How far Iowa goes this year in the Big Ten race and the NCAA tournament depends on the following:
1. Ability to play hard nosed defense. The Black and Gold Blowout was an offensive showcase. The defense was not of championship caliber. When I interviewed Reggie Evans at Media Day, I asked Reggie what he thought of Luke Recker's game. "Luke's offensive game is 100%, awesome, outstanding, incredible. However, his defense; Lord have Mercy!" Unfortunately, Luke wasn't nearby to hear the good natured ribbing delivered by the All-American known to his teammates as The Joker. They are close friends. But, the challenge has been made. Luke must be able to guard the Cory Bradford's of the world better than he did last year. Improvement is necessary from other players as well. Glen Worley has slimmed down to a shadow(there I go again) of his former self. His ability to defend on the perimeter should be improved with the increased quickness. Jared Reiner and Sean Soderleiter have added muscularity to their frames without a sacrifice in quickness. In fact, Reiner improved his footwork in a stellar performance at Pete Newell's Big Man Camp. Freshman Wunderkind, Pierre Pierce, at 6-4 and possessing long arms should be able to play 'D' but that is yet an unknown. Chauncey Leslie is whippett quick and has the experience of JC ball. No one questions the defensive intensity of the 260 pound Guru of the Glass, Reggie Evans. Rod Thompson forgot recently when he went into the paint that he had entered "Evans World." He paid with his two front teeth.
2. Center of Approval-Will the tandem of Jared Reiner and Sean Sonderleiter be able to keep the world off Reggie's back while cleaning the glass and picking up the trash? That is another key factor that must happen to enable a championship run.
3. Brody Boyd must get healthy. The Dugger Dead-eye has injured his leg three times. He had an MRI last Friday. The results are unknown at this time. However, his three point prowess will be necessary in the months when the temperature outside this winter matches the shooting of the Hawkeye starters.
Now that we have dealt with the unknown, let's review the obvious. THE HAWKS ARE LOADED! The Black and Gold machine is an offensive powerhouse. Today, with the NBA and their bagmen lurking around every gymnasium, it is unusual to have two Senior All-Americans in top NCAA programs. But, Iowa has the Dynamic Duo, The Joker (Reggie) and his partner Cool Hand Luke. Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman would enjoy the pair of Hawks that have stolen their marquee role identities. Mr. Inside, Evans sweeps the glass like a darker version of Mr. Clean while Mr. Outside, Recker has NBA three point range on a variety of shots from 'Downtown'!
However, this is no toon tale so "That ain't all, folks."
Duez Henderson (23) is back for his senior season after pumping enough weight last summer to add 10-12 pounds on his chiseled body. His leadership is key for the Hawks this year. He does all the things asked of a team leader. He dives for loose balls, plays defense, passes the ball and takes as many charges as Kum and Go. "I know my role. Reggie and Luke are the stars. I will do all the things I can to help the team," articulated Duez on Media Day. However, look for him to drive to the basket with much more authority as the added weight will make it more difficult to knock him off his dribble.
Glen Worley (4) may have a split personality this year as he should back up Reggie inside and Duez outtside. A sleek 220, Glen's stroke is better along with better footwork learned at Pete Newell's Big Man Camp.
Pointmen Pierre Pierce (3) and Chauncey Leslie(1) will share the duties of the departed Dean Oliver, who has taken his distributorship to the NBA. Freshman Wunderkind Pierce, has impressed all that have seen him. Larry Angle, noted Indiana high school coach and father of future Hawkeye hotshot, J.R., was in Iowa City with his son on Labor Day weekend. When I asked who impressed him in the pickup game, he said "Pierre Pierce is really smooth. He's a player!" A Des Moines businessman was recently sitting in a plane next to a young man from Chicago. The young man told him that he had played summer league ball against Pierce. "If Pierce had played in the biggest school classification, he would have been Mr. Basketball over Eddie Curry, the NBA lottery pick of the Chicago Bulls"
Leslie, a two sport all-state performer in Rochester, NY, will use his 4.3 wide receiver speed to push the ball up the court. "Leslie has three speeds. Fast and two speeds faster", said Steve Alford. His quickness will also be as asset on the defensive end of the court.
Ryan Hogan (2) The sometimes forgotten man on the Big Ten Tournament Championship squad last year, Hogan is finally healthy after off season knee surgery. A Kentucky transfer, Ryan has two SEC titles and an NCAA title on his unfinished resume. His leadership, savvy play and shooting will be needed if the Hawks are to turn Iowa City into Titletown.
Jared Reiner (5) Jared, now 275 pounds, was named one of the outstanding performers at Pete Newell's Big Man Camp last summer. His footwork should be much better this year.
Sean Sonderleiter (53) An additional 20 pounds has been added to Sean's 6-9 frame through lifting weights and by having a buffet mentality. He has more range than Jared and has an all out intensity that Reiner was sometimes lacking last season.
Brody Boyd (11) Boyd is a shooting guard in a point man's body. Although injuries hampered his ball handling work last summer, Brody is a tough, gutsy player that will be heard from during the Big Ten season.
Rod Thompson (25) Rod is not in great shape now after nursing an injury. Rod said "I have to have 'patience' to get 'cut' and physical."
Luke Recker (24) A candidate for National Player of the Year, Luke took out his frustration in the weight room while rehabbing his knee last summer. The injury may prove to be a blessing as Luke is in the best shape of his career. His new 'guns' will be blazing from three point land all over the Big Ten.
Reggie Evans (32) A candidate for National Player of the Year, Reggie has added to his repertoire. "I have a medium range jumper and some new low post moves" said Evans. However, when I asked him about his free throw shooting, he said "That's a work in progress."
Steve Alford. He demands as much of his players as he did himself during his career. As Rod Thompson said "Coach is in your face all day and all night. You have to be your best at all times."
A warning to all opponents: "LORD HAVE MERCY" on you!