Inside Iowa Basketball with Bobby Hansen

If we had to pick just one person to be our Hawkeye Basketball expert, offering our readers the same type of insight into the basketall program that Chuck Hartlieb has provided us for Iowa football the past two years, the choice is easy: Bobby Hansen. The former Hawkeye, former teammate of Michael Jordan and a man that has a World Championship ring from the Bulls is also Iowa's radio color commentator. And he is's basketball expert. Here is our first conversation with Hansen.


HN: What is you analysis of this team through seven games?

HANSEN: "Obviously, you're not supposed to lose the game against Northern Iowa if you want to be an elite program. But, those things happen. You have to take an objective look at the seven games. There have been some really bright spots for Iowa, and the main one is their defense. They've certainly gotten better as a team. They're guarding the perimeter better. Until the two (UNI) kids made the 3-point shots (at the end of the game), they had held them to 0-14 shooting (from beyond the arc). It just happens that percentages catch up."

I was talking to some Northern Iowa people before the game, and they were lamenting the fact that they were 4 for 31 (from three) against Furman. I said, "Well, that's going to happen. But you've got good shooters shooting those shots." If good shooters continue to take good shots, they're going to make them. Eventually, percentages catch up and even out in the long run. It seems like that's what happened (against Iowa). They fell for them. It snowballed on us those last five minutes."

But if you look back at the Louisville game, I don't think anybody expected Iowa to win that game. They played very well. They played in a hostile environment in an NCAA type of basketball game. They were well prepared for that one. It just seems that Iowa will play against better competition and step their game up. Why is that? That's the million-dollar question. If there were an easy answer, everybody would be doing it. You're dealing with young people. Sometimes you get out of them what you want. Other times, you just become very frustrated."

"In this case, you've got to give Northern Iowa some credit. They played pretty good. They had a game plan. They stuck with it. They made Iowa play defense for long stretches of time. They got the ball inside. And their people came through. The two guys off the bench were incredible, Godfrey and Stout. You can't underestimate that it was a big game for them. It's one of the largest games of the year."

"I talked to Coach McDermott afterward, and I said, "If you play like this, you're going to win a lot of games. Don't rest on this one huge victory. Move on." I guess that would be my message to Hawkeye fans and the Hawkeye players. That's sports. You forget about it after you shower. You learn from it. And you try to get better from it. If you don't, that's where the problem lies. Your character is tested when you're down. You don't feel good about yourself. You've got to get back in the gym and work it out. You have to stay upbeat and positive."

"Two years ago, when we lost up there at UNI, that was the turning point of the season. It seemed like it went down even though they had the big victory at Missouri a week or two later. It still seemed like there was a lingering effect after the Northern Iowa loss. In that loss two years ago, players lost trust in each other. Then, everybody tries to do it themselves. That's not how good teams operate. There was a lesson learned two years ago that will hopefully pay dividends this year."

"As I was reading through some of this stuff the last couple of days, sometimes (UNI) isn't really a good game for Iowa to play. I love UNI people. I like being around them, contrary to maybe the Iowa State people, who sort of rubbed it in our face. Northern Iowa people are not that way. It's almost like we have a sort of a relationship between the two schools. Hey, they played good. They deserved the victory. You can't take anything away from them. When you step back a day or two later, the record is 6-1 and that's probably where you thought you were going to be."

HN: I know that the PTL (Prime Time League) has been around for a while, but do you think that helps Northern Iowa's confidence in these games?

HANSEN: "Absolutely. I was thinking the same thing. I kind of didn't want to say it on the radio. You could thank our summer league for part of this victory. Their kids were not intimidated by the Iowa uniform at all. This isn't going to be fair, but I think how Iowa people feel is that UNI is like your little brother. You see a lot of UNI people at Iowa games. And hey, little brother is going to step up and pop you in the mouth every now and then."

HN: Is the UNI victory also a testament to the improved talent depth in the state of Iowa?

HANSEN: "It's an outstanding testament to those kids that stepped their play up. Those UNI guys are probably kids that have perfect attendance at the PTL games. They look forward to getting down there and competing. They were overlooked by the big schools; the University of Iowa or Iowa State or whoever it might have been. They came in there with a chip on their shoulder. They came out of there with a "W".

HN: What are the keys to the improved defensive play of the Hawkeyes?

HANSEN: "Moving up and guarding the perimeter better; guarding the basketball, at least up to the UNI game. There was too much dribble penetration allowed during the UNI game. We looked a little slow-footed. I didn't see that a lot in the Louisville game playing against guys who are quick. You had our big guys coming over and clogging up the middle. I'd like to see that be continued as a point of emphasis on defense. You need your big guys to not only step up and take charges, but blocking shots and knocking people down. You need to rule the paint. Our big guys have trouble against that kid that's 6-7 or 6-8 and kind of gets up underneath them. They'll pick up the foul. They'll beat you to the spot. When we try to fight them, they get better position and have better footwork than our guys do. (UNI) went after the basketball. It seemed like they got the loose balls. Then, their shots started to drop. When you let a team hang around, their confidence continues to grow."

HN: Which Iowa player has been the most pleasant surprise for you this season?

HANSEN: "Greg (Brunner). We saw that in the PTL. His body looked better. He looked solid. He improved his shooting. The free throws are still suspect. He's the kind of kid that you wish you had six or seven of. You're going to get maximum effort from him in practice and in every game. He's not afraid to stick his nose in there and whatever happens, happens. He doesn't complain or moan to referees. He's just does his job. He brings his lunch pail and your hard hat and does his job. That's what I've seen in Greg Brunner. He's been the biggest surprise."

