Green wave overwhelms Iowa

January 30, 2009

IOWA CITY — The fans came. They saw. They kicked butt.

But Michigan State came, too. They saw the fans. And they kicked butt.

Unfortunately for the Iowa Hawkeyes, only one of those entities played on the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last night. And as loud and spirited as the fans were, they didn’t make a single shot. Michigan State, however, did.

The No. 9 Spartans brutalized Iowa with a lightning-quick offensive array and strangled the Hawkeyes into one shot per possession for most of the first half. The second half wasn’t much better for Iowa — despite a season-high 13,640 fans — in a 71-56 Michigan State victory.

“For me, I don’t know where you all were sitting, but there was just like a green blur going past me at a very high rate of speed,” Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said. “We told our guys and you can show them on tape but I don’t think that you can really understand the speed that they play at in the full court, and then by time we realized it, we were in trouble.”

Iowa (12-9 overall, 2-6 Big Ten) struggled to compete with Michigan State’s speed and size advantage at both ends of the court. Iowa conceded its offense to one shot to ensure its defense could get back and defend in transition. In reality, it didn’t work.

Iowa didn’t secure its second offensive rebound until only 4 minutes, 40 seconds remained in the first half. Overall Iowa was outrebounded 23-9 in the first half and hit just 40 percent of its shots from the field. Michigan State, meanwhile, sank 50 percent.

“You just had to take the best shot you could,” Lickliter said. “You have to have good enough judgment as a player to know you’re not going to get a rebound. It’s futile to try to take the ball away from somebody — the court’s too big to do that. Now you’re behind the play and your teammates are in trouble and a couple of times we stayed back there like …

“Once you’ve made an effort, you need to turn and get back and get your defense set.”

Iowa did a better job in the second half, but lost the rebound battle, 35-28. It was the first half, though, that established the game’s tempo in Michigan State’s favor.

“I think because we were so caught up in trying to get back and it’s tough to go get the rebounds because once you miss it, you’re behind and you put your whole team in a tough spot,” Iowa guard Matt Gatens said. “You just have to pick and choose our spots.”

Iowa struggled to keep up with Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas, who led all scorers with 24 points. Lucas was 9 of 13 from the field and had four assists.

“He can go get a good shot,” Lickliter said. “There’s guys who can get shots, but he can get a good shot about anytime he wants. It makes it tough.”

Sophomore guard Jake Kelly drew the assignment of guarding Lucas. Kelly often guards the opponent’s top ballhandler, but facing Lucas was more difficult that usual.

“He’s a great player. One of the quickest guards I’ve ever played against,” Kelly said. “I think his decision making has been a huge improvement this year. He picks his spots on when he wants to score and when he wants to push it.”

“I think Jake Kelly is a terrific one-on-one defender,” Lickliter said. “Terrific, and he had his hands full with Lucas. And anybody would, in my opinion.”

Offensively, Iowa couldn’t get into a groove early in either half. Iowa didn’t notch its first point until it was down 8-0 with 15:53 left in the first half. Iowa was outscored 15-3 to start the second half and that essentially ended the game.

One bright spot for Iowa was the play of Jarryd Cole, who hit all five shots from the field for 10 points. He also pulled down eight rebounds in 26 minutes. Cole had two thunderous dunks that helped propel the crowd.

“I try to be in a spot where I could make myself a force. I just credit (my teammates) for finding me in open spots,” Cole said.

Iowa dispersed more than 3,200 free tickets to students in a promotion. That led to a vibrant environment, just not the result Iowa had wanted.


Changes, near-record number of students expected at Carver tonight

January 29, 2009

Iowa associate athletics director Rick Klatt said UI students have responded to the department’s free ticket giveaway for tonight’s game against Michigan State.

Klatt said students have downloaded around 3,000 free tickets. Plus the 970 student season-ticket holders, that puts around 4,000 students in the seats. Klatt said that’s as many students going to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a basketball game in the last 20-plus years. It’s possible students might show up to CHA without the downloaded tickets, and Klatt said UI officials will work to accommodate them as well.

Klatt said the students will be offered a student ticket package beginning Friday. Cost is $40 for the remaining five home games. The deal lasts until Iowa’s next home game on Feb. 7. There won’t be any more free tickets this season, but Klatt said options are open for the future.

The arena will feature new music selections in the game’s first hour, which Klatt is more “consumer friendly.” The music change is designed to keep the atmosphere upbeat, he said.

Also, senior post Cyrus Tate worked out on his ankle around 4:30 p.m., but hobbled throughout. He just came to the arena in a warm-up outfit and dragging his left ankle, meaning he won’t play. Tate has missed the last four games with a severely sprained left ankle.


