Fran and the Future – Part 2 – The Present

Story by Derek Pech

In part 1 of our feature on Fran we discussed his first few seasons at the helm of Iowa basketball and how the program has arrived at the point it is in right now. The Hawks are coming off of a 19-15 season that left them on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. Their early season upset loss to the University of Nebraska-Omaha is arguably the one game that kept them out of the tournament field. With that said, the team outperformed most people’s expectations. Some younger players stepped up in huge and largely unexpected ways, and the season as a whole was considered a success to the majority of Hawkeye Nation.

In part two of this series, I’m going to share my thoughts on each member of the young Hawkeye team that put together an impressive run last season.

There isn’t a better player to start with than sophomore PG Jordan Bohannon. Bohannon had a tremendous freshmen season that came completely out of nowhere. The young PG showed that he is an unconscious shooter who doesn’t back down from the spotlight. Bohannon also showed an uncanny ability to distribute the basketball for a true freshman PG at the Big Ten level. He ended the season averaging 10.9 pts per game with 5.1 assists. He broke Iowa’s freshman three point record with 54, and he shattered Iowa’s freshman assist record by racking up 175 (previous record held by Jeff Horner with 140). This young man was an absolute steal of a recruit. Fran deserves props for taking a chance on him. The expectations for Bohannon’s career have skyrocketed. Hawk fans have gone from simply hoping that Bohannon can prove that he can play at this level to thinking that he has a legitimate shot to be considered one of the all-time great PG’s to ever suit up for Iowa. He has put himself in that discussion because of his play. Jordan Bohannon is a great story.

Highly touted freshman power forward, Tyler Cook, came in and played as well as most people expected even though he missed a few weeks after suffering a finger fracture. As a true freshman Cook averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. His combination of size (6’9 253 lbs) and athleticism is something that Iowa rarely has in a player.  Cook’s continued development will play a huge role in just how far this young team can go over the next few seasons. Cook needs to be more consistent. He needs to stretch his offensive game out from underneath the basket a bit. It would do wonders for his game, and for the Iowa team. The biggest area that Cook, and the rest of the Iowa big men, need to improve upon is defense. Their defense was atrocious at times last year, and if guys like Cook don’t start to play better defensively then they may not find themselves on the court given the talent that Iowa has coming in (Luke Garza and Jack Nunge). Improved defensive play is a necessity. If Cook can improve defensively and stretch his offensive game out a bit then he will likely start popping up on the radar of NBA scouts. 

Another freshman power forward, Cordell Pemsl, showed toughness, grit, and leadership that this young Hawkeye team will count on for years to come. Pemsl played admirably when Cook went down with an injury. His play trailed off towards the end of the season, but that’s not unusual for a true freshman big man. His intangibles are huge, and he fits the mold of that player that other teams love to hate. He has a motor and intensity to his game that can’t be taught, and he won’t back down to anyone. There was one moment in a match-up against Purdue that perfectly sums up Cordell Pemsl. He was fighting for a rebound with Purdue’s enormous center, Isaac Haas (7’2 291 lbs), and he ripped through the ball so hard that the two players ended up tumbling down into a heap on the court. Haas is a lot bigger than Pemsl, shoot Haas is probably one of the biggest human beings I’ve ever seen, but it isn’t about the size of the dog as much as it’s about the size of fight in the dog. Pemsl has an endless supply of fight in him.

Iowa forward Nicholas Baer cheers after making a basket and being fouled during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)

Nicholas Baer, as a redshirt Junior forward, continued to do Nicholas Baer things. The “Baer Cage” is a spark plug that provides energy all over the court. He impacts the game in many different ways, and he’s a damn good kid. Personally, he’s my favorite player. He’s goofy and he doesn’t care. He is who he is and he’s comfortable with that. He’s a young man who is an outstanding leader, and his basketball talent often gets overlooked because he has that garbage man mentality to his game. Similar to the way Aaron White was a few years back. Baer is the energizer bunny who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work. He’s a solid shooter, and his length allows him to create all sorts of trouble by clogging passing lanes and blocking shots. Baer is the ultimate team player, and his role will be crucial as these Hawkeyes continue to get better. Fran always seems to find a guy like this to contribute to his teams.

