Rewind to the fall of 2000. Coach Steve Alford's first full recruiting class had just arrived in Iowa City. In addition to a junior college power forward (Reggie Evans) and a pair of transfers (Luke Recker and Ryan Hogan), Alford was adding five freshmen.
Glen Worley, Brody Boyd, Jared Reiner, Sean Sonderleiter and Cortney Scott were joining a team led by senior point guard Dean Oliver.
Today, Worley and Boyd are the only remaining "active" players from that class. And the Iowa team is led by another former Mason City point guard, Jeff Horner.
With two Big Ten games remaining before the conference tournament gets underway, it appears that this Hawkeye team is headed for another berth in the NIT. I am trying to make myself believe that Iowa could somehow earn an at-large invitation to the "Big Dance," but the losses in Iowa City to Wisconsin and Illinois probably took the wind out of those sails.
So, how about the careers of this much-heralded class? How did they fare…and how should they be remembered?
One thing is for certain. This class has endured some of the more turbulent times in recent Hawkeye basketball history. And while Scott left the program a couple of years ago and Sonderleiter quit the team this season, it is clear that Worley, Boyd and Reiner have battled through some real low points, while enjoying some high points, as well.
The pinnacle was winning the Big Ten Tournament during their freshman season. Boyd nailed a game-high 22 points against his home-state Hoosiers in the title game, while the others saw some key minutes during the tourney. Sadly, that may be the only season these Hawkeyes get to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Here's another statistic that hangs in the balance with a couple of games to play: Only one four-year letterwinner in Iowa history did NOT enjoy a single winning record in the Big Ten. That was Larry Parker, who played from 1973-76, when Iowa went 27-37 (42%) in the league. If the Hawks fail to win at either Northwestern or Purdue to end this season, then Worley, Boyd and Reiner will join Parker on that list.
In the last four seasons, Iowa has an overall record of 74-52 (59%) with a 27-35 (44%) mark in the Big Ten.
And, of course, the Hawkeyes are in danger of this being their THIRD straight year of missing the NCAA Tournament.
Obviously, some of these facts are not all that positive. These definitely aren't the trends you want to see in your basketball program. But, I will say that I believe that Boyd, Worley and Reiner have played hard, they've represented the program well and they all seem like good people. They have certainly had some difficult situations to handle and some tough breaks along the way.
It would be hard for these guys to look back on their careers as Hawkeyes and NOT have some lingering questions, such as…
- What if Luke Recker had NOT gotten hurt during his junior year? How GOOD might the team have become in 2000-01?
- What if Ryan Hogan had been able to stay healthy?
- What if Marcellus Sommerville had stayed on the team? (He is averaging 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds for Bradley. Plus, he's made 47 three-pointers this season at a 34% clip.)
- What if Reiner had stayed healthy this season?
- What if Worley had been healthy for his entire senior year?
- What if Josh Rhodes had not "lost his passion for the game of basketball" a couple of years ago?
- What if Sonderleiter had stayed on the team?
- What if Cortney Scott had stayed on the team? (He is averaging 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists for Oakland…and had 36 points and 21 rebounds in one game earlier this season.)
- How much better would Pierre Pierce and Erek Hansen be this season if they didn't have to miss last season at Iowa?
- What if Mike Henderson had stayed academically eligible this year?
- What if Nick DeWitz had stayed academically eligible this season?
It's always easy to look back and wonder, "What might have been?" But, in sports, everyone has an excuse to fall back on if they look hard enough. The bottom line is what the scoreboard says when the final buzzer sounds…and how regularly are you able to earn victories?
Clearly, we want the University of Iowa to be represented by great young men, who practice hard, work hard, play hard, do well in school and make us all proud.
But as Hawkeye fans, we also want to see a team that plays in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season…and competes for the chance to play deep into that tourney. There is no greater event in sports and it is always a HUUUUUGE disappointment when the Hawkeyes are not participating.
It really bothers me—as a fan—that Iowa has only played in one of the last four NCAA Tourneys and is in danger of stretching that string to ONE of the last FIVE.
Ultimately, the big "report card" in college basketball comes down to a couple of things…
Did you make it to the Big Dance?
How well did you fare in the Tourney?
When the answers are "no" and "not applicable," it's not a good season. Period.
A friend was in my office last week and made the comment, "Iowa fans get so upset about not making it to the NCAA Tournament…they want to act like they've been there so often, that they can't believe it when they don't make it. Really, I don't think it was such a big habit for them…I think they had quite a few seasons in the last 25 years where they didn't make it."
I didn't let him get away with that statement. He couldn't have been more wrong and I had the numbers at the top of my head to prove it.
From 1979 through 1999, the Hawkeyes played in 16 out of 21 NCAA Tournaments. Now, THAT'S a "habit" as far as I'm concerned. Iowa played in the Final Four in 1980…and had a 21-16 overall NCAA Tournament record during those 21 years, meaning the Hawkeyes AVERAGED one victory in the Big Dance per season over a span of 21 years. Not too shabby.
"Oh," he said. "I guess I didn't realize that."
So, it's difficult for me to look back at the last four seasons and see the overall picture as anything but disappointing. But, at the same time, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Boyd, Reiner and Worley play for the Hawkeyes and believe each of these guys brought plenty of positives to the floor.
As I said, the high point for this group of seniors was winning the Big Ten Tournament as freshmen. Perhaps they have that type of fantastic run in them once again.
It's probably the final chance they have to get another taste of "March Madness" before the end of their Hawkeye careers.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)