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Harty: Uthoff shouldn’t be considered a disappointment

[ 0 ] March 12, 2014 |

Nearing the end of his first season playing for the Iowa men’s basketball team, Jarrod Uthoff is perhaps best described as an extremely gifted work in progress.

Soft-spoken and humble, Uthoff is content for now just blending in with his teammates and playing a support role away from the spotlight.

It’s maybe not what some fans had envisioned for the 6-foot-9 Uthoff, but certain things can’t be rushed. He is progressing at his own pace, and whether or not it’s happening fast enough is a matter for debate.

Uthoff

Uthoff is ranked second on the team in blocks (33), fourth in rebounding (4.6) and fifth in scoring (7.4) heading into today’s game against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. His per-game scoring average ranks third among Big Ten reserves. Uthoff is making 80.3 percent of his free throws and shooting a respectable 49.4 percent from the field, including 38.9 percent from 3-point range, which isn’t too shabby.

And yet some feel that Uthoff has been a disappointment, judging from what’s being said about him on social media, Internet message boards and wherever else fans vent.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery would disagree. He said last week that he was thrilled with Uthoff’s numbers from this season and thinks Uthoff could double them next season by being more assertive, especially on offense.

“I think he’s that talented,” McCaffery said. “I think you’re seeing him, little by little, be more aggressive. I’d like to see him shoot more 3s. I respect the fact that he’s a team player. He doesn’t play crazy. He’s out there under control and trying to do things to help our team win.

“That’s the kind of person he is. I’d like to see him play with a little more reckless abandon at times. But we forget this is his first year through and his first time through the wars in this league, and I think he’s been doing extremely well.”

Skeptics would counter asking ‘What else would McCaffery tell the media?’ And although there probably is some truth to that, to label Uthoff a disappointment seems too harsh.

Uthoff teases us with his enormous potential. He does something spectacular every now and then that makes you realize why Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan made it difficult for Uthoff to transfer out of his program after being redshirted as a freshman two years ago.

Ryan knew what he was losing and what Iowa would be gaining: an explosive athlete with length and versatility. Throw in the fact that Uthoff, a 2011 graduate of Cedar Rapids Jefferson, is a quality student and person, and he has a chance to be the total package.

Now it’s just a matter of doing it.

This season has been a struggle at times for Uthoff, with moments of greatness overshadowed by periods of inactivity, especially down the stretch.

“It’s had its ups and downs,” Uthoff said. “I wish we could’ve won more games, but that’s in the past. We’re still looking forward to making a run in the tournament.”

Fans are looking for people to blame and for reasons to explain why Iowa has lost five of its last six games. Uthoff seems to be an easy target for those who expected more from him.

But it’s easy to forget that Uthoff sat out two full seasons before finally becoming eligible. He is similar to a freshman, just with more rust caused by 24 months of only practicing. You could argue that Uthoff has hit a wall, considering his lack of productivity in Big Ten games.

Uthoff scored in double figures in eight of 13 non-conference games and in two of the first four Big Ten games. But he hasn’t scored in double figures since then, a streak that now stands at 14 games, and he’s made just four 3-point baskets in 18 conference games.

“Whether you get two years to prepare or whether you get the summer to prepare out of high school, it’s tough to prepare for your first year in the Big Ten,” Iowa junior forward Aaron White said. “I don’t think people should be down on Jarrod. “They’ll say he had a better first half of the (season) than the second half of the (season). But that’s the same with a lot of us. It just gets harder. There is a learning curve, and I think he’s learning and he’s still a talented player.”

Uthoff’s game is more finesse than power at this stage in his development, and that might never change because of his slender frame. He also plays with little emotion, which sometimes gets misinterpreted as being timid or disengaged.

“I think at this point of the season you probably are who you are,” former Iowa all-Big Ten forward Jess Settles said. “I think Coach has been encouraging him all season to take more shots and be more physical. But it does take time. This is his first rodeo in the Big Ten with a couple years off.”

Uthoff knows that he has to get stronger in order to withstand the pounding that occurs on a regular basis during the Big Ten grind. He wants to gain 10 to 15 pounds during this offseason, but he’s been trying to gain weight for most of his life with little success.

“I always stuff myself,” said Uthoff, who weighs about 205 pounds. “That’s the thing; for my whole life I’ve eaten as much as I can and it really doesn’t matter. Whenever I’m hungry, I eat. I don’t even keep track of it.”

What sounds like paradise to most people is a problem for Uthoff. His slender frame has been pushed around a lot this season, especially in the rugged Big Ten. Uthoff is still learning how to use his length and his quickness on both ends of the floor most effectively.

It was naïve to assume that Uthoff would be a star or even a go-to player for Iowa this season. He was a new addition to a team that was already loaded with depth and experience.

Uthoff’s role will change next season as Iowa moves on without current seniors Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe.
For now, though, Uthoff is a role player for a team that’s struggling. But that hardly makes him a disappointment.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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