Dom Uhl has been a bit of a conundrum to Iowa basketball fans. He will be the only senior on the team this season. A couple seasons ago, Dom would have likely been highlighted as a star in the making. The potential has always been there for Dom. He has good size, decent handles and athleticism for a big guy, and he has shown a nice shooting touch. However, for whatever reason he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Dom has been plagued by inconsistency, and because of this inconsistency his minutes have wavered. There is simply too much young talent on this Iowa basketball team for Dom to get minutes if he isn’t consistently playing well. Personally, I think he could be looking at a major drop in playing time this season because there are not enough minutes to go around. Hopefully for Dom, and for Hawkeye fans in general, he can get it figured out his senior year.

Junior forward, Ahmad Wagner, earned the Hawkeye’s Most Improved Player award after this past season. Wagner plays with a lot of heart. He has a ton of athleticism, and he’s arguably the team’s best defensive player. Wagner doesn’t bring a lot to court on the offensive end; which has resulted in him not getting the type of minutes he’d prefer to see. He has been working his tail off to improve on the offensive side of the court, and he has put forth some encouraging efforts in the Primetime League. Wagner is a great leader for this young team. He has an infectious attitude, and you can certainly tell that his teammates love playing with him. If his off-season efforts to improve his offense translate into the season then look for him to be a nice contributor this year. If not, then he could also be looking at a significant loss in playing time.

Redshirt junior guard, Brady Ellingson, is a shooter. He only averaged 4.4 pts per game last season, but he showed plenty of promise. His shooting ability could play a big role in his senior season because Jordan Bohannon is going to attract a lot of attention. Ellingson will be in a tough competition with Isaiah Moss for the starting guard spot opposite of Bohannon. Both of these guys showed promise last year so it’s a tough one to call. At this point my guess would be that Ellingson’s role will be as a shooter coming off the bench. I’d give the starting position to Moss just based upon overall potential. 

Similar to Dom Uhl in some regards, redshirt sophomore guard, Isaiah Moss, has also been a bit of a conundrum. He had some great games last year where he looked like a star in the making. Then he had other games where he disappeared. Moss has loads of talent and ability. At 6’5 205 lbs. he’s a match-up nightmare as a SG. He runs the court and finishes at the rim well for a big guard. He has a nice shooting stroke. He has all the tools he needs to be a solid defender. Like Dom, his problem has been consistency. Ultimately, I believe he will earn a starting role on the upcoming team, but he’ll have to prove that he’s ready to show up night in and night out because there’s some legit talent behind him, and Fran has shown that he isn’t afraid to roll with a deep bench. Every opportunity he gives to a younger player is another opportunity they have to take his spot. Moss has a high ceiling. His performance could be the X-Factor in how far this team goes this season.

True freshman, Ryan Kriener, surprised a lot of people last year when he burst onto the scene in a huge game against Purdue. At that point in the season Kriener was seldom used. He had received some mop up minutes, but that was about it. Then he checked into the game against Purdue and instantly made a lay-up, knocked down a jumper, and tied up the game for the Hawks. Kriener could be another example of an under-the-radar kid who excels under Fran’s coaching. He isn’t spectacular at anything, but he’s solid in a lot of different areas. His strength is his ability to knock down open jump shots. He’ll have to continue to improve defensively, and round out his offensive game if he wants to earn moreminutes. The Hawkeye program is trending up in terms of talent so earning minutes on this team will not be an easy task. The good news is that Kriener doesn’t seem like the type who is going to back down from that challenge. Incoming freshman, Jack Nunge, exploded during the Primetime League. Nunge said in a recent interview that Kriener has been his toughest match-up to date. That says a lot about Kriener because Nunge has also gone up against Tyler Cook, Luke Garza, and Dom Uhl.

Finally, junior guard, Christian Williams, went into the season in the midst of a heated competition with Jordan Bohannon to lay claim to the starting PG position. Unfortunately for him, we all know how that turned out. Jordan Bohannon ended up running away with the starting position, and Williams spent the remainder of the season coming off the bench as needed. It didn’t go as Williams had planned, but that’s competitive sports at a major level. Many people expected Williams to transfer after the season, but he has decided to stay with Hawks. He deserves a lot of credit for sticking it out, and this team can absolutely use the depth that he provides. At 6’5 200 lbs. he is a big guard. He doesn’t excel at anything in particular. He’s a decent all-around player, but decent won’t be enough to unseat Bohannon from the starting position. That’s just the way it is. However, Williams is a much better defender than Bohannon so if he could manage to improve a little bit offensively then he could potentially earn some more minutes. 

We’ll wrap up this series soon by taking a look the incoming freshman who will certainly be making an impact on the 2017-2018 team. We’ll also look briefly at a couple of exciting recruits coming in down the road. Stay tuned! 

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