CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson has known A.J. Green well before he ever committed to UNI. In fact, Jacobson knew his 2018 four-star recruit before Green could even walk.
Green, the son of longtime Jacobson assistant Kyle Green, arrived on campus earlier this summer and, despite the high level of familiarity between the two, he was still able to surprise his new head coach with his ability.
“Having him (around) every day, I’ll tell you, he’s a terrific player,” Jacobson said. “He’s got the ability to do so many things with the basketball. In our team workouts he’s done a great job of finding guys and making reads, and his timing has been really good when he’s passing the basketball. He’s got a little more size and length in watching him with our guys. He wants to be a tremendous player, and he really works at it.”
Since the end of the 2016-17, Jacobson hasn’t hid from the fact that his teams simply have not made enough shots to be the kind of all-around team to contend for a Missouri Valley Conference championship. However, after a recruiting class that featured three guards and a forward with shooting credentials the 13th-year head coach is anticipating a bounce-back season for the Panthers offense.
“This is a highly-skilled group,” Jacobson said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that pass the basketball well. We’ve got a lot of guys that are making shots, just got a better feel for things offensively. Having more guys that handle it, and more guys that are passing it, and more guys that are making shots — that part has been good. A group that I think, from an offensive standpoint, is just going to be a more skilled group.”
Along with an expected influx of shooting from newcomers Green, Tray Croft, and Shandon Goldman, Jacobson and the UNI staff expects an uptick in production from forward Austin Phyfe. Phyfe, who started eight games and played in 28 last season as a freshman, showed flashes of potential while playing alongside a senior-laden frontcourt. With Bennett Koch, Klint Carlson and Ted Friedman gone to graduation, Phyfe’s minutes, and potentially production, is set to increase considerably.
“(Austin) had some great moments in league play last year. The first game he started it was a home game against (Valparaiso) and he went for big numbers (20 points, 8 rebounds),” Jacobson said. “I think the thing that Austin does and where he’s going to be able to impact our team in an expanded role is how hard he plays. He’s competitive on every single possession. So we’re working hard to really drive that with him in terms of running the floor, defending at a high level, (and) rebounding both ends.”
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Pickford out for summer workouts
Northern Iowa guard Tywhon Pickford was sidelined with a dislocated ankle prior to Memorial Day weekend.
Pickford, who started all 32 games last season while breaking UNI’s all-time freshman rebounding record on his way to being selected to the MVC’s All-Freshman team, is expected back by late July, according to Jacobson.
“We got lucky that (Tywhon) did not have to have surgery,” Jacobson said. “And he’s already been able to start his (rehabilitation). We had thought it may be a three to four month deal, but like I said I think we got lucky there.”