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Gatens returns from season in Ukraine

[ 0 ] May 19, 2014 |

Almost since the day he could walk, Matt Gatens has treated basketball like his co-pilot.

It has helped steer him through life as a player, bringing with it fame and memories that’ll last forever.

It took him to the University of Iowa on a full-ride scholarship and now it’s helping him see the world as a professional basketball player. Gatens returned to Iowa City on Saturday after playing in Ukraine this past season.

The game means so much to Gatens that he can’t picture himself without it.

“I struggle thinking about not being involved in basketball in some capacity,” Gatens said Monday afternoon.

That’s why Gatens is thinking more and more about becoming a coach once his playing days are over. The former Iowa City High standout, who is Iowa’s seventh all-time leading scorer with 1,635 points, still wants to chase his dream of playing in the NBA for a while longer.

But Gatens knows that dream can’t last for too long, whereas he could build the rest of his life around coaching.

“It’s something that is definitely on my radar,” said Gatens, who will turn 25 on June 13. “We’ll see what happens.

“I’ve stayed in touch with different guys who are in the profession, and I think it would be great to do some day.”

Gatens has earned praise not only for his success as a player, but also for his leadership skills and his work ethic. He practically put the Iowa team on his back as a senior in 2012, leading the Hawkeyes to their first winning season in four years as a sharpshooting 6-foot-5 guard.

Gatens isn’t sure what kind of coach he would be in terms of his sideline behavior.

“I think I would be pretty passionate, but I don’t how much of a screamer I’d be,” he said.

Gatens credits his high school coach, Andy Woodley, for having a big impact on him, along with Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.

“I think I would be similar to what kind of coach he is,” Gatens said of Woodley. “He was definitely very passionate and stern. But I also love coach McCaffery. He was always passionate on the sideline.”

For now, the sideline can wait while Gatens continues his journey as a professional basketball player. He played this past season in Ukraine after playing his first season in Spain.

Gatens was pleased with his performance in the Ukrainian Basketball Super League. He shot over 40 percent from 3-point range and was named the sixth man of the year in his league.

But Gatens also felt the strain of playing in a country that’s engulfed in military conflict and doesn’t want to return next season.

“I’d like to go more western,” said Gatens, who spent nearly 10 months living and playing in Ukraine. “I’d like to experience a new country. Spain was great, but Germany or Italy would be great. There are a lot of good places over there and good leagues and good opportunities.”

Gatens said he never felt in any real danger while living in Ukraine. He played for a team in Yuzhne, which is a port city in southwestern Ukraine.

“It’s pretty amazing living through that situation,” Gatens said. “I’m sure five or 10 years down the road I’m going look back and probably be amazed that I was there when it was going on.

“But it always was in the back of your head. We didn’t see a ton of it where we were. We really felt pretty safe for the most part.”

However, as a precautionary measure, Gatens’s fiancé, Erin Hake, left Ukraine after the conflict escalated. She and Gatens plan to be married on Aug. 2.

“I’m happy to be home,” Gatens said. “It’s kind of a relief to be home. Everyone is happy that I’m back. I’m looking forward to getting ready for the wedding, relaxing and being around my friends and family.

“And figuring out what’s next.”

Gatens wasn’t sure if he could see himself playing professionally for eight to 10 years overseas.

“It’s difficult always being away from your family and friends and being away from the American life,” he said. “But it’s great to do. I’m pretty young, and I’ve only done it for two years and they’ve both been great experiences.”

As for his former college team, Gatens said the fact that some fans are frustrated about a season in which Iowa made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight years shows how far the program has come under McCaffery. Iowa climbed to as high as No. 10 in the rankings before losing seven of its last eight games, including in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Hawkeyes finished with a losing record in Gatens’ first three seasons, the first two coming under McCaffery’s predecessor, Todd Lickliter.

“As a now fan and an alum, you have to be really proud to see them get the program back into the tournament,” Gatens said. “Now it’s a matter of getting there and going further.

“I think it’s good, to think four years ago that fans would be disappointed that you lost in the first round. It’s great to have expectations now. I have great confidence in this coaching staff and these guys and these players they have coming in.”

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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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