Miller: Iowa Coaches Draw Line in the Sand

Tony Freeman has decided to leave the Iowa basketball program. He gave some controversial quotes to the Des Moines Register on Friday. One week ago to the day, HN Publisher Jon Miller posted in the HN Clubhouse that Freeman had been given a set of expectations for the upcoming season. Apparently, he didn't feel as though he could operate under the ground rules...

Late Friday, Iowa sent out a press release stating that Tony Freeman would be leaving the basketball team.

Soon thereafter, Freeman spoke with the Des Moines Register and gave his side of the story.

One week ago Friday, on April 25th, I made a post in our HN Clubhouse forum, exclusive to subscribers to the website, titled ‘Iowa Hoops Thoughts'.

Everything posted in that thread came from solid sources and continues to be in line with everything I have heard on the situation.

Tony Freeman, like all of the players on the team with eligibility remaining for next year, had a meeting with the coaching staff. The staff told the players what was expected of them next year and what they needed to work on in the out of season.

Most programs do this after their season is over; sort of an annual one on one evaluation.

Freeman was also told that the belt was going to be tighter next year, and that some of his ‘free styling' tendencies needed to be changed, otherwise he would see a reduction in his minutes.

Freeman told the Register that Todd Lickliter 'has my playing time in the palm of his hand.'

Freeman's final quote in the Register item suggests support for what I have heard as of late; things are going to be done Lickliter's way, or there will be consequences, or 'if you do x, then the result will be y'.

As I said last week, and during the basketball season this year, if Iowa would have had a few other options on the bench to go with this year, Freeman and some other players from time to time would have spent the majority of the game on the bench, as an object lesson.

That happens all of the time in sports, so we are not talking about Lickliter going Bobby Knight here.

But Iowa just didn't have the numbers and Lickliter had to put up with some of Freeman's free style play.

If one wants to find some fault in the coaching staff for not just throwing down the gauntlet during the season last year, you can certainly take that opinion. For those of you that are parents, you know one of the most important things you can do to raise a child that is respectful of you and others is being consistent in what you say, and being consistent with consequences when your child goes against your ground rules.

Inconsistency breeds a ‘freestyle' child, just as it does a ‘freestyle' player.

If one wants to find fault with an Iowa assistant coach announcing that Cyrus Tate and Jaryd Cole would be the 2008-2009 captains at an I-Club function this week, I can understand that, too. I think that probably could have been handled more discreetly, but one could even go Oliver Stone and say it was a 'purpose pitch'.

Those things being said, Iowa has several new bodies coming into the program next year, and the coaching staff will have more options on their bench that they are comfortable going with. Plus, those players will come in from day one knowing what the coaches expect from them, and they will be taught to play within Lickliter's tried and trusted system.

You cannot move a program forward the way Lickliter wants to play unless everyone is on the same page.

None of this is to suggest that Tony Freeman was a selfish player. I certainly don't feel that way, and I don't think the coaching staff feels that way.

Based on what I have heard, Freeman was not given any sort of ultimatum as to encourage his leaving the program. But he was told that ‘here is the line, here is how we are going to play, and you will be a part of that system, playing within the system, or you will see your minutes diminish.'

And based on what I was told, Freeman took some time to think things over, and as of Friday, he decided that he wanted to go in a different direction, not feeling comfortable given the criteria for the future.

A friend of mine in the media told me in early March that after the plane touched down following Iowa's win at Northwestern, and when the team arrived back in Carver Hawkeye Arena, Tony was out of there in a shot. The writer sent me this simple message in an email: ‘Freeman is gone'.

At the time, I figured it was just emotions overflowing from the heated discussion that Freeman and Jake Kelly had on the bench late in the Northwestern game during a timeout.

Perhaps more was said in the locker room following that game. Perhaps that was the time when the line in the sand was drawn by the coaching staff.

Of that, I am unsure.

But I am confident in saying a line has been drawn, and there will not be any deviations from that course for the duration of the Todd Lickliter era of Iowa basketball.

You can have your opinion on that, but to be totally honest here, I appreciate that. I like the fact that this coaching staff has a complete and total sense of the direction they want to go. They know the type of players they want to bring into the program, and they know exactly what they want them to do on the court once they get here.

Freeman was Iowa's leading scorer at nearly 14 points per game. Iowa will certainly miss those points, and next year is going to be another rebuilding year that might be painful to watch at times. But it was going to be another rebuilding year if Freeman had been in the lineup. My best case scenario for next year was somewhere around .500. We don't know the entire schedule as of yet, except for Iowa's Big Ten/ACC Challenge opponent, and the fact that the Hawks will host Iowa State and UNI while they will travel to Drake.

We know they will play Minnesota once at home and Illinois once in Champaign, and the rest of the league will be a home and home set up. Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State will all be just as good if not better than last year. Indiana and Minnesota will be worse than they were a year ago, while any loss to Northwestern is a bad loss. Wisconsin will find a way to be one of the three best teams in the league; that's just what they do. Ohio State will have a lot of young talent.

On paper and in my opinion, Iowa will be battling for a 7th place at best finish next year in league play, and six or seven wins seems about right. Win two thirds of your non-conference games and you are talking 13 to 15 wins.

I can live with that if I have faith in the head coach and the direction he is building for the future, and I have that when it comes to Coach Lickliter.

I don't think the coaching staff wants the new faces coming into the program to see anything in practice or in games that goes against the system. If players take such initiative next year, they are going to find themselves as spectators with the best seat in the house, but not one that they will happily rest in.

Tony Freeman is not leaving town quietly, and I doubt you will see Todd Lickliter come out and hold a press conference refuting Freeman's comments.

And while I find some consistency to a part of what Freeman has told the Register, I wonder if the context in which he gave his answers align with exactly how things have gone down in Iowa City over the past 45 days.

I would find it hard to believe that we have a case of running off the leading returning scorer on your team, when points were pretty darn hard to come by last year and will be again next year. Does that make sense to you?

What I do find refreshing is that the coaching staff was willing to take that risk by drawing a line in the sand and letting every player on the team know what will be expected of them.

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