Green injury led to Warner’s success

January 28, 2009

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Kurt Warner’s first big chance in the NFL came at Trent Green’s expense.

It’s almost surreal to think that Green, who was born in Cedar Rapids, completed 28 of 32 passes in the 1999 preseason before then-Chargers safety Rodney Harrison shredded his planting leg. Green lost his job, and Warner became the NFL’s ultimate rags-to-riches star.

 

Green rebounded to play six mostly stellar seasons in Kansas City. He’s thrown for 28,475 yards and 162 touchdowns in 11 seasons. Warner’s stats are almost identical. He’s thrown for 28,591 yards and 182 touchdowns over 11 seasons.

 

Back in 2004, when I covered the Chiefs for the St. Joseph News-Press, I wrote this epic about Green and his life story, which is nearly as compelling as Warner’s tale. Usually in sports, not everything is roses and ice cream for everybody.

 

 ——-

 

 

  KANSAS CITY — Trent Green doesn’t blame Rodney Harrison for the wicked hit that ended his dream season.

    He still grimaces about the disappointment and the six long years of rehabilitation that continues to this very day. But there is no blame.      

    Green, the Chiefs quarterback, just looks at his scar on his left knee as a badge of toughness. Courage. Mental focus. The scar hides the repaired anterior cruciate ligament, medial cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus, and tells a story of perseverance and character. It keeps the 34-year-old meticulously moving forward. Without regret.

    The first chapter of Green’s story ends on the carpet of St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome. That’s also where the second chapter, the one he continues to write, begins.

    On that rug in his hometown, Green started his third preseason game for the St. Louis Rams. His exhibition numbers were staggering  28 completions in 32 attempts. Against San Diego, Green had thrown a pass with his left leg planted in the rigid artificial turf. Harrison, then a Chargers safety, fell to the ground after a block from Rams running back Marshall Faulk. Harrison climbed from the carpet and drove into Green’s left leg. Harrison destroyed normal structure of Green’s knee and shattered a season that ended with triumph for his team.

    But not for him.

    He owns the Super Bowl ring earned by the 1999 St. Louis Rams, but he doesn’t wear it. It wasn’t the team he took to the Super Bowl  it was the same team he supported as a good teammate.

    “It took me six years to get to that point,” Green said. “I finally felt like I had a team of my own, and I proved to myself that I could play in this league. And then to sit back and watch somebody do the things I had aspired to do, and do the things I had hoped to do, it just gave me that much more motivation “

    He rehabilitates his knee on off days and after practices. He stretches it and proudly proclaims it’s better now than at any other time since his fourth surgery.

    Harrison, now a starting safety with the world champion New England Patriots, has a reputation as one of the NFL’s toughest and, sometimes, dirtiest players. He also continues to torment Green.

    In a Monday night game on Nov. 22, Harrison stepped in front of tight end Tony Gonzalez and intercepted a Green pass in the end zone. Two years earlier, officials slapped Harrison with a personal foul penalty for a helmet-to-chin hit against Green that indirectly led to a Chiefs win. Even Green admits that Harrison straddles the border of tough play and dirty play.

    “I know everybody wants me to say bad stuff about him,” Green says, “but the only thing I can say is (that) I wish it hadn’t happened. It changed the direction of my life and my career. It changed the direction of Kurt (Warner’s) career. It potentially changed the direction of the team and what happened that season and the people involved.

    “The bad that came out it, in terms of a player and a person, I’ve probably taken more good out of it.”

   The beginning

    Ironically, a San Diego representative tried to end Green’s career twice. The Chargers drafted Green in the eighth round  which no longer exists  in 1993. He sat for one season as the Chargers’ third-team quarterback and was subsequently released after the season.

    “When I was first cut in San Diego, that is the first time somebody had told me that I was not good enough to play  at any level,” Green said. “Being cut for the first time and saying, Hey, you can’t get it done,’ that hurts, and that took a long time to get over.”

    He signed with the Canadian Football League’s British Columbia Lions in 1994. Green dressed for just two games before he was released again.

    Another shot, perhaps his last shot, remained. He knew if it didn’t work out, maybe a career shift was in order. He always liked the thought of coaching, anyway.      

    He met with Washington coach Norv Turner in early 1995. After setting just about every passing record imaginable at the Indiana University, Green just wanted a chance to show what he could do.

    After all, he did it before.

    “There was a little indoor soccer field that was near the Redskins practice facility, because they didn’t have an indoor facility,” Green said. “We went over to this barn in the middle of February, had a little workout there and right then and there, they offered me a contract.”

