As Prime Time heads into its' 26th season, the interest has been tremendous from Iowa fans. The confidence and excitement in what Fran McCaffery is doing, the talent of the returning players, and the potential of the best recruiting class since George Raveling handed over to Tom Davis's expert handling the players that led to Dr. Tom's team being ranked #1 in the country, all make this summer the most anticipated ever.
The first games were on Tuesday, June 19. There was no delay in getting to the big story-line of the summer: are Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury ready for Prime Time? Can these 2 Top-50-in-the-nation recruits earn significant playing time for the Hawks right away, despite the considerable returning talent represented by Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Zack McCabe, Melsahn Besabe, Josh Oglesby, Eric May and Gabe Olaseni?
Mike Gesell answered with a resounding yes, scoring 27 points on 5-6 shooting on 3's, 9-19 overall, 4-6 from the line, handing out 5 assists to lead his Jill Armstrong of Skogman Realty team, and grabbing 6 rebounds. Gesell showed athleticism, unselfishness, defensive intensity and quickness, and a calmness belying his age. Gesell was guarded by the wonderfully athletic blur named Andre Murphy who wanted to walk-on for the Hawks 2 years ago before off-the-court trouble sidelined him and Gesell handled himself beautifully. One game isn't enough to say for sure, but at this point, it looks like those who predict Fran McCaffery will hand the ball to Gesell day one as his starting point guard, allowing Marble to play 2 or 3, look correct.
Adam Woodbury also played very well, with lesser numbers, but impressing knowledgeable observers by how he threw himself on loose balls, passed the ball out of the post, and with his defensive intensity and rebounding. He started in a front-line also featuring Zach McCabe and Jarrod Uthoff, and he showed he is that rarest of big men; a 7-footer who plays with intensity, spirit and with a good understanding and feel for the game. He only took 5 shots, hitting McCabe for many of his 10 3's on passes back out, of which Zach made 7, and he grabbed 8 rebounds, to go with his 3 assists. Blocked shots aren't on our stat sheet, but he affected or blocked several shots, and while he got in foul trouble which limited his minutes a bit, the man he guarded, Jarryd Cole, mostly had to score from 18 feet, instead of in the paint.
The other 2 incoming freshmen that are on-campus this summer, Kyle Meyer and Anthony Clemmons, are less well-known. Meyer only played a few minutes as he overcomes some lingering tendinitis but Clemmons had a major impact on his Prime Time team. He guarded Ali Farokhmanesh, the European pro from Iowa City West and UNI, now playing in Austria, and did a tremendous job. He displayed quickness, strength and determination, holding Ali to 5-14 shooting, including 2-8 from 3, and 13 points. Clemmons did not make any of his 4 3 point attempts, but did go 3-4 on 2's in the second half, ending up 3-7 on 2's, 0-4 on 3's and 0-1 on ft's, for 6 points. Clemmons team lost a very competitive game, 97-94. Clemmons showed he can play both guard positions, certainly so on defense. Coach McCaffery has added a very important component in his master plan with Clemmons because he adds defensive ability at both guard spots, as well as depth and athleticism.
The other big recruiting excitement is about transfer Jarrod Uthoff, who came home from Wisconsin, determined to find a better fit in playing style. Despite not being allowed to hear one word from the coaching staff at Iowa, he believed he will be welcomed at Iowa and has made the leap to join the surging Hawks. Because I coached him in Prime Time after his junior year in high school and had stayed in constant contact with him and loved his feel for the game and unselfishness, as well as his skills inside and out the year before being named the High School Player of the Year in Iowa, I selected him with the # 1 pick in the draft, despite my belief that Aaron White, Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe had all demonstrated more in college.
