06-07 Hoops: Rebuilding Year with Hope

When Steve Alford took over as Iowa's head coach back in the spring of 1999, he was faced with a mostly empty cupboard. Though the cupboard is not totally bare for the upcoming season, there will be several new faces on the court for Iowa in 2006-2007. So many that you will need a program early in the season to know just who is in the game.

When Steve Alford took over as Iowa's head coach back in the spring of 1999, he was faced with a mostly empty cupboard.

The lame duck status of former Iowa coach Tom Davis during his last year on the bench left Iowa a major recruiting void, so Alford was left scrambling that spring and brought in Junior College transfers Rob Griffin and Joe Fermino to help with things right away.

Gone were 7 of Iowa's top 10 scorers from that lame duck year; JR Koch, Jess Settles, Kent McCausland, Joey Range, Sam Okey, Jason Bauer and Guy Rucker. That was 52.4 points per game and 23.3 rebounds per game. All told, Iowa had to replace 70.1 percent of its points and 66.8 percent of its rebounding in Alford's first year. It was not surprising that Iowa went 14-16 in year one of the Alford era.

Seven years later, Alford find's himself in a similar situation with regards to replacing scoring and rebounding production.

With the departures of Jeff Horner, Greg Brunner, Erek Hansen and Doug Thomas to graduation and Carlton Reed and Alex Thompson to transfers, Iowa will be losing 64.5 percent of its points and 66.4 percent of its rebounds from last year's 25-win squad.

The good news is that the rest of the Big Ten will be losing a lot, and the league will be much weaker in 2006-2007 than it was in 2005-2006.

Still, there are going to be several new and unproven faces who will be thrust into the spotlight.

Adam Haluska, Mike Henderson and Tony Freeman saw significant minutes last year, and a leader has to emerge from this group. Don't be surprised if it's Freeman, as he seems to have the most moxie and panache from that group.

The remaining players from last year's squad are green and greener; Seth Gorney is the ‘most experienced' from that group, averaging 4.0 minutes per game last year. J.R. Angle redshirted, as did Kurt Looby.

That's all on that side of the ledger, players who were in Iowa City last year.

Several newcomers will be counted on to come in and not just play right away, but perform right away.

Iowa's landing Tyler Smith last week was incredibly important to the program on several levels. The first being that Smith (6-7, 210 G/F) is one of the most talented players in the nation and his ball skills combined with his size gets one excited for the things to come. He was considered one of the two or three best prep school players in the nation this year and was a consensus Top 50 prospect in high school one year ago. He didn't go the prep school route because of grades, but because Bruce Pearl wouldn't let him out of his letter of intent at Tennessee, one that Smith signed before Pearl arrived in Rocky Top.

If one looks back and compares this situation with that of the 1999 situation, and they certainly are not identical as this year's group was a ‘recruited' class, not a last second effort, Smith will have a hard time duplicating 14.4 points per game that Rob Griffin, Iowa's best scorer in Alford's first year, put on the board. Still, Smith will be counted on to contribute right away next season.

The next name to mention from this year's class, and one might argue the first name that should be mentioned given Iowa's situation under the glass, is Cyrus Tate. Tate is a 6-8, 240-pound forward who attended Northeast Community College in Nebraska this paste year. He is an active body with more refined offensive skills that Doug Thomas or Reggie Evans, with athleticism leaning more to that of Thomas than Evans. He too, will be counted on to contribute from the moment he sets foot in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tate will have three years to play in Iowa City.

Justin Johnson, a 6-6, 190-pound wing will join the program from Tyler Community College in Texas. He will have two years to play in Iowa City. Canada's Jamie Vanderbeken, a 6-10, 235-pound big man is said to have some range outside of the lane and he certainly filled it up while playing in Canada the last two years.

All signs still point to Iowa signing 6-6 wing Malik Perry of Philadelphia. He has yet to sign his letter of intent. Perry would be a defensive presence for Iowa next year while he works on his offensive skills.

There are rumors swirling that Iowa might be a destination for a transfer or two in the coming days, weeks or months.

It's no secret that Tim Buckley, recently the head coach at Ball State, and Billy Garrett, recently an assistant at Seton Hall, are the two front runners to replace Rich Walker and Greg Lansing on the Iowa staff. Hall's Seton Hall ties might play a role in some of the transfer rumors that are out there, namely with one David Palmer.

The Hawkeyes drastically needed an upgrade with their recruiting, and with Craig Neal being the instrumental cog in landing Tyler Smith, who selected Iowa over offers and heavy recruitment from Kentucky, Memphis, Pittsburgh and late comer Cincinnati, it sends a signal to the Big Ten that the Hawkeyes are not going to go willingly into that good night on the recruiting front. Buckley and Garrett might also add some new life.

All this being said, Iowa's on-paper deficiencies for next year appear are somewhat obvious; lack of shooters from the perimeter, several untested/unproven players that will see significant minutes and no proven depth in the paint.

While some say Iowa will be more ‘athletic' in 2006-2007, don't necessarily believe that hype; Brunner, Hansen and Thomas were ‘athletic' in their own right. Alford once called Thomas the best jumper/athlete in the Big Ten and few big men in America got up and down the court as quick as Hansen. Brunner gets the short shrift with regards to his quickness and athleticism on the blocks. The term ‘athleticism' in college basketball is not always about the definition of the term and sometimes means things altogether different.

Smith is certainly a highlight reel waiting to happen. Not the leaper that Ricky Davis was, Smith can still get up and down the court and play above the rim. Tate will also be a plus here, and reports on Looby's athleticism are promising. Johnson will provide something salty on defense, as would Perry if he signs with Iowa.

If Iowa is to get back to its third-straight NCAA tournament, defense will have to once again be the Hawkeyes calling card. If they can play a similar brand of defense to what we saw this year, they will have a chance to make it back because of how weak the Big Ten will be. A great defense will help their case.

Am I optimistic that such a thing could happen? There is a part of me that has that hope. Iowa should have a winning record, at worst. That and the Hawks get Northwestern at home next year. That isn't a bad thing.


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