UNI players have 'team game' in mind - even in Prime Time League

Panther players try to follow edict from Coach Ben Jacobson to stick with philosophy despite freewheeling nature of PTL

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NORTH LIBERTY — Prime Time League games (like the Cap City League, or any other college summer league) have a tendency to devolve into wild offensive displays with very little flow.

It’s not a knock on the league, as every player and college coach who sends their players knows it. The challenge for those coaches — who aren’t allowed to be at the PTL games — is to make sure their players get something out of the experience.

For Northern Iowa, its coach, Ben Jacobson, and his players, one message was left with the 13 players who made the trip to North Liberty: play their game. That is, the way Jacobson has the Panthers play.

“It’s fun playing other people besides your teammates. You beat up on each other for a month, and it’s nice to get out here and play other people,” said guard Jeremy Morgan. “I’m always trying to improve myself, whether it’s coming off ball screens or moving off the ball, but I’ve got a lot of talented players on my team, so I’m always going to try to find them and let them do their thing, too.”

It was the across-the-board response from every UNI player asked after their games on Thursday night at the North Liberty Community Center.

In the two hours each week that Jacobson and his staff get with the team over summer, the first several weeks have been group workouts, with the newcomer-filled backcourt and frontcourt working separately. That has as much to do with the players’ mindset on the first night of the PTL as anything.

“That’s exactly how I want to play and how I want the other guys to play,” said forward Klint Carlson. “Play the way you would in a regular season game.”

The notable exception to Jacobson’s edict, re: playing their team game, was what he hoped for Jeremy Morgan over the summer.

Morgan will have a much larger role offensively than he’s ever had as a Panther as he enters his senior season. He matched Larry Bird as the only Missouri Valley Conference players to score 36 points and have 12 rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game with his performance against Texas A&M, and it served as a possible look into his future.

Jacobson said Thursday in a phone conversation with The Gazette that he wanted Morgan to try some new things and take some chances he might not normally during the PTL, because he might need to come regular season time.

“The older guys, I want them to push themselves to do some things they didn’t have to do last year,” Jacobson said. “(I want) Jeremy to put himself out there from a scoring standpoint, to look for opportunities for himself and take some more shots. At the same time, whether it’s Prime Time (League) or anything else, we want them to take good shots, and Jeremy understands that. But he also knows I want him to work on his offensive game, because that’s going to be important for us.”

The PTL opener also was the first time several UNI players got to hit the court in competition against outside college athletes — either for the first time this year or at all.

Redshirt freshmen-to-be Spencer Haldeman and Justin Dahl fit that bill. Haldeman is one among a large group of relatively inexperienced backcourt players UNI will use to fill roles of the departed Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon and Paul Jesperson. He, Hunter Rhodes and Jordan Ashton each had moments to shine Thursday night, finding plenty of open shots from different parts of the court.

Incoming freshmen Juwan McCloud and Isaiah Brown also saw their first action against college competition, and showed flashes of the tremendous upside they possess. Morgan said, in what he’s seen from them so far that, “Juwan (McCloud), Isaiah (Brown) and Jordan (Ashton) all did really well. Adam McDermott can’t play this year, but he’s looked really good. I’m really happy with the guys we’ve got.”

Wyatt Lohaus, who with Morgan has by far the most backcourt experience for this year’s Panthers, found his shot early and often Thursday night, and showed a confident aggression. He, Rhodes and Haldeman floated between point and shooting guard roles Thursday, and likely will for UNI.

“I think with all our guys, playing the right way in Prime Time League (is important) — playing how Coach Jake wants us to play,” Lohaus said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who are capable of playing (point or shooting guard) so in games or workouts, it’s only going to help — pushing each other and being competitive with each other.

“I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to have too many talented guys. With all the new players we have and all the young talent, I think it’s a great thing for us.”

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

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