HN: Conversely, who needs to pick up his play a little bit?

HANSEN: "Surprisingly, and I'm not calling anybody out, but Jeff Horner has got to become a little more vocal leader out there. He has to grab this team by the whatever, and say, "Come on guys. Now here's what we've got to do." I talked to Jeff's dad after the (UNI) game and told him to grab a tape of John Stockton. Grab two tapes. Grab three tapes. Whatever. Watch how he runs a game. Watch how he puts his guys in scoring position. Maybe they didn't want to be in them, but John knew that's where they had to be to score. Get the ball deeper in the paint. Get the ball back out when it's in the post to get better position down in there."

"Jeff is a great guard, and he's going to have a great career. He's still feeling his way around. He needs to find out his role with nine guys he needs to go to. I'd like for him to step to the forefront and carry this team. He's the quarterback. He certainly takes a lot of the responsibility when they lose. But even in victory, he's the key to the basketball team. That's why they're going to be good. That's why this game will certainly help down the road. Brooks McCowen was ready for that one. He was fired up to play against Jeff Horner. He was impressive."

HN: What needs to happen for Iowa to become more productive in its half-court offense?

HANSEN: "They've got to get out in the open court more. That's the easiest thing to address. That starts defensively. You've got to control the backboards. You can't get beat on the boards. You've got to rebound the ball and outlet it. You've got three options to outlet to in Pierre, Brody and Jeff. Get it to one of your guards and then run. Again, you've got to credit UNI. Coach McDermott, one of his things was defensive transition. You've got to force them to run. And you can't just run to a spot. I see Iowa players run to a spot and stop. Get a little flow going to the offense out of your fast break. Run through. If you don't get it on that, then pop right in to the motion offense. Move the ball around a little quicker. Take that thing side to side. Make the defense shift. That's when basketball is fun to play and fun to watch."

HN: Can this team be a good perimeter shooting team and improve its free throw shooting?

HANSEN: "I think they will. Jared struggled at the Gazette Challenge. He stepped up and made all four free throws at Northern Iowa. Jeff Horner is going to make 80 percent of his free throws. Pierre is going to get fouled a lot. He has to be a consistent threat up there. He's not an 80 or 90 percent free thrower, but he has got to be high 70's. Sondy will make his free throws. Mike Henderson, when he gets back in there, he's proven he can make his free throws. Free throw shooting is a byproduct of a player's shooting ability."

"You've got to get your good free throw shooters to the line more often. Greg Brunner is going to get fouled in there. Also, free throw shooting is a lot of practice. Say all you want about visualization and all the other things that these people talk about, you've got to put the time in at the line to become confident. You've also got to have success. Success breeds confidence. It doesn't take much. It only takes a couple of made free throws and you're off and running. I'm sure they're shooting hundreds of free throws every day. It seems like the more you talk about it, the more it gets away from you. In this case, you've got good free throw shooters on this basketball team. It's all in the head."

HN: How do you think this long layoff will affect this team?

HANSEN: "It's good and bad. It's good in that you get to rest, and you're taking care of the thing that is most important - academics. It's tough when you have to have a game at the end of the finals week. It's a good thing that they don't have games. It seems like that was always a bad game, the one on Saturday night or whenever. Those are really hard games because your week is so disrupted. But nobody likes a layoff. That was one of the beautiful things about the NBA. When you had a game like this, you'd come back and play the next night and get it out of your system. This one lingers. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth for a couple of weeks. Everybody has got an opinion. The best thing coaches and players can do is not listen to it. Stick to the game plan. Stick to your foundation. Circle the wagons. This is a good time to do that. It's a good time to get in that gym and work on the fundamentals early and then start fine-tuning the game plan for Texas Tech. I fully expect this team to come back with a great showing and a victory in Dallas."

HN: What are your early impressions of the Big Ten?

HANSEN: "Michigan State's losses are against some tough teams. Illinois has been a surprise. They'd not played like they'd quite like to play. Indiana had a good game against Notre Dame. I listened to that one while I was driving in Chicago doing some Christmas shopping. The Big Ten is still going to be tough. The experts are saying that it's a down year. I think it's more of a balanced year. Any team can beat anybody. The top seven or eight teams, it could be shuffling all the way down to the last week of the season."

HN: What would you say to calm down the Iowa fans calling for Coach Alford to be let go?

HANSEN: "I'd say that you've got a good man at the helm there. You've got someone that has thrown his whole heart and soul into Iowa basketball. The more that I'm around Steve Alford, the relationship gets closer and I respect him more and what he is doing. They're a well-prepared team. They're doing it the right way. Would you like to have the Missouri scandal thing hanging over your head? Accusations flying around about assistant coaches paying players? That would bother me more than any loss to an instate rival."

"I'm happy with the way that he handles himself and the way that they've got the program going. They're all great kids when you get to know them. They work hard. They're in the classroom. They're doing what they have to do. This isn't professional sports. It's still college athletics, as big of a business as it is. You've got someone that's not going to embarrass Iowa. Steve Alford is going to have his share of victories. He's going to have his share of losses. But still keep in mind that we're not UCLA or Kansas. This is still the University of Iowa, and you've got to get those kids that are going to be overachievers. He's got a good group of them. It's not an easy job. I respect what he does. He laughs at Dolph's jokes. That makes him OK in our book."

HN: You mean you don't laugh at Dolph's jokes?

HANSEN: "No. You can't encourage him."

Our series of interviews this year with Bobby Hansen will be for subscribers to this website. You can try out our services FREE for five days by clicking: HERE. Also, check out our free preview of January's Hawkeye Nation magazine: CLICK HERE

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