Lickliter talks about scholarships, ‘postponed’ visits

April 15, 2009

BOONE — Iowa men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter anticipates filling at least one of his three available scholarships but not at any cost.

“I’d rather have an open scholarship than to have somebody who’s either unhappy or doesn’t fit,” said Lickliter on Wednesday at the Boone-Story County I-Club event. “So we’ll be patient and continue to recruit hard — if it’s the right one. I’m not opposed to signing all of them, and I’m also not opposed to not making a move. I anticipate we’ll make another move.”

Wednesday, Iowa officially signed Schaumburg (Ill.) prep guard Cully Payne. Iowa still is waiting for the official letter of intent from Vincennes (junior college) forward Devon Archie. Iowa’s scholarship availability comes after four players with eligibility left the program shortly after the season.

Iowa originally had a visit scheduled Friday with Chipola (Fla.) Junior College guard Malcolm Armstead. But Armstead canceled the trip and instead will visit St. John’s in New York City.

Lickliter wouldn’t discuss Armstead or any player not officially signed with Iowa, per NCAA rules.

“All I can really say is they’ve (the visits) been postponed,” Lickliter said. “I can’t comment any more than that, but they’ve been postponed.

“It’s a funny thing. You have to deal with what is, and just deal with the facts and be thankful for what you do have. What I continue to say is the group we have, I’m so excited about and so that’s where my focus is right now.”

Lickliter couldn’t comment on Archie, but he raved about Payne, a 6-foot-1 point guard. Payne originally committed to DePaul while in eighth grade, but changed his mind last year. Payne then signed with Alabama but was released from his scholarship after Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried resigned.

Lickliter said he targeted Payne last summer when Iowa held a basketball camp. But the camp was cancelled when floods devastated Iowa City last June.

“It was somebody that (Iowa assistant coach) Chad Walthall had known about him,” Lickliter said. “We knew him, we were always impressed with the way he played the game and what he brought to it and when the opportunity came, it made a lot of sense. It makes sense to him, and I love that. When it makes sense to both of you, and you agree, then we knew it was a great fit.

“You never know what’s going to happen, and so we didn’t anticipate it (Payne becoming available). But I think it was probably a benefit of Chad’s efforts through the years.”

Payne averaged more than 22 points and seven assists last year before suffering a stress fracture in his back. Payne told The Gazette last week when he committed to Iowa that he compares his style of play with perennial NBA all-star Steve Nash.

“He plays at a great pace,” Lickliter said. “He’s very competitive. He’s a very capable scorer, but he’s not defined by that. He doesn’t have to score to feel like he’s successful. So I think he’s somebody who gives us a lot of poise in the back-court and our other guys are working extremely hard.

“I think we’ve got positions filled that are going to complement one another, and I’m excited about the chemistry of this team. And he adds to that.”

Archie, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Indianapolis, averaged 6.8 points and six rebounds last season for Vincennes. He started 19 of 30 games. Lickliter wouldn’t comment about Archie.

“We’re expecting one other (signing) but the rules are until it’s in hand, you can’t make comments,” Lickliter said.

Iowa signed two players last fall: Dubuque Wahlert guard/forward Eric May and Sioux City Heelan center Brennan Cougill. Returning to the team next fall are incoming sophomores Matt Gatens, Aaron Fuller, Andrew Brommer and John Lickliter; junior Jarryd Cole and senior Devan Bawinkel. Current freshman Anthony Tucker, who was ineligible for the second semester, is on pace academically to rejoin the team.

Leaving the program were guards Jeff Peterson, Jake Kelly and Jermain Davis, and forward David Palmer. Cyrus Tate and J.R. Angle have graduated or will graduate in May.

Lickliter joined wrestling coach Tom Brands and other Iowa coaches at the first I-Club stop this spring. About 175 people showed up at the event. The Boone-Story I-Club includes Ames, home of Iowa State.


Future of Prime Time League in doubt?

March 11, 2009

Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter told reporters last week that he wasn’t sold on the Prime Time League as the best way for his players to compete during the summer.

“I wish we could find a way for them to really compete three or four nights a week,” Lickliter said. “I’ve said this a few times, one of the things that I think was such a great benefit at Butler was that everybody came back in the summer or least part of the summer. We had pros and all and that, and if you lost, you had to go to the west gym so you were playing pick up games where there was a game to eight, you were competing hard and there was something on the line. You didn’t want to lose, you didn’t want to have to work your way back in.”

Twelve of Iowa’s 13 players (all but injured Jarryd Cole) competed in the Prime Time League last summer. Players from other colleges, including Missouri Valley Conference champion Northern Iowa, also play in the league.

Iowa City attorney and Iowa City Regina boys’ basketball coach Randy Larson, who runs the Prime Time League, wrote a letter to The Gazette about the league’s future. He wants to continue the league but is not committed to a 24th season unless Lickliter commits to the league.

Here’s what Larson wrote, unedited:

Judging from the comments I personally get and those I see on the web, there is some continued interest in the future of Prime Time, after Coach Lickliter’s comments at his press conference last week.  He told me the next day that all he was saying was that his approach, given the fact that we aren’t as good as he wants us to be, is that every single thing that might affect the program needs to be evaluated.  I certainly agree with that.  I believe Prime Time has been good for the Hawkeyes and perhaps in the evaluation process, Coach will agree.  I appreciate his oft-repeated words of praise for how we do things in Prime Time and his compliments to me personally and I consider him a friend and an incredibly able coach.  Anything he wants us to do differently, we would be glad to do. 

