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Hlas: Maryland can't beat Hawkeyes on pedigrees alone

Terps have better recruiting rankings, but Iowa's atop Big Ten

Iowa’s Mike Gesell (10) tries to get the ball from Maryland’s Melo Trimble (2) during the Hawkeyes’ 71-55 win over Maryland last Feb. 8 in Iowa City. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Mike Gesell (10) tries to get the ball from Maryland’s Melo Trimble (2) during the Hawkeyes’ 71-55 win over Maryland last Feb. 8 in Iowa City. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Maryland: Three McDonald’s High School All Americans. Iowa: None.

Yet, the Hawkeyes are ranked fourth nationally and are 7-0 in the Big Ten. Maryland is no slouch at No. 7 and 6-2, but how did the talent-stocked Terrapins ever find themselves behind Iowa in the conference race?

Talent matters deeply, it always has, always will, end of story. To my knowledge, there’s never been an intramural team that won a national title in football or basketball.

But judging which players have the right stuff inside and out is where coaches distinguish themselves. Alabama owns college football and its recruiting rankings. But Bama’s players rest on no laurels from year to year, be it their own or their team’s.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon and Diamond Stone are former McDonald’s All Americans. That makes the Terrapins enormously talented. It does not make them superior to their Big Ten rivals. They may be by the time the regular-season ends, but they’re 6-2 now and need to beat Iowa Thursday to avoid planting a sneaker on a banana peel when it comes to the title race.

Now, there’s no poor-boying it here regarding Iowa. Adam Woodbury was a top 50 recruit who was coveted by North Carolina. Mike Gesell was a top 100 guard who had a lot of major-college interest. Jarrod Uthoff wasn’t the bluest of blue-chippers, but Wisconsin didn’t sign him out of Cedar Rapids Jefferson for no reason.

Those guys were good then, and they’re very good now. Like all the players at Oklahoma and Iowa State and Texas A&M and West Virginia and Xavier and many other fine teams, they are on a club without someone holding the distinction of “McDonald’s All American.”

“It’s pretty easy to (pick) the top 15 or 20 guys,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday. “Take you into a gym and watch a game and say ‘OK, that guy’s one of the top players.’

“But after that, there are a lot of variables. How well were they coached? What is their basketball IQ? You can’t just get by at this level with tremendous athletic ability.

“What happens when you get closely guarded? What happens when you can’t bully your opponent, somebody else who is as big and strong as you are? Do you have enough game? Do you have enough intellect to compete? Are you tough enough? Will you put the time in the summer? Because guys are going to be in the gym shooting a thousand a day. Are you going to shoot a thousand a day?”

McCaffery’s players can give positive answers to all those questions. Also, he has guys who have played a lot of college ball, and played a lot of it together. You can name a lot of college teams over the last decade who didn’t have a prep All-American but more than made up for it with a core of good and experienced players.

Butler, Wichita State, Gonzaga. Wisconsin had a McDonald’s All American last season in Sam Dekker, but the closest Frank Kaminsky got to that honor was a McDonald’s drive-thru. Kaminsky, not Dekker, was the consensus national Player of the Year last year for the NCAA runner-up Badgers.

Judging what players have beyond raw skill is what separates the best coaches from the rest, whether those coaches work at North Carolina or North Dakota.

“I recruited Pat Garrity (when he was an assistant at Notre Dame) and we got killed,” McCaffery said. “He’s not good enough. He’s not in the Top 150.

“He’s the 19th pick in the (NBA) draft. Somebody was 19 that year on somebody’s list, and it wasn’t him. He’s the 19th pick in the draft. So $35 million later, he’s retiring (after a 10-year NBA career). So the key is to stay humble and hungry no matter what.”

Uthoff also used the phrase “stay humble and hungry” in an interview session here Tuesday.

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If the hungry guys find a way to beat the McDonald’s guys Thursday, staying humble could be the Hawkeyes’ biggest challenge of the season.

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