    Turner was Dallas’ offensive coordinator and helped the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 1992 and 1993. He liked Green and planned to draft him, but San Diego selected him first.      

    “When I went to Washington,” Turner said, “we were looking for a young guy to come in and give him a chance. Trent came in and I’ll tell you this: for that period of time until he got the chance to play, he was the hardest-working guy on our team.”

    Unfortunately for Green, he was stuck behind two younger quarterbacks  Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte, and both had more experience. Shuler was the franchise’s top draft pick in 1994 and his development was the Redskins’ top priority.

    Green didn’t play for even one snap during his first two seasons in Washington. In 1997, he attempted one incomplete pass  in the season finale.

    But everything changed in 1998. By then, Shuler was out of the league and Turner’s faith in Frerotte  who’s known primarily for injuring his neck by head-butting a wall after scoring a touchdown in 1997  waned. Green’s preseason passes were sharp and accurate. Other coaches watched him in scrimmages and the preseason and wondered who he was and where did he come from.

    “I remembered when we scrimmaged Pittsburgh and Bill Cowher said, Who’s that No. 10? He’s awfully good-looking,'” Turner remembered. “I said, He might be our best guy; we just need to play him.’ That was the year we ended up playing him, and he did awfully well for us.”

    By the second game of 1998, Turner inserted Green, and the quarterback became a bonafide NFL starter. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 3,441 yards and 23 touchdowns. He suddenly was a hit on the Beltway.

    But stalwart Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke died shortly before Green’s success, and the team was up for sale. Prospective owners failed to assure Green that Turner or Redskins general manager Charley Casserly would stay in their positions, and Green shopped around.

    “There was no direction, and it was very frustrating for me because with my ties with Norv. I really wanted to stay,” Green said. “I enjoyed my four years there, and I enjoyed playing for him.”

    Contributing to the situation was the departure of Green’s quarterback coach, Mike Martz, who had just accepted the offensive coordinator position with the St. Louis Rams.

    “We could never really get anything in concrete before free agency started, and then with Mike going to St. Louis, and it just all kind of unfolded that way,” Green said.

    The hit

    The St. Louis Rams signed Green in a last-ditch effort to save then-coach Dick Vermeil’s career, as well as shed the label as the NFL’s worst team of the 1990s. The Rams moved from Los Angeles after the 1994 season and entered the 1999 season tied with Cincinnati for the worst record in the decade. After two seasons, Vermeil’s approach seemed to wear thin with players.

    Green seemed a natural fit in St. Louis. As a product of nearby Kirkwood, Mo., Green brought consistency to an offense that was just starting to take off.

    Before the draft, the Rams traded for underachieving, yet talented, running back Marshall Faulk to couple with top-notch receiver Isaac Bruce. They drafted future Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt. The result was mesmerizing that preseason.

    Green completed almost 88 percent of his passes for 406 yards and posted an extraordinary passing rating of 126.8. But after suffering his massive knee injury, Green’s life changed forever.

    He anguished through four surgeries to repair the knee. He watched his backup, former stock boy Kurt Warner, become possibly the greatest success story in NFL history. Warner’s path paralleled Green’s in many ways: Warner moved from Division I-AA football to Arena Football to grocery stores to NFL Europe to career backup to chance starter.

    Warner completed 65 percent of his passes for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns that season to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl title. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and his story captivated the nation.

    Green, conversely, watched the scene in disbelief. He could have led the Rams to the same success. His first real shot was over before it started.

    Some compared his situation to 1920s New York Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp sitting out a game, which allowed Lou Gehrig a shot to play. Gehrig then played in 2,130 consecutive games.

    “To tell you the truth, that was a lot of motivation to get back and to play,” Green said. “After hearing the Wally Pipp story 100 times, I didn’t want that to be my final story.

    “I didn’t want to be that Sports Illustrated Where Are They Now’ kind of thing.”

    Green went through excruciating rehabilitation just to walk again. He reflected on his career. He thought about Coach Vermeil, his wife, Julie, and others who helped him reach his status as NFL quarterback.        It was hard. But he accepted it.

    “As much as I’d like to sit here and say how bad it was and how negative it was,” he says, “I probably took more positive out of it than anything, and it’s probably made me a better person and player.

    “Don’t get me wrong  I wish it never happened.”

    Moving on

    Green played in eight games and started five for the Rams in 2000. Warner suffered a broken hand in a 54-34 loss to Kansas City that season, and Green capably handled the offense. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 2,063 yards and 16 touchdowns. More importantly for himself, he just got back out on the field.

