The team enters the 2003-04 season searching for a clutch performer to replace Leslie. Balanced scoring is desired, but where do you look when the game is tied with time running out?
At least one Iowa player believes that the man for the job is senior center Jared Reiner.
"He's going to be the guy we look to when we need big buckets," classmate and fellow post man Sean Sonderleiter said. "He's a dominating presence. His body is so big that people have to come over him. When he sets up on the block, he's almost impossible to move out or get around."
A good look at Reiner this summer makes Sonderleiter's point. The 6-foot-11, 255-pound South Dakota native displays a fit body, especially for someone that had surgery last month.
Doctors cut out a growth on an inflamed nerve in Reiner's right foot. The center played with pain during the spring workouts. It hurt whenever he walked on it.
Reiner was shooting about a week and a half after his procedure. It took him a little longer to return to games in the Prime Time League. He was unsure what caused the injury.
"Conditioning wise, I'm not close to where I want to be for the season," Reiner said. "But I'm in good shape for the summer time. I'm probably 90-95 percent healthy. It feels pretty good, and I can play on it pretty well."
Big things are expected from Reiner in '03-04 after he dominated the action during stretches of his junior season. He enters his final campaign having captured the Big Ten rebounding title (8.3 RPG) a year ago.
In '02-03, Reiner flashed the talent that earned him a Top 50 national recruiting ranking coming out of high school. He notched 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a tough 91-88 overtime loss at Indiana on March 1. He posted 20 and 12 two games later in a 77-61 victory against Northwestern.
"I just want to play with more consistency and do whatever it takes to help the team win," Reiner said. The senior also has worked hard on conditioning this summer in hopes of staying healthy. He missed three games last season with a knee injury. An sprained ankle and a stitched up lip kept him out of action for parts of the '01-02 campaign.
"I need to continue to work hard every day in practice," Reiner said. "It all starts in practice. When you're playing hard in practice, it rolls over into game play. I also need to stay injury-free. That plays a big role in how you can play."
Reiner has dedicated this summer's individual workouts to low-post play.
"I'm trying to work hard in the weight room to help that," he said. "I'm doing a lot of leg work for a strong base, and working on my upper body to make sure that I'm a lot stronger with the ball."
Opponents likely will force Reiner to be strong with the ball.
"They're probably going to double-team him because of his ability," Sonderleiter said. "We're just going to try to make it tough for teams to double down on him."
Sonderleiter and Reiner have developed an on-court relationship that allows Coach Steve Alford to play them together in a twin towers lineup.
"The high-low game with Sean and I could help a lot," Reiner said. "We're pretty used to playing with each other. We kind of know where each other is out on the floor. If I have to step out on the floor and he's in the (low) post, that's fine with me.
They experienced that thrill in winning the Big Ten Tournament as freshmen. Iowa reached the second round of the NCAAs, but has failed to return the last two seasons.
"I definitely expect a lot," Reiner said. "We lose Chauncey Leslie, our leading scorer. But we have Nick (DeWitz) coming in and Pierre (Pierce) coming back and two really good freshmen (Mike Henderson and Ben Rand). We have a great nucleus. The sky is the limit for us."
Reiner said that the responsibility of remaining focused and committed to the lofty goals falls to the seniors.
"You have to lead by example," Reiner said. "You can talk a good game. But if you're saying something and doing something different, the younger guys are not going to respect that.
"You just have to make sure that you're holding yourself accountable as well as holding everybody else accountable."