It was clear on opening night that Jarrod felt the effect of the spotlight, as he hesitated in shot-selection at times, shooting 0-5 on 3's. But he battled hard, threw himself on loose balls, and shot 6-10 on 2's, 1-2 on ft's, and scored 13, to go along with a team-high 13 rebounds. I liked his defense and he is very fundamentally sound. To get 13 rebounds on a frontline including Woodbury and McCabe was impressive. While he does need to get stronger, he is a very versatile offensive player and one of the most conscientious players I've coached. He might be the best Hawkeye in making post moves, is an outstanding 3-point shooter, and can handle the ball well. After a year learning from Coach Ryan, and with the maturity to understand that he'd improve more from a year under Coach McCaffery than he might playing junior college ball, Jarrod Uthoff is an outstanding and exciting addition to Iowa's talent.
The 2nd biggest storyline is about the competition amongst the players for playing time next year, something McCaffery has said from the beginning is the biggest advantage of the talent he's recruited. In practice next fall, the talent at center and power-forward from White, Besabe, Olaseni, McCabe, Uthoff and Woodbury will create some great competition, and it's starting right now.
Looking at how they did on the first Prime Time night, we start with Aaron White, who went 15-21 on 2's, many of them dunks, 1-4 on 3's and 7-10 on ft's for 40 points. White led his Culver's/Iowa City Ready Mix team with 16 rebounds, and benefited from favorable matchups against the other team's frontline, which consisted of Gabe Olaseni, Tucker Wentzien from Upper Iowa and Kyle Schlaak, who is a Hall-of-Famer from Winona State. White ran the floor very hard, and passed well. They trailed by 13 at half and rallied in the second half to almost win. White showed he is an accomplished Big Ten player and probably wound have been the first pick of the Prime Time draft by most coaches.
Zach McCabe was equally impressive, considering he was matching up with Besabe and Cole, and his numbers were terrific. He shot 7-10 on 3's including 5-6 in the first half, as his Vinton Merchants/Mike Gatens Real Estate team roared out to a 27 point lead. McCabe finished up 4-7 on 2's, 7-10 on 3's for 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping his team to a 50-37 edge on the boards.
Eric May played and shot well, going 9-13 on 2's, 1-3 on 3's, scoring 21 points, and had 5 rebounds and 3 assists. May looked physically fit. Devyn Marble has a Tuesday night class, (which is why the only other Tuesday night game, the championship, will be held at 9 pm), and got to the game at halftime. He shot 5-10 from 2, 1-3 on 3's, 2-2 on ft's, scoring 15, had 2 rebounds and 1 assist.
Melsahn Basabe put up 18 points for the team with Gesell and Cole, shooting 8-14 on 2's and 2-4 on ft's. Basabe grabbed 7 boards but had no assists. Basabe was slow to get out to McCabe at times.
Gabe Olaseni was very impressive to the fans who hadn't seen his progress. He's improving rapidly. He shot 4-8 on 2's, 1-2 on ft's, and grabbed 6 rebounds. I thought his low-post moves were good and he is a defensive presence. Olesani is not yet fundamentally sound, but his enthusiasm and live body are obvious. For the first time in my memory (30 years) the Hawks have more than enough good big men.
As a footnote, Jarryd Cole played terrific. He's gotten a job playing in the south of France, after playing in Iceland last year and next summer is marrying Trisha Nesbitt, the tremendously attractive point guard for the Iowa women. Look on YouTube for his wedding proposal.
Prime Time's games are the 5 Sundays at 3 and 4:30 at the North Liberty Rec Center, at the corner of Cherry Street and Hwy 965 in North Liberty. You can find information at www.primetimeleague.com.
All games are free and the gym is air-conditioned, but space is limited and the first night was packed so get there early!
Game Time, the NCAA-approved summer league for college women plays on Wednesdays and some Mondays in the same location, with games at 6 and 7:30. Next game is Wednesday, June 27. There are 9 Iowa women playing and 12 UNI players, as well as others from Creighton, Bradley and more. 4 of Iowa's 5 incoming freshmen are playing, including the athletic swing player Kali Peschel from Minnesota who looks ready to play immediately.