    “It was very rewarding for me my first start with the Rams in 2000 against the 49ers,” he said. “Because of all that hard work and everything I’d gone through, in terms of the surgeries and the rehab  that paid off.”

    However, with Warner still the media darling in St. Louis and one year removed from the MVP, Green understood his chance wouldn’t come in St. Louis. Rams officials knew it, too, and started shopping him around.

    The Miami Dolphins were one of the first teams to pass on Green. Despite a below-average passing attack, then-coach Dave Wannstedt chose to stick with starter Jay Fielder.

    “We could go out in that parking lot and have Jay Fiedler and Trent Green throw side by side, and you couldn’t tell the difference,” Wannstedt said at the time.

    But Vermeil, who retired after the Super Bowl, re-entered coaching, this time with the Kansas City Chiefs. In an odd shake-up, Pro Bowl quarterback Elvis Grbac, who threw for more than 4,000 yards in the 2000 season, opted for free agency and left Kansas City.

    The Chiefs looked for a quarterback, and Vermeil and Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders (who was the associated head coach in St. Louis) wanted to install a similar scheme to the Rams’  the match was perfect.

    Green left St. Louis for Kansas City, but at a stiff price. The Chiefs traded their No. 1 pick to St. Louis for Green and a fifth-rounder.

    Chiefs President Carl Peterson wore a Chiefs tie as he walked into the press conference announcing Green’s arrival. He heaved added expectations upon Green that first day.

    “It’s right up there with the Joe Montana trade,” Peterson quipped.

    Saunders also glowed after the trade. 

    “I’ve been around two great quarterbacks in my career  Joe Montana and Dan Fouts,” he said of the two Hall of Famers. “And I really, truly believe Trent Green has the qualities of those people. Great courage, great ability.”

    Green hobbled into the press conference with his wife and smiling young son, T.J., in tow. He was six weeks removed from another knee surgery and wouldn’t be able to practice until the 2001 training camp.

    “We have plenty of time,” Vermeil said at the time. “He’s got a lot of years left in his career. If it’s the middle of training camp, if it’s before training camp, if it’s the third league game, sooner or later, he will be our starting quarterback and play very well.”

    Growing pains

    Green’s start in Kansas City was less pomp and more pop. He struggled with an offensive attack that tried to stretch the field with receivers that didn’t fit the big-play profile. Green shouldered much of the blame and pressed, admittedly, too hard at times to make big plays.      

    “We were really trying to get everyone on the same page in terms of the program,” Green said. “Guys were just learning about Coach Vermeil and what he was all about, what his program was all about. Guys were trying to figure out the offense, the terminology. We were trying to figure it out from a personnel standpoint because from a personnel standpoint, it was set up to run more like a West Coach offense, and this isn’t a West Coast offense.”

    Guard Brian Waters said everyone was uncomfortable with the situation.

    “A lot of people were kind of skeptical because (Green) really hadn’t played that much since he’d been injured,” Waters said.

    In his first start as a Chief against today’s opponent, coincidentally, the Raiders  Green was erratic, completing 16 of 37 passes for 222 yards. But he connected with rookie Marvin Minnis for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the score late in the game. But like so many games in his tenure, the Chiefs defense failed to hold and the Raiders won on a last-second field goal, 27-24.

    Green started every game that season and threw for 3,783 yards. But he was intercepted 24 times and threw only 17 touchdown passes. His efficiency rating was near the NFL’s worst at 71.1.

    “He took a lot of pressure,” Waters said. “It was hard on him because he was really the only person on offense. Everybody else was learning, and he was trying to teach everybody.”

    Turning it around

    It all clicked.

    For all the sputtering and lack of production that encapsulated the 2001 campaign, the Chiefs offense became a machine in 2002. Forty points in a season-opening win. A 41-38 overtime loss to the world champion Patriots. Three more games of more than 48 points, including a beating of Wannstedt’s Dolphins and Green’s former Rams.      

    Overnight, it seemed, Green led the NFL’s most potent offense.

    Still, the accolades didn’t come. He finished with 3,690 yards, 26 touchdowns a 92.6 passer efficiency rating. But a Pro Bowl berth wasn’t in the offering.

    Green did earn respect from his peers and former coaches, as well as those who surrounded him. He became the leader Vermeil expected, and the team rallied behind.

    In 2003, the offense continued its torrid pace. Green threw for 4,039 yards and 24 touchdowns as the Chiefs zoomed to a 13-3 record. He combined with running back Priest Holmes, who set the NFL’s single-season touchdown record of 27, to produce one of the best seasons in team history.

