The circumstances aren’t exactly the same, but Luke Recker still can relate to what Jarrod Uthoff is about to experience Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
Uthoff will be the story within the story when No. 22 Iowa faces the undefeated and fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. It’ll be the 6-foot-9 forward’s first trip back to where he started college.
Uthoff transferred to Iowa after being redshirted as a freshman at Wisconsin in 2010-11. His decision to leave didn’t sit well with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who responded by making all the Big Ten schools and several others off limits to Uthoff.
Both sides eventually reached a compromise and Uthoff, who graduated from Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School in 2011, is now a key performer for the Hawkeyes as a sophomore after being redshirted in each of the past two seasons.
“We’re all human and we all feel something special when you go back into a situation, especially like Jarrod was in and especially with the drama surrounding it,” Recker said Saturday in a telephone interview.
Recker went through a similar drama as a member of the Iowa basketball team almost 12 years ago.
He grew up in Indiana and played for the Hoosiers as a freshman and sophomore before shocking the college basketball world by transferring out of the program, first to Arizona and then to Iowa.
So it was a big deal when Recker played in his only game for Iowa at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., on Feb. 5, 2002. But it quickly turned into a nightmare as Indiana cruised to a 79-51 victory. Recker only scored eight points, which was more than half below his 17.1 average, and he barely could breathe without being taunted by his former fans.
“I played terrible,” said Recker, who now lives in Coralville. “I remember we got beat, obviously. And I remember every time I touched the ball even in warm-ups I got booed. It was brutal.”
Recker said he expects the Wisconsin fans, particularly the Wisconsin students, to treat Uthoff the same way he was treated at Indiana, but the circumstances are different because Uthoff never played in a game for the Badgers, nor did he grow up in Wisconsin.
“But, obviously, their fans are still very familiar with him, and Jarrod is very, very talented,” Recker said.
Recker’s advice to Uthoff would be to follow the advice of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who said during a Friday teleconference that he wasn’t paying much attention to how the Wisconsin fans would treat Uthoff because they wouldn’t be guarding him.
McCaffery also said it would be no different than how Iowa fans have treated Wisconsin guard Ben Brust when he plays at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Brust originally signed with Iowa but switched to Wisconsin where he is now a senior and one of the Big Ten’s top perimeter shooters.
“I read some of Fran’s comments, and I think he hit it spot on,” Recker said. “The fans won’t have any impact on the game. Obviously, they’re going to boo him and ride him. It’s the same thing that Iowa fans did to Ben Brust when he was here. He was able to block it out and play well. Some guys thrive on that. Some of the guys I played with they always enjoyed playing on the road because it’s just cool to have that atmosphere and have you and the team against everybody else out there.
“But it’s going to be a challenge for him, there is no question about that. At the end of the day, he’s still a kid, and as much as you try to block stuff, you still hear stuff. So, hopefully, he will just focus on the game and play well because we certainly need him.”
Recker thinks Iowa’s depth, which includes an 11-man rotation, will help Uthoff deal with the unusual circumstances.
“It’s huge,” Recker said. “He has a lot of guys to pick him up. And that’s going to help him tremendously. It’s not like they’re expecting him to go out there and score 25 points and grab 15 rebounds. I would anticipate him having a good game just because we are so deep and he fits in really well with this team.”
Uthoff is a key piece of Iowa’s depth, averaging 10.9 points and 6.5 rebounds as a top reserve. He also is shooting 52.6 percent from 3-point range and 57 percent from the field.
Recker is more intrigued by the possibility of Uthoff matching up against 6-7 Wisconsin sophomore forward Sam Dekker than how the fans will treat Uthoff.
“I’m more excited to watch Jarrod versus Dekker,” Recker said. “Those two guys, in my opinion, they’re both so versatile and they can do so many things. They’re two of my favorite players to watch in all of college basketball.”
Uthoff has repeated himself over and over when asked about playing at the Kohl Center, saying it’s just another game.
“And that’s exactly how he’s looking at it,” McCaffery said.
Recker knows better, though.
“It’ll be a tough situation for him,” Recker said. “But he’ll get through it, and hopefully, the Hawks can get a win.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball