Big news on the Hawkeye basketball front broke late last night, when 6’8″ forward Jarrod Uthoff announced his transfer from the Wisconsin Badgers to the Hawkeyes!

Jarrod Uthoff’s Saga

Jarrod UthoffUthoff, who played high school ball at Cedar Rapids Jefferson in Iowa, committed to the Badgers in 2010.  He was Iowa’s Mr. Basketball in 2011, so his decision to leave the state was disappointing.  It wasn’t surprising, however.  Iowa was undergoing a coaching change at the time to current head coach Fran McCaffery, and Wisconsin has been a strong program the last decade or two.  Uthoff redshirted this past season at Wisconsin before recently requesting his release.

Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan had the power to restrict Uthoff’s communication with other NCAA basketball programs.  Ryan drew national attention when it was revealed that he had blocked 27 schools from contacting Uthoff, including every school in the Big Ten and ACC.  After a considerable backlash, Ryan relented and trimmed the list of schools prohibited from communicating with Uthoff to just the other Big Ten schools.

It would have been fairly easy at that point for Jarrod Uthoff to simply transfer out of the Big Ten and be done with it.  However, he had his heart set on Iowa and Coach McCaffery’s up-tempo style of play.  If he went to Iowa, Uthoff would be prohibited from talking to Iowa’s coaching staff until the day he enrolled, be forced to sit out a year and lose a season of eligibility, and need to pay his own way for a year as a walk-on.  Despite all that, Uthoff decided last night to head to Iowa City anyway.

Reviving Hawkeye Basketball

While Uthoff appears to be a talented player, this isn’t, taken by itself, some kind of program-changing event for Hawkeye basketball.  It is, however, another step along the path of putting Iowa hoops back where it belongs – if not among the elite in college basketball, then at least in the company of the very good programs across the country.

Iowa basketball has a great tradition.  I fondly remember watching the B.J. Armstrong-led teams of the late-’80s when I was growing up, and Coach Tom Davis almost always put respectable teams out there when I was growing up.  But college basketball has changed a lot since 2000.  Top players now gravitate toward the power schools as springboards to the NBA more than ever before.  Also, and perhaps this is just my perception, but I feel as though recruiting at the highest levels of college basketball has become much more unsavory than in the past, with the rise of agents, AAU coaches, and other outside influences on young basketball players.

Meanwhile, mid-majors have grown in power.  “Program schools” like Gonzaga and Butler have achieved remarkable success.  These mid-majors have benefitted from weak in-conference competition as well as changes in post-season selections.  The NCAA has gradually changed their rating system that helps determine who makes the NCAA Tournament, and more mid-majors now qualify for March Madness than in the past.  With all these changes, Iowa basketball has been unable to keep up and has fallen from the heights where it resided in the 1980s and ’90s.

So Iowa’s great basketball tradition has gathered a little rust over the past decade or so.  Coach Fran McCaffery is doing an excellent job restoring a once-proud hoops legacy in Iowa City, and it’s exciting to watch his progress.  The fact that Jarrod Uthoff would make a legitimate sacrifice to join that tradition is worthy of recognition from me!  Welcome, and go Hawks!

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