    One moment that stood out for Green  and Vermeil  was the naming of the Pro Bowl roster. With ESPN’s cameras in tow, Vermeil screamed and embraced Green’s name for selection to the game.

    “I’m excited about all of the (Pro Bowlers), but if there’s a special air of excitement within me emotionally, it’s to see Trent Green do it,” Vermeil said. “When you go through what he has gone through and to end up being selected with the competition there is in the National Football League in the AFC for quarterback, it’s a real honor.”

    This season, Green again has put up numbers comparable with the league’s best. He ranks third in the NFL in passing yards with 3,860 and has put up a career-best 66.4 completion percentage.

    He’s led the Chiefs to the NFL’s highest scoring output the last three years. The team led the NFL in scoring last year at 30 points a game. This year, ranked second, the Chiefs average 31.

    Green has 21 games with a passer rating higher than 100. He has 11 fourth-quarter comebacks. He’s sixth all-time in passer efficiency rating.

    Yet, on Wednesday, he was named a alternate for this year’s Pro Bowl.       “I have never been a real big attention-grabbing guy, trying to get to a lot of attention drawn to myself,” Green said. “I am not super-flashy or anything like that.      

   “I am who I am. If that draws attention, then great and that is what made it so rewarding last year to go to the Pro Bowl.”

    Still unknown

    Despite his numbers, Green’s still a bit of an NFL anomaly. In press conferences, he is at times aloof; other times playful. His build is average at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds. He displays a rugged charm with a dark complexion and a slight silver hair tone. He puts people at ease with a wiry, easy smile but simultaneously almost appears distrustful.

    He generally keeps to himself and his family, which consists of his wife, Julie, and two sons  T.J. and Derek. He’s popular with his teammates but not really a vocal leader.

    He might be the NFL’s best unknown marketing quantity.

    In another market, Vermeil says, Green would reach celebrity status.

    “Media has an impact on it, promotion, everything Kansas City Chiefs QB Trent Green looks for ann open receiver.has an impact on it,” Vermeil said. “No question about it. It’s almost a secret that he’s the only quarterback in the National Football League that’s been over a 90 efficiency rating three years in a row. If he’s in Chicago, he might be doing commercials for a shaving cream because that’s what he’s done. It’s just a different part of the country. Maybe it’s better this way.”

    Entering his situation in Kansas City, Green says, the biggest fear was injury. He’s alleviated those concerns with a team record 62 consecutive regular-season starts.

     He’s also too young to talk about retirement. Although Green’s six months younger than Brett Favre, who’s perpetually dishing clues that retirement is close  Green’s never considered retirement.

    He enjoys playing too much.

    “There’s two different ways to look at it. I wish I had played much sooner than I did, but I had the benefit of learning,” Green said. “I am about 140 starts behind Brett. In terms of wear and tear, his body is in much different shape.”

    Turner, who coaches against Green today, said Green just needed an opportunity.

    “His is a great story because it wasn’t easy,” Turner said. “He played for us and played awfully well that year and ends up going to St. Louis and gets hurt  you know the story. It’s a great story.”

http://www.nfl.com/videos?videoId=09000d5d8007e52b


Podolak to return this year?

January 28, 2009

The University of Iowa, in conjunction with Learfield Communications, has suspended its search for a radio football analyst.

 

Long-time analyst Ed Podolak, who decided to retire after unflattering photos of him in an intoxicated state surfaced on the internet, will seek treatment for alcoholism. It’s likely he may return to the booth this fall.

 

Here is a news release from the University of Iowa this morning:

 

   Former University of Iowa football player and radio analyst Ed Podolak issued a statement today directed at all Hawkeye fans.

 

            “After considerable deliberation with my family and close friends, I’ve decided to seek professional treatment. Over the last few months the people closest to me in life have convinced me that treatment is in my best interest.

 

            “The unbelievable outpouring of concern and love from Iowa fans everywhere has also had a big impact on my decision. I’ll always be a Hawkeye, but their prayers and well wishes have made this decision much easier.

 

            “I continue to ask for the prayers and thoughts of all Iowa fans as I undertake this journey. My hope is that treatment will make me a better husband and father and a better person to my friends.”

 

            University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta had the following statement:

 

“I wholeheartedly support Ed in his decision to enter treatment. He will be in my thoughts and prayers. We’ll all be cheering for him. The number one priority is his health.

 

“I talked with Ed over the weekend, and he sounded positive and focused about his decision. He did not officially indicate he will be coming out of retirement, but in light of this recent development, I’ve spoken with Learfield and we have put the search for his replacement on hold.

 

“From Iowa fans everywhere, good luck, Ed!”


Palmer, Tate as starters together?

