Iowa's Ahmad Wagner looks to develop his game

Sophomore forward becomes important voice for Hawkeyes

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NORTH LIBERTY — Ahmad Wagner averaged slightly more than two points and two rebounds a game last year as an Iowa freshman. But the sophomore from southwest Ohio carries a presence among his peers that belies his statistics.

On a team that graduated four seniors who combined for 392 starts, Wagner now carries a voice to go along with his intensity. The Hawkeyes boast just one senior and six freshmen, five of whom just stepped on campus. Wagner’s natural leadership abilities have helped with their transition, and he provides a voice from which they follow.

“Since we’re a young team, you can consider the sophomores as vets,” said Iowa freshman guard Maishe Dailey, who hails from the Cleveland area. “Ahmad has taken me under his wing a lot. When I took my official visit, he was my player host and we just connected a lot just became we knew similar people and we came from the same place.”

Leadership was a skill Wagner acquired and refined under his former teammates. Wagner, a 6-foot-7 forward, provided more than just statistics last year. In limited doses, Wagner was asked to provide energy and affect change on the court. Sometimes it was a key rebound. Other times it was a put-back. His contributions helped Iowa earn its third straight NCAA tournament berth.

“Having those seniors, a great group of seniors that had been through a lot, really helped me develop as a player, I felt like,” Wagner said. “I know now you’ve got to be a leader on the court in order to be successful.”

As a three-sport star at Wayne High School in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Wagner was among the state’s best sprinters and was an all-state wide receiver. His track speed and football toughness have translated to basketball, which he considers his favorite sport.

Wagner averaged 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds over 10.1 minutes a game last year for Iowa. He hit 68.1 percent from the field, including nine of his last 11 attempts. He was a beast against Indiana, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 17 minutes.

But his direction was narrow. He was asked to affect change, bring toughness and energy. He played mostly under the basket and displayed very little along the perimeter. That’s changing in summer workouts, and he’s playing primarily at forward.

“I’m taking the ball off the glass and pushing it,” Wagner said. “I’m working on shooting the ball.

“We can all shoot this year and a lot of people that are versatile can play on the wing. So we’re working on driving and kicking and in our offense — the five and the four and three — they’re all interchangeable. So we’ve all been working on different positions.”

Then there’s his leadership. In his postseason meeting with Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery, Wagner was told he had to “step up.” He’s taken that charge into his workouts.

“With six new guys coming in, I feel like the coach is looking for me to step up,” Wagner said. “With me being a natural leader, I want to step up and help the young guys and even lead some of the young guys so that we can be successful this year. I never want to shy away from anything like that.”

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