semis, as McCloud sat out as a precaution with shin splints, according to his PTL coach, Matt Gatens.

McCloud, though, impressed many in his first few PTL games with the ease at which he competed with more experienced college players. After the PTL opener, McCloud basically shrugged when asked if the tempo and talent was an adjustment.

He seemed undeterred and extremely confident, and it showed in all his other PTL outings.

“It felt like any other game, to be honest. I’m so ready to be here, so it really doesn’t change anything for me,” McCloud said after the PTL opener on June 30. “I feel like playing through AAU and playing top players got me ready for this. I’m just ready to play.

“I’ve just got to play my game when I come in. I’m coming in here with a whole new attitude. I’m trying to take it all in, get this lifting in. No pressure at all; just play.”

Ashton and Rhodes also looked comfortable in their PTL games, but have the benefit of much more experience to help them. Both mentioned how well they’ve been received by their new UNI teammates — though Ashton has yet to officially get on campus while still finishing his degree online at Iowa State.

Ashton said Thursday night he’s excited and interested to see how the new-look UNI backcourt shakes out, but that guys like Brown and McCloud raise the level of competitiveness, even as freshmen.

Brown said he’s channeled that competitiveness into learning all he can. He’s been compared to Morgan quite a bit so far, but he said he’s tried his hardest to stay away from being like anyone but himself. If he does that, he said, he could find his way into UNI’s rotation right away.

“Everything we do, if we have a partner, coaches want me with Jeremy so he can teach me. I shadow him a lot,” Brown said. “I try to be myself. I know they compare me to Jeremy a lot, and I look up to him, but for the most part I try to be myself. I think it’s very important. If I’m trying to be too much like him, it might take away from something that I’m good at. I’ll be myself and it’ll come.”

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

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