January 27, 2009

 It’s possible Iowa could start posts David Palmer and Cyrus Tate together once Tate recovers from a severely sprained left ankle.

Now, they don’t invoke any images of former Hawks Greg Stokes and Michael Payne, but the 6-foot-9 Palmer and the 6-8 Tate together can show something different to opponents on both ends of the court. Iowa’s offense to date has been guard-oriented but having two big men on the court has even Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter thinking about the possibilities. 

“Yet to be seen but you can speculate,” Lickliter said. “I do think there’s becoming a better understanding now if they play together. I think maybe David, offensively, can play the four and Cyrus, defensively, can guard the four. That’s what we’re looking at. We’re yet to see it but at least gives us a possibility. I’m not saying we’ll do it all the time.”

Strangely, the players haven’t worked at those positions together on the court. Before Tate’s injury, Palmer usually played on the scout team, showing Iowa’s opponent’s top inside threat. He also worked at the post behind Tate in practice.

 

“I think our games are very similar,” Palmer said. “Cyrus is a big, strong inside guy. I think I can play inside. I think we really complement each other because I can step out and shoot it. 

“I can get it into space to post up and obviously help him on the glass because everybody needs help on the glass so I think we’ll be a really good duo.”

Tate, who is doubtful Thursday with his ankle and may not play Sunday at Illinois, is more practical about the combination.

 

“We haven’t practiced together,” Tate said. “We played together in Prime Time (League), but that’s a totally different thing. I look forward to it, getting on the court with Dave and probably be able to make a difference.”

 


Inexperience card: legitimate excuse?

January 26, 2009

I’ve given Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter a pass the first four times he’s mentioned Iowa has one of the country’s least-experienced teams.

By giving him a pass, I mean I haven’t written anything about it. I figure if you dump your leading scorer last year in Tony Freeman, boot another part-time starter in Dan Bohall and start three freshmen in the process, well, that’s your bed. Now lie in it.

But Lickliter brought up the same issue Monday morning in the Big Ten coaches teleconference call. Here’s his quote:

“Well, I don’t know, you’d have to check this, but one of the assistants told me that he across a stat the other day that experience-wise, we’re the fourth or fifth least-experienced team in the NCAA,” Lickliter said. “You’d have to check it, I didn’t read it. And as I hear it, I’m thinking that’s pretty accurate.”

Lickliter has used the description several times the last four weeks. I’ve documented four times the description was mentioned in either a news conference or teleconference previous to Monday. And, really, it was probably mentioned a few more times.

If Lickliter had said it only once, then it’s a decent point. But by throwing it out there multiple times with no statistics to verify it, then it becomes, dare I say, an excuse. It’s being used almost as a crutch for Lickliter to explain why his team has failed to hold leads or challenge opponents on the road.

I am interested in Lickliter’s point, however. But I’m not interested in looking through every roster of every Division I basketball team to prove him right or wrong. So rather than examine each NCAA team, I went through each Big Ten men’s basketball roster. I looked at each roster and the number of years of experience, rather than chart minutes. Iowa has five seniors/juniors, which ties Illinois and Michigan for seventh. Penn State and Indiana each have four seniors/juniors.

Iowa’s seniors, Cyrus Tate and J.R. Angle, each have varying amounts of playing time. Tate is a senior co-captain who started 19 games last year and all but the last four this year because of an ankle injury. He should return this week. Angle rarely plays. Among juniors, both Devan Bawinkel and Jermain Davis either have started or played often within Iowa’s rotation. David Palmer has started the last three games, and totaled 46 points in those games, but barely played last year or this year before those starts. It’s likely he gets significant minutes the rest of the season.

So there’s four contributors with solid experience and maturity on the court through several junctures within a game. Bawinkel and Davis each played junior-college basketball last year so they’ve at least played college ball. Iowa starts two freshmen — Matt Gatens and Aaron Fuller — while Andrew Brommer has watched his minutes rise and plummet with the tide. Iowa is red-shirting walk-on John Lickliter and playing without Anthony Tucker, who was ruled academically ineligible.

There’s no question Iowa is a talented, yet inexperienced team. They’ve faltered late because of their youth and maybe their lack of depth. Lickliter accurately described the situation as “growing pains” and I couldn’t have agreed more. But it’s time to rest the “inexperience” card before it becomes a full-blown excuse.


BTN hires former Hawk as analyst

January 24, 2009

The Big Ten Network has picked up a former Iowa great to help call basketball games the rest of the year.

Iowa’s leading all-time scorer, Roy Marble, will serve as analyst for the Big Ten Network. He will call Iowa at Illinois in his first gig.

