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NORTH LIBERTY — Brady Ellingson and Dom Uhl quickly have shifted from complementary roles to key contributors for the Iowa men’s basketball team.
If they don’t adapt in an open and competitive environment, they’ll get passed over. And they both know it.
“I think it definitely brings the best out of everybody,” said Ellingson, a redshirt sophomore shooting guard. “Everybody’s competing for playing time, and that’s a good thing. We’re all pushing each other.”
Both had inconsistent seasons in different ways. A year removed from foot surgery, Ellingson stepped into a decent role as a guard off the bench. Ellingson, who stands 6-foot-4, saw double-digit minutes in nine of Iowa’s 12 non-conference games and scored 20 points against Coppin State. Against Dayton, Ellingson popped three 3-pointers.
But as Big Ten play developed, Ellingson’s time dwindled. He hit only five of 17 field-goal attempts and just two 3-pointers. In Iowa’s final 11 games he played a combined 14 minutes.
“It’s a grind,” Ellingson said. “I’ve got to push through, stay confident and believe in yourself and good things will happen.
“I think I had a tough time finding my rhythm, but that’s not an excuse.”
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery remains confident in his shooting guard, who showed he’s capable of performing other tasks when his shot is off.
“I’ve been impressed with Brady,” McCaffery said. “He got hurt his first year and he sat back and figured it out. Last year he was really good for most of the season, and he didn’t get as much playing time. He didn’t sulk. He just kept working. He improved his body. He knows what we need him to do.”
Uhl, a 6-9 junior forward, played several positions and had both impressive and perplexing stretches through the season. In his first five Big Ten games, Uhl drilled nine of 11 3-point attempts. Then he connected on just nine of his final 27 3s in Iowa’s last 16 games. The Hawkeyes were 5-0 during his sizzling stretch. In Iowa’s final seven league games, he attempted just four 3s, sank only one and the team limped to 2-5 Big Ten finish.
“They started guarding him differently,” McCaffery said. “If you were coaching, you’d have done the same thing. ‘We’d better guard him, he’s on fire.’ Such an incredible percentage.
“You look at him now and look at how he looks, his body is right where you need it to be. He runs and he dunks and he’s finishing. He could always shoot, and he could always make a play off the dribble, but now he’s doing the stuff we knew he had the potential to do and he’s doing it with confidence.”
After playing multiple positions last year, including center, Uhl is likely to start somewhere in the frontcourt. He’s a better fit at forward because of his shooting ability. But he learned how to compete against larger, more physical players, which will help him in whatever role he fills.
“I played all right but I definitely could have played better,” said Uhl, who averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds. “That’s what I’m working on here, just getting more consistent because I had my ups and downs last season.
“My role is definitely going to increase. I’ve got to step up, become a leader and provide (outside shooting) because Jarrod (Uthoff) is gone and most of the starters.”
Ellingson and Uhl are among only five players with at least one year in the program. For the Hawkeyes to compete for a fourth straight NCAA tournament berth, both players understand they need to make strides on the floor.
“I came here to play basketball, take a big role and now’s the time,” Uhl said. “I’m not a vocal guy, so I just try to do it by example. Play hard all the time. Just lead the younger guys.”
“I don’t really view myself as just a shooter,” Ellingson said. “I don’t put pressure on myself like that. I just try to be the best player I can be, whether that’s shooting or doing other stuff.”
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