IOWA CITY, Iowa - Allen Iverson once famously mocked practice. He trivialized it by saying it's much less important than a game.
The former NBA all-star was defending himself for missing a workout. He delivered his message with humor. It masked the inaccuracy of his statement.
For someone as talented as Iverson, skipping a practice might not impact his performance. For most athletes, it's a vital exercise.
The Iowa men's basketball team is taking that approach this fall. The Hawkeyes are preparing for life after Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe, three key members of last year's NCAA Tournament team who all are playing professionally this season.
Iowa took on Creighton this past Sunday in a closed scrimmage, a meeting that NCAA prohibits the participants from talking about outside their programs. The next phase of the process has been scheduled for this Sunday when the Hawkeyes face Northwood (FL) in an exhibition game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (2 p.m. CT, BTN Plus).
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said on a Wednesday morning teleconference that he's used practice to tinker with different lineups. He expected Sunday's game to reveal more to him as the team prepares for its Nov. 14 season-opener against Hampton.
"We've talked a lot about the big lineup, the small lineup, the quick lineup, whatever, and trying to get a feel for which guys really play well together. I've tried to do a lot of that in the preseason of mixing lineups and combinations to get guys ready but also play those individuals at different positions. There's a lot that goes into that and this will be a great opportunity to see how it all comes together," the coach said.
McCaffery said he hadn't settled on a starting lineup for Sunday.
"We've got a couple nagging injuries; nothing, other than Brady Ellingson (foot surgery), that would hold anybody out from playing but I have to see how that shakes out in the next couple of days," he said.
McCaffery said that he'd prefer to start Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, Aaron White and Adam Woodbury and then take the week to figure out his fifth spot, most likely between Peter Jok and Josh Oglesby at the two guard. Health concerns have put that up in the air.
"A couple of those guys are banged up a little bit so we'll see how they'll feel in the next couple of days," he said.
Northwood plays at the NAIA level and is a member of the Sun Conference. The Seahawks are coached by Rollie Massimino, who won the 1985 national championship with Villanova. They return their top two scorers from a year ago in Chris Solomon and Fred Mattison.
"The thing that we wanted to do in particular with this exhibition game is to play a good team that has a great coach and challenge ourselves," McCaffery said.
McCaffery is looking to glean as much information about his team as possible from Sunday's exhibition. It's the last outside competition it will face until the games count.
If he could have, McCaffery would have scheduled the exhibition closer to the season-opener. He said it just didn't work out that way logistically.
"Anytime those things happen, there are usually a variety of factors that enter into it. With regard to our scrimmage, it was complicated. We wanted it at a specific location and we had to do it at a certain time," the coach said.
NAGGING INJURY: Freshman guard Brady Ellingson hoped to be battling for minutes at this time. Instead, the Wisconsin product has been fighting to get back on the court.
Ellingson arrived at Iowa this summer with a injured foot. Trainers began with therapy before opting for surgery. He then was cleared to return to action but soreness persisted.
"It seemed like he was doing great. He practiced well for a little bit of time then it started bothering him again. We've shut him down for a little bit of time because with foot problems you've got to be real careful. If you come back too soon, it sort of never goes away. He's feeling better. We'll see where it goes in the next couple of weeks," McCaffery said.
With the depth at guard, Ellingson could red shirt if his health concerns continue.
POINT GUARD PROGRESS: Iowa entered the preseason with three seemingly capable point guards. Gesell, fellow junior Anthony Clemmons and JUCO transfer Trey Dickerson, a sophomore, have increased McCaffery's comfort level in them with their play this month.
"One of the things that I like about those three guys is that you can play them together; not necessarily all three of them together, but certainly two of them together. So far, Mike has been really good but Clemmons and Trey have been very good as well. All of their games are a little bit different as well so I can go a lot of different ways. But in terms of who has established himself to this point, the guy at the position that would be the starter, it would be Mike," the coach said.
Gesell has been the primary point guard his first two seasons on campus. It sounded like that would continue, at least at the beginning of the season.
That said, Clemmons and Dickerson appear ready to get minutes there as well.
"Clemmons has been really good," McCaffery said. "Clemmons has been really consistent. He's pretty healthy. He has a little nagging thing but nothing that would keep him out. The thing with Clemmons, I can play him with Mike (or) Trey, easily."
Dickerson provides the Hawkeyes with a dimension it hasn't had in recent years.
"The thing with him is there's always a fine line. He's kind of a go-guy. He gets it and goes and reads and evaluates situations quickly and makes plays. It's suited for our style except there are times when you have to slow him down a little bit to run offense, run a set play," McCaffery said.
"He's picked up what we want. He knows what he's supposed to do. The next step for him will be taking over that leadership responsibility to get everybody else where they have to be. That often times is a much more difficult process than you would think."
TWIN TOWERS: Since before last season, McCaffery has talked about playing big men Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni at the same time. While it didn't happen much in 2013-14, he's continue to look at that alignment in camp.
"Olaseni at the four has looked good. The reality is that they're both more comfortable playing the center position. But Gabe is scoring the ball really well, Adam Woodbury is scoring the ball much better. Both of them are willing passers. And both of them can guard fours. Both of those guys are good at defending ball screens. It's something we can definitely do. It's something you might see," the coach said.
EARLY RETURNS: McCaffery said on media day that he expected significant contributions from freshman Dominique Uhl. The forward has solidified the coach's belief this month.
"He's playing well. At times, he's a freshman but he has the skill level that we knew he had," McCaffery said.
The coach sees a lot of White in Uhl's game.
"When (White) was a freshman, he impacted the game with his skill set, his basketball IQ, his savvy, that's what we're looking for Dom to do," McCaffery said.
"He's got to get stronger and he's got to get himself to the point where he can maintain the pace of the game at this level. That's going to be hard for him at the beginning especially because of the speed at which we play. He's going to have some freshman moments but he's going to have some times when you look and say, well, that guy can play."
UTHOFF COMING ALONG: Uthoff showed at times last season that he could be a force. On other occasions, he disappeared.
McCaffery sees progress in the consistency department.
"He's still a little more gun-shy at times than I would like to see him. We're really working hard together and he's been much better. He's been much more aggressive shooting the ball, attacking. He's really talented. He's much more comfortable," the coach said.
SHOOTING STARS: It might be assumed that Jok and Oglesby are locked in direct competition for playing time. McCaffery does not view it that way. He can play them together.
"If I do that and have a point guard on the floor with those two, which is what you'd want because you'd want that guy to load thuds two up, then they have to stick their nose in there and rebound the ball. We can't have three guards dropping back. They might have to guard a guy who's 6-8. But they're both almost 6-6 and they both have good frames and they're willing to do that. It gives me that kind of flexibility," the coach said.
You can listen to all of McCaffery's teleconference below: