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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — By late Friday night, the state of Iowa was swollen with pride.
After Iowa State’s strong performance in a first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament victory over Iona Thursday, the dramatic ways Iowa and Northern Iowa won their games Friday left their fans giddy.
Entering Saturday’s second round, our state had as many teams among the 32 survivors as the Big 12 Conference, and more than the Pac-12 and SEC.
Indiana (Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame) was the only state to push as many of its teams into the second round as Iowa. Illinois didn’t have a team in the tourney. California has 24 Division I schools. Four were in the first round. None advanced.
Those who live in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area can take even more pride in this year’s NCAAs. A half-dozen players from the Corridor haven’t just participated in the tourney, but are playing prominent roles.
Marcus Paige of Linn-Mar is North Carolina’s sterling senior point guard. Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson grad, scored 23 points in his team’s 72-70 overtime win over Temple here and averages 19.
Then there’s UNI. Yes, a Wisconsinite made the shot heard round the basketball world late Friday night. Cheesehead Paul Jesperson’s half-court, last-second, off-the-glass, oh-baby, game-winner for the Panthers against Texas will be remembered for about forever.
But Wes Washpun of Cedar Rapids Washington (17 points), Jeremy Morgan of Iowa City West (16 points), Matt Bohannon of Linn-Mar (10 points) and Wyatt Lohaus of Iowa City West (a team-high 6 rebounds) were instrumental in the triumph.
Enjoy this time, Eastern Iowans. Our region has produced many good basketball players over the years, but never have they made such a collective mark in the NCAAs.
Uthoff was the Iowa high school “Mr. Basketball” in 2011. Paige got the award in 2012. On a February 2011 night in Jefferson’s gym, Paige and Bohannon scored 30 points apiece and Uthoff notched 26 in Linn-Mar’s 70-64 win over the J-Hawks.
“I told my staff we’re watching a future NBA player,” then-Jefferson Coach Stu Ordman said after the game.
He was talking about Paige. He could have said the same about Uthoff and not been deemed a dreamer.
“I knew I was playing with great talent,” Uthoff said at a Barclays Center NCAA press conference Saturday on the eve of Iowa’s second-round game against Villanova. “That Cedar Rapids area in particular and the state of Iowa had a lot of talent when I was coming through there, and it still does today.
“People underestimate the value of how much talent is in Iowa, and I think it’s fantastic that we’re all showcasing it on the biggest stage in college basketball and March Madness.”
Fran McCaffery said the glut of prep talent in his backyard didn’t surprise him a bit when he took the Iowa coaching job.
“It was one of the things that really excited me about the position, quite frankly,” McCaffery said.
“I had watched Iowa AAU basketball for many years. … I saw Matt Gatens play when I was at Siena and knew how good he was. I had recruited the state of Iowa when I was (an assistant coach) at Notre Dame. Recruited Jess Settles, recruited Raef LaFrentz. We had Kirk Hinrich on campus.”
The natural storyline among sports reporters from Philadelphia (and a few from Iowa) here Saturday was McCaffery’s Philly roots. He is about to coach against a Philadelphia team for the second-straight game here.
But there wasn’t a Philadelphian on the U.S. Basketball Writers’ Association All-America teams. Or a Californian. Or a New Yorker.
On the second-team, however, was Uthoff. From Cedar Rapids by way of Marengo. Sunday, he and his four peers from Cedar Rapids, Marion, Coralville and North Liberty on UNI’s team try to prolong their seasons.
Friendly advice for Corridorians if the Hawkeyes and Panthers pull upsets Sunday against Villanova and Texas A&M, respectively:
Stay humble. There will come a time when other states and major urban areas have more good players featured in the NCAAs than we do. Probably.