NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa - Matt Gatens bodes many admirable traits, not the least of which is humility. Despite being less than 100 percent healthy, he and his teammates will be playing for a PTL championship Monday. It would be his second in a row after he was the MVP of the league last summer.
When asked on after Wednesday's semifinals to verify last year's title and award, he smiled and looked a bit uncomfortable.
"Something like that" is all he was comfortable with saying on the topic.
Gatens scored 16 points, dished out 10 assists and grabbed five rebounds Wednesday night here at the North Liberty Recreation Center. He missed about two and half weeks of the summer season after having his appendix removed.
"I'm getting there," Gatens said. "It kind of took away from my conditioning a little bit, but I was able to do some running on my own to get back in shape. It's definitely a process and I'm getting there. I'm feeling better and getting my strength back.
Gatens couldn't play at all for about a week after the surgery. Doctors were worried that any contact to the scars could cause internal damage.
A gym rat since shortly after birth, Gatens moved into position to win the summer championship Monday in a league that features his Iowa teammates, Northern Iowa players and former Hawkeyes, among others.
"There are bragging rights on the line," Gatens said. "But it's fun, but any time you're playing, you're playing to win. So, we'll go out there on Monday and fight for it. Hopefully, we can bring the title back."
Anthony Tucker, Gatens' teammate, classmate and roommate, ended up on the losing end on Wednesday despite scoring 27 points.
"We don't really talk trash to each other while we're out there," Gatens said. "We play hard. We don't really talk to each other at all when we're playing. It's kind of funny that off of the court we're best friends and roommates."
"The coaches are putting an emphasis on that for him," Gatens said. "It's a spot where we're kind of short after Cully (Payne). We don't have many point guards. He knows he'll definitely have to play that role, and I've been playing a little point guard myself, bringing the ball up the court a little bit. Tuck has those skills."
Gatens sees Tucker as a huge component of this year's Hawkeye squad.
"He's going to be huge," he said. "It's almost like having another recruit in Anthony because he was out so much. He's hungry to get back into real game situations in the Big Ten because he missed that last year."
Tucker missed last year's second semester due to academic shortcomings.
Despite his injury, Gatens feels good about his summer.
"I've been pretty busy with school," he said. "The surgery cut me back a little bit, but we've been working hard as a team. We play just about every night. Then there's the Prime Time and doing workouts, lifting."
Gatens feels good about what he and his Iowa teammates have accomplished this offseason in terms of improvement. It started with a European trip in May with the returnees.
"It was a great bonding experience and we played well," Gatens said. "Then the new guys came in and they've been great. They're great players and great teammates and great guys. We hang out all the time off of the court. We seem like we get along so well and have great chemistry."
Gatens said the chemistry among members of this year's team is stronger than what was there last year.
"The whole summer, playing together and working out together, you can feel it," Gatens said. "Everybody laughs and gets along. There's just a sense that everybody wants to be there and work hard. It's a great feeling and we're ready to start the preseason and get into the season. It's going to be coming fast."
Tip-Ins: Iowa sophomore Andrew Brommer watched his semifinal game in the PTL from the bench. His foot was in a boot. I didn't get a chance to speak with him, but heard that it was an ankle sprain…Bobby Hanson and Gary Dolphin took in Wednesday's action from the bleachers.