Marble scored 2,116 points in his Iowa career, which lasted from 1986-86. He leads second-place scorer Acie Earl by 337 points.


Readers rant on Carver attendance; here are solutions

January 23, 2009

Some may question Iowa basketball fans’ loyalty for not filling up Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. None of the games have reached 80 percent capacity, and only a few marketable Big Ten home games remain on the schedule.

But in response to a recent Gazette article about low fan attendance, several Iowa fans e-mailed me with responses about why they do or don’t go to games and provided unsolicited comments about how to increase attendance. Here’s a sampling of their responses:

One fan, who goes to about six games a year and attended the first game at CHA in 1983, said the style of offense is one reason the team struggles at the gate.

“I have twin sophomores at Iowa, both played sports and love basketball,” he wrote. “We purchased student tickets for them as freshmen, and they went to one game. Their reaction was watching Todd Lickliter with his head in his hands from behind the band is not what they were looking for. They want to get down by the court and yell their asses off, but Carver Hawkeye hardly warrants that activity. Maybe with only 8-10,000 showing up, they can restructure the seating and allow the students to get down on the floor on the opposite side of the floor from the benches. Of course some donors are going to have to move a little bit, but at least there will be some spark in the building! I stand and yell from our 39th row seats and the people around us seem to get a little peeved. Thought we were FANS!”

One Cedar Rapids fan, who previously bought season tickets along with his father, now has a son at UI who has a season ticket. The fan bought a partial ticket package for himself but said sloppy play, a mediocre non-conference home schedule (outside of Iowa State and UNI) and ticket prices are viable reasons for staying away from CHA.

“I make good money and could pay for a couple of season tickets if desired but both football and basketball prices have pushed me out,” he wrote. “I know people still buy football tix and we believe it is because the team is more successful in general. Football is more of an event, an all day social gathering and basketball isn’t treated that way. Basketball is essentially about the game.”

Another reader would like The Gazette to write a trend story to compare Iowa’s attendance with schools within the state and the rest of college basketball.

“Maybe, over the past decade, we have created our own destiny with some major strategical errors,” he wrote.

Others railed on the Big Ten Network, Lickliter’s personality and coaching style and both sides of recruiting. Some responses were a little over the top. But it’s obvious from the e-mails that people still are passionate about Iowa basketball, even if they’re not going to the games. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t write letters or e-mails.

The question for everyone connected to the basketball program is how do you fill the arena again? In 2001, Iowa sold out every game. Now, it’s likely the arena doesn’t hit 66 percent capacity this season. Team success and style of play are part of it, but not all of it. 

The best way to solve any problem is to admit a problem exists. Once that realization takes place, then a person or organization can move forward to correct it. Here are a few ideas for Iowa officials to consider in bringing back the fans:

1. Fall on the ticket sword. Cut some upper-bowl tickets to $5 a pop. Set up a booth at Coral Ridge Mall with giveaways, Herky and promotions. For 1-2 years, devalue the ticket to make it up 5 years down the road. An empty seat doesn’t cheer, it only echoes.

2. Turn the event into a minor-league baseball environment. Sorry, purists, but most people want more than the game for $27 a ticket. At home people can watch the game for free in their easy chair with their favorite beverage. At the arena you get concessions and go to your seat. Atmosphere is worth 80 percent of the ticket, that’s why people tailgate in Kansas City in 100-degree August heat and 20-degree December cold. Right now the arena has little atmosphere. It needs dizzy bat races, half-court shots and student dancing during TV timeouts. Maybe poke fun at the horrid weather and work with a snow blower company for January giveaways.

3. Concessions and pep band. It’s possible CHA has the worst concessions in the Big Ten, possibly in major Division I hoops. Many high schools have better concessions. The pep band doesn’t really inspire anyone outside of the fight song or the Star-Spangled Banner. It might need a combination of infused rock or rap music to keep the arena jumping. Make the concourse a pre-game destination rather than a path to a seat.

4. Get the students there. Rinse, repeat. Do whatever it takes. It’s a good step to have two freebie games this year. Make sure bus schedules go by the dorms. Walk into the lobbies and take them there. Give away T-shirts upon arrival. Buy them pizza. Anything to get them there. In 5 years, when they’re making a few bucks in the real world, they’ll either be buying or ignoring season tickets.

5. TV. It cannot be overstated how the Big Ten Network’s squabble with Mediacom affected attendance last year. In a transitional year with little on-court success, fans needed to relate to a new coach and the team. Instead, few people watched any games. Fans moved on and became uninterested with the program. This year, despite the agreement between the BTN and Mediacom, very few early-season games were televised. Instead, they were streamed live on the BTN’s Web site for people without Mediacom’s Connections channel. It’s difficult to lounge around on a couch and watch games on a laptop, especially if you work on one for a living. Get every game on television where everyone in the state, or at least Eastern Iowa, can see it.

