NORTH LIBERTY — No Iowa basketball player will command as much attention as Jarrod Uthoff, but don’t tell him it’s his team this year. He considers it an insult.
“I don’t look at it that it’s my team at all,” said Uthoff, now a senior. “If I was to look at it as my team, I’d feel (it’s) being selfish, not team basketball. I look at it as our team. I’m not too worried about this being my team, some go-to guy; I’m not worried about that. I’m going to do what it takes to be more successful and hopefully win a national championship.”
The numbers and his ability belie Uthoff’s humility, however. As a junior last year, Uthoff was a third-team all-Big Ten performer. He averaged 12.4 points a game and was the team’s top 3-point threat at 37.2 percent. Uthoff registered 56 blocked shots and 54 3-pointers. He joined Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky — the consensus national player of the year — as the only Big Ten players to average more than 12 points, six rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Uthoff’s statistics and skill set earned him an invitation to the prestigious Nike Basketball Academy in Santa Monica, Calif. The camp replaced those conducted by LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but there was a heavy NBA presence working with many of the nation’s top collegiate players.
Three days of workouts provided Uthoff with a glimpse of where he fits nationally. He was one of four Big Ten players — Indiana’s Troy Williams, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Northwestern’s Tre Demps — to participate at the camp, which also included Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Uthoff both belongs in that group but also must improve to stay there.
“Playing with some of the best college players in the country was amazing,” Uthoff said. “Seeing their size and athleticism and what they can do on the court really opened up a fella’s eyes. A great experience.
“I played pretty terrible my first day; I was pretty nervous. I kind of felt overwhelmed. But then when I got comfortable, I played pretty well.”
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Uthoff, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson graduate, improved enough to draw eyeballs from national evaluators. NBADraft.net touted Uthoff’s all-around game on Monday, tweeting Uthoff “has been impressive today.” Considering the camp included All-American candidates like Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Providence’s Kris Dunn and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, it showed Uthoff was capable of competing at a high level.
“There are other guys who can do parts of my game better,” he said. “So I really need to focus on what I do best. Shoot and drive and pullup. Don’t worry about handling the ball, don’t worry about doing the other stuff, trying to make moves on the dribble. Stick to one or two dribbles and shoot.”
“After the first day, day two and three I felt that I belonged.”
Some of the camp consisted of pickup games that included NBA stars Paul George, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and Lamar Odom. A side conversation with Harden has Uthoff considering a change to his pregame routine. Harden gets focused about 90 minutes before tipoff, while Uthoff’s mental approach is vastly different.
“I don’t get ready for like five minutes before the game,” Uthoff said. “I just joke around. I’ve got to stay loose. Otherwise I play terrible.
“I’m going to try it out and see what happens this year. To be honest I’m probably going to be the guy who goofs around until like five minutes before the game. I’ll be ready, just not locked in.”
Uthoff stands nearly 6-foot-10 and has bumped up his weight past 220 pounds. He primarily played small forward last year but in Fran McCaffery’s interchangeable offense, Uthoff frequently floated to the four. With the loss of first-team all-Big Ten forward Aaron White as well as the league’s sixth-man of the year in center Gabe Olaseni, Uthoff expects to play more in the post. That’s one reason why he’s bulked up.
“If I play the four, I’ll still play the same way I do,” Uthoff said. “It won’t really make a difference if it’s the three or four.
“We play a lot of open motion so you’re always running around, you’re always in different spots. So that’s not a big deal.”
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While Uthoff remains humble about his role, he remains confident in his ability. When asked if he’s capable of rebounding at the four, Uthoff said, “I have before so there’s nothing to stop me now.”
That’s what a team expects from a go-to player, whether it’s said or implied.
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