ARTICLE

From Iowa to glory: Ahmad Wagner, Monte Morris, Rocky Lombardi

Three positive stories of athletes who once called Iowa home

Ahmad Wagner (0), then an Iowa basketball player and now a Kentucky football player, dunks over Delaware State’s Artem Tavakalyan (24), guard DeAndre Haywood (1) and center Demola Onifade (50) during a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on 12.22.16. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Ahmad Wagner (0), then an Iowa basketball player and now a Kentucky football player, dunks over Delaware State’s Artem Tavakalyan (24), guard DeAndre Haywood (1) and center Demola Onifade (50) during a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on 12.22.16. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Unlike the news cycles in news, the news cycles in sports have a considerable amount of positive stories.

Please allow me to name a few. That’s an effort at civility, by the way.

Ahmad Wagner had a significant part in keeping Kentucky’s SEC East title hopes alive.

Wagner, 6-foot-7 and 238 pounds, spent the last three seasons playing at Iowa. Basketball, to be precise.

He was a sensational high school football player in Ohio the lone season he played the game, as a senior. He had 58 catches for 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns, and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the state Class A championship game.

But he went with basketball. He had 25 career starts, and averaged 16 minutes as a sophomore at Iowa, but his playing time decreased last season. So, as a graduate transfer, he went to Kentucky to play wide receiver. He hasn’t caught a pass this season, yet, but was involved in a huge play.

With nine seconds left in the game and Kentucky trailing Missouri 14-9 last Saturday in Columbia, Terry Wilson threw a pass to Wagner in the end zone. He caught it, but was out of bounds. However, the officials made a very questionable pass interference call on Missouri’s DeMarkus Acy.

The game can’t end on a defensive penalty, so Kentucky got an untimed down from the Missouri 2, and scored for a 15-14 win. The Wildcats improved to 7-1 overall, 5-1 in the SEC.

Monte Morris is playing great basketball in the NBA.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Former Iowa State star Morris is a second-year pro. After being a second-round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets in 2017, he signed a two-way contract with them. He played 37 games for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA G-League, and three games for the Nuggets.

The “G” in “G-League” doesn’t stand for “glamorous.” But Morris averaged 17.8 points and 6.5 assists for the Vipers.

“I just waited on my opportunity, waited on my time,” Morris told NBA.com. “I never complained or pouted. I just came here every day and just worked.”

He played well for Denver’s team in this year’s NBA Summer League, and got himself an NBA standard contract. Through six games, he is averaging 22 minutes and 9 points. He has 24 assists and just four turnovers, the kind of numbers he had at Iowa State when he was leading the NCAA in that ratio.

“He plays like a veteran,” said Nuggets vet forward Paul Millsap.

Morris had 20 points, 7 assists and zero turnovers last Thursday at Los Angeles when Denver played the Lakers.

The 5-1 Nuggets play at Chicago Wednesday night. You think Bulls Coach Fred Hoiberg, who coached Morris for two seasons at Iowa State, wouldn’t like to have Morris on his 2-5 team?

Rocky Lombardi, who lived in Cedar Rapids for several years, quarterbacked Michigan State to a 23-13 win at Purdue last Saturday.

Lombardi was an all-state quarterback and wrestling state-finalist at West Des Moines Valley. His father, Tony Lombardi, was the head football coach at Cedar Rapids Washington from 2006-2012. He now is an assistant football coach at Michigan City (Ind.) High School.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Indirectly, Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Puk of Cedar Rapids helped Lombardi’s quarterbacking career. According to a Detroit Free Press story, Puk was the QB for Tony Lombardi’s summer 7-on-7 team, but Puk quit to focus on baseball. Tony replaced Puk with his seventh-grader son.

The quarterback position apparently suited Rocky.

Now a redshirt freshman, Lombardi was pressed into starter’s duty last week when Brian Lewerke had to sit out because of a shoulder injury. Lombardi completed 26 of 46 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan State’s 23-13 win over Purdue.

The common thread to all this is obvious: If you live in Iowa for even a few years, you can go on to do anything. I find that reassuring, don’t you?

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.