There are many more reasons people don’t go. The economy tops the list. Weather, team performance, game environment, driving distance, children’s activities, tomorrow’s test … all of them are valid excuses. Blaming ex-coach Steve Alford and former player and convict Pierre Pierce are not. They’re done. It’s time to move on.

But it’s obvious that everyone who has a stake in Iowa basketball’s on-court and financial success needs to face reality. This is a program that no longer can sell itself just because it reads “Iowa” on the jersey. It competes with the movies, minor-league hockey, the neighborhood bar and the local restaurant for entertainment dollars. If it’s too expensive, boring, too far on a week night or, most importantly, no fun, then people will stay home. Can you blame them?


Networks to feature Warner, Gatens

January 22, 2009

Be ready for all Kurt Warner all the time next week on the major sports television networks.

The NFL Network is broadcasting 55 hours of live coverage from Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay. The network is airing both of Warner’s Super Bowl appearances, with his MVP effort against Tennessee as a member of the St. Louis Rams in 2000 running Monday night. The network is broadcasting New England’s upset of St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI on Tuesday.

If you need a Warner fix before the big one, here’s an NFL Network video of an interview featuring the Cedar Rapids native with former teammate and now network analyst Marshall Faulk.

http://www.nfl.com/videos?videoId=09000d5d80e31f7a

The Big Ten Network will air a feature on Iowa freshman Matt Gatens, son of former Hawkeye Mike Gatens, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday as part of its Big Ten Tip-Off Show. Matt Gatens, an Iowa City native, leads Iowa in scoring at 10.9 points a game. The show leads into Iowa’s road game at Penn State, which begins at 5 p.m.


GPA trips up Tucker

January 21, 2009

Iowa freshman Anthony Tucker apparently passed all of his classes but did not meet the Big Ten’s minimum grade-point standard, Iowa associate athletics director Fred Mims said Wednesday.
“(It’s) just academic progression,” Mims said. “Credit hours were fine, just the qualitative part of it.
Mims declined to discuss Tucker’s grade-point-average.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Mims said. “I’m just going to say he didn’t meet the standards.”
Both the Big Ten and the University of Iowa require freshman student-athletes to carry at least a 1.65 grade-point-average to be eligible. The NCAA demands all students to have six credit hours entering the second semester but not require students to maintain a specific grade-point-average.
On Jan. 6, Tucker told reporters he had nothing to worry about academically.
“I passed all of my classes,” said Tucker, 19. “There was one class that I struggled with. It was kind of a struggle towards the end of the semester. We weren’t really sure. But I passed all of my classes.”
Mims said it’s possible for players to pass all their classes but not be eligible.
Tucker, a freshman who was the team’s leading scorer until Sunday, will not play the rest of the season. Mims said Tucker can practice with the team, just not participate.
Tucker appealed at least one of his grades, Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said in a news release.
“Since the conclusion of the first semester, Anthony has been involved in an appeal process concerning his academic course work,” Lickliter said. “We have been informed that the appeal process has been completed and Anthony is not eligible, by Big Ten Conference standards, to compete during the spring semester.”
Mims said it is up to the student to appeal a grade.
“Any time a student feels they did better than what the coursework may be, they have a right to ask questions about that coursework,” Mims said.
Tucker (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) started eight of 14 games this year. He was one of Iowa’s top scorers early in the season, shooting nearly 44 percent from the field, including 42.7 from 3-point range.
Tucker scored a season-high 24 points against West Virginia in Las Vegas earlier this season. He averaged 10.4 points and three rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in eight games.
When asked Tuesday if all of his players were eligible, Lickliter said, “I don’t deal in hypotheticals at all, so we’re going to wait and get the officials. They’re eligible until classes start (Tuesday afternoon). I haven’t heard anybody so I’ll just wait to hear and I’ll know for sure at the end of the day.”
Tucker’s ineligibility ends a sordid season for the talented freshman. He acquired mononucleosis in November and struggled with fatigue. He was found unconscious outside an Iowa City bar on Dec. 7 and taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He had a blood-alcohol level of .194 and was charged two days later with public intoxication. He pleaded guilty to the charge Dec. 15.
Lickliter suspended Tucker for 11 days, then reinstated him Dec. 18. Tucker scored 12 points against Drake on Dec. 20. Tucker then did not play Dec. 27.


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