MADISON – Zach Bohannon can’t estimate how many countless hours he’s spent practicing at the Kohl Center or being in front of 17,000 fans during his three-year Wisconsin career. He does know for certain that he’s spent very little time sitting behind the visiting bench.
Maybe that’s why Thursday will be a unique out-of-body experience for him.
The change of allegiance is well warranted for Zach and older brother Jason Bohannon, who will join their parents behind the Iowa bench to watch freshman guard Jordan Bohannon play No.22 Wisconsin in the lone regular season match-up between the two schools.
“It’ll definitely be a weird feeling,” Bohannon said, “but it’s going to be nice to cheer on some family at the Kohl Center.”
For father Gordy, a former Iowa quarterback under Hayden Fry, and mother Brenda, a fellow Hawkeye graduate, they had to join other fan bases before going back to the black and gold.
Oldest son Jason Bohannon chose to play for the Badgers over Iowa and was a four-year letterwinner and 1,000-point scorer from 2006-10. Zach played his first two seasons at Air Force before finishing his career in Madison and Matt just finished a career at Northern Iowa last season after starting 109 games and become the school’s all-time 3-point marksman.
“I think my parents are looking forward to it to, as my dad would say, sitting behind the right bench in the Kohl Center,” Zach said. “They’re enjoying and appreciating everything that it has to offer of their youngest and last boy of four playing for their alma mater.”
Zach has taken full advantage, too, making a pledge to Jordan that he would attend every one of his games this season. He’s 29-for-29 so far this season, with travels that have taken him to 18 games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (just a short drive from his home in Cedar Rapids), two games in Niceville, Fla., in November, South Bend, Ind., and eight different Big Ten venues, with the Kohl Center being number nine.
He’s slept overnight in airports to catch return flights and racked up the miles to be front and center at all of them, only missing the first couple minutes of a Tuesday night game at Rutgers because of a flight delay, a long Uber drive and a 7 p.m. Eastern tipoff.
“That was the worst game by far,” Zach said. “I missed the first couple of minutes, the only game I missed any time of.”
His persistence has rewarded him with some special performances. Jordan scored 23 points (seven 3-pointers) in his first career start at Notre Dame, earning him starts in all 21 games since; scoring five of his 17 points in an overtime win against Michigan and made 8 of 10 3-pointers - the most by a freshman in school history - to finish with a game-high 24 points in a 14-point road win at Maryland Saturday.
Jordan and much-hyped UCLA guard Lonzo Ball are the only two freshmen nationally with 125+ assists and 60+ 3-pointers. Those number are even rarer in Big Ten history, as Jordan, D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State) and Daniel Horton (Michigan) are the only freshmen to ever reach 100 assists and 60 3-pointers.
“He’s a special player,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Jordan last month. “He plays at his pace, he’s really intelligent, he thinks the game, he processes the game plan, the information we give him and then he’s able to make adjustments as the game goes on. But there’s no panic in him.”
According to Zach, Jordan is a combination of Jason’s and Matt’s perimeter shooting, Zach’s on-court knowledge and all the brothers’ competitiveness.
“I totally expected my brother to excel once he got to Iowa,” Zach said. “There’s just something about living out your dreams you have growing up, especially when you are doubted and underappreciated. I know he was Mr. Basketball in the state of Iowa, but that was because he had a phenomenal senior campaign. He was a very under recruited player.”
Why Not Wisconsin?
After Iowa’s overtime victory, Michigan coach John Beilein admitted he didn’t know where Jordan was in the recruiting world but knew the freshman was playing as good as any point guard in the country. Jordan’s secret was Iowa’s gain, committing to the Hawkeyes at the beginning of senior season over an offer from DePaul.
The recruiting situation for Wisconsin at time was dicey. The Badgers wanted a point guard but had only one scholarship at their disposal. There also was the uncertainty of how much longer Bo Ryan was going to be the head coach and who his replacement was eventually going to be.
“We knew that (Ryan) was in the process of leaving,” Zach said. “You could call them red flags. We didn’t know who was going to be in charge of the program.”
Jason and Zach gave a sale’s pitch to former assistant coach Gary Close – who recruited Jason – and then-associate head coach Greg Gard – who recruited Zach - about their younger brother but Wisconsin was stuck in a holding pattern and was looking for more of an athletic playmaker than a spot-up shooter.
“They didn’t know exactly if the 6-1, 155-pound somewhat athletic point guard that Jordan is was really the Wisconsin type,” Zach recalled. “I’m like, I don’t care what you say, this is a Wisconsin player through and through, a Josh Gasser, Ben Brust hybrid guard that you need in your program.”
It took a while, but Wisconsin eventually found its future point guard in D'Mitrik Trice.
Even if Wisconsin had shown strong interest, it’s unlikely it would have altered the recruitment. All four boys were born in Iowa City at Mercy Hospital, just a couple blocks away from Iowa’s campus, and Jordan’s love for the Hawkeyes never wavered.
“Jordan wanted to go play for Fran and the coaching staff of Iowa,” Zach said. “It probably would have been a harder decision if the foundation was more set for Wisconsin, but in the end you always end up where you are meant to end up. Jordan is definitely in the right situation.”
Lots to Play For
Heading into the final week of the regular season, both schools feel they have plenty at stake. Wisconsin appears to be a lock for the N.C.A.A. tournament despite losing four of its last five, but the Badgers need two wins and help to clinch a Big Ten title. Iowa is battling for seeding and more likely a trip to the N.I.T., a postseason spot that didn’t look probable at the beginning of the season.
“I would not be surprised if (Iowa) finished 10-8, although going into the Kohl Center is challenging,” Zach said. “They have got better and better. They’re young, they’ve let their inexperience show at times, but at the same time they haven’t let their inexperience get in the way. They don’t know any better. They just go out and have some fun.”
Jordan and his 9.7 points and 4.5 assists per game has been a big part of that, which quickly caught the attention of Wisconsin. Shortly after the Badgers’ loss at Michigan State Sunday, senior guard Zak Showalter – tasked with guarding opposing team’s best shooters - texted Zach looking for a scouting report. Zach was tight lipped.
“There’s already some friendly banter with my best friend on the team right now,” he said.
But while he will be switching his allegiance after years of Wisconsin support, Zach is only willing to take his Iowa fandom so far.
“I do not wear Iowa gear; I have stayed completely neutral,” Zach said. “I’ve continued my political moniker by wearing button-up collared shirts that are not necessary are Iowa related. It’s hard to put on those Hawkeye colors, but I will be cheering for Iowa and my brother like I have all season.”