What I think Hawkeye fans should be most excited about is the total commitment Coach Lickliter has to being as good as we can be, and how pervasive that attitude is throughout everything he does, everything his outstanding assistant coaches do, everything he has his players do. His competitiveness, so evident in his visible frustration and in his comments, is our best guarantee that the Hawks are going to achieve greatness during his tenure.  Count me as a huge supporter of his approach, of him personally and of his choices about every aspect of the program.  

Here’s what I like: 

He chooses players that care about team success more than anything, which means he has a smaller pool to choose from than most coaches, but also that his players are going to be a joy to watch.  Matt Gatens, Jake Kelly (a Butler recruit too) and Eric May are marvelous examples of players with skills, athletic ability, talent and a commitment to playing the game the right way, but most importantly, with the kind of character that makes them the kind of kids we’d all love to claim as our own. 

He’s that great combination of positive and demanding, compulsively detail-oriented about coaching their skills, meaning players are going to improve every minute they’re on campus. 

He’s an x-and-o’s genius, as illustrated for example by how Penn State’s defensive choice to switch on our screens got them beat by his adjustment of going inside, even to the extent of playing his two best centers together for the first time all season.  Another example was forcing Minnesota to go small when their initial lineup couldn’t handle our schemes offensively.  

He’s a true gentleman, polite, generous, humble, gracious in the spotlight, yet he’s confident, smart, doesn’t waver in his beliefs, and his basketball philosophy is comprehensive, innovative and logical and eventually, will be universally accepted as extremely effective.  He’s very similar in many ways to Coach Davis, whom many of us admire greatly as a person and a coach.  The defense is already immensely impressive and the offense will become so as the talent and experience level increases.  To do what they’ve done this year, with the level of youth and depth he’s done it with, not to mention the injuries to 3 starters, should make Hawkeye fans deleriously happy, rather than grumbling. 

Instead of mentioning the obvious, which is that Iowa doesn’t have superiority over most of our rivals in any of the top 8 or 9 assets in recruiting, that being population, close access to great athletes, tradition, climate, facilities, prospects for a national championship, boosters that will cheat for you, attractions like mountains or oceans, or great academic reputation, he just says we’ll keep working on being the best we can be.  He recognizes and sells recruits on what we have, which is great people, a nice quality of life, enthusiastic fans, great teammates, excellent coaching, and a commitment to integrity and effort and to improvement as people and players.  Isn’t that what we should want, is a coach who himself, and through his players, adds to our reputation as a place of great courtesy, integrity and work ethic, not one who seeks out talented prima donnas who under-achieve and are only looking for short-term individual success? 

As to Prime Time, it was intended to be a summer league that promotes team play and development of good habits by having coaches that encouraged that kind of play more than individual skill-development, as seen in most pickup games.  Personally, I think our volunteer coaches and the vast majority of our players have done a remarkable job of commitment to raising the level of play far above a pickup game, and I think it’s indisputable that the players usually try to play hard and the right way and that the fans and players both enjoy it.  Last year’s champions were a great example of teamwork beating talent, as 10 guys that had never started a Division I college game won the championship over teams that featured several Division I starters, by playing the right way consistently.  Of course it’s not as good as a college game, but both the talent and the style of play are far above what Iowa players can find in the off-season anywhere else around here. 

 What Coach Lickliter saw in Indianapolis during the summer that he liked is something I grew up on and have loved and embraced wholeheartedly for the last 40 years, which is pickup games where you play against the best players available, and where if you lose, you sit.  That’s how State Gym and Beyer Hall in Ames worked and how the Fieldhouse here works on those busy afternoons when losing means there are 3 teams that have next.  So I agree with his sentiments about that being the best way to ensure competitiveness.  There’s no better way to make the games intense than to know that if you lose, you wait an hour or go home.  Coach might not be able to do anything about the level of talent in Iowa City pickup games but making sure they play hard and properly and that losers sit is a good thing to do.  Frankly, I believe any game Matt Gatens is in, he’ll insist that it’s a good one.  I hope Coach Lickliter eventually decides that 10 Prime Time games a summer doesn’t substantially detract from his program or even helps it, as I do, and that the publicity and fan interest, and fun for his players, are good things. But I understand completely how much college coaches want their kids playing their style all the time, to develop their habits and style of play consistent with how they should play during the season.  And without practices and the level of authority over the players a college coach has, we can’t approach the same degree of accountability.  As always, we’ll encourage our Prime Time coaches to reinforce proper play, to sit even the Iowa players when they don’t play right, and to entice the very best talent available in Iowa to participate.  If Coach Lickliter decides it doesn’t fit into their off-season program, we’ll enthusiastically support his decision.  He deserves support for all his decisions, because I believe wholeheartedly in his judgment, ability and commitment. 

By the way, I expect Game Time for the women will continue, from what I know at this time.  And as soon as I know what the future holds for Prime Time, we’ll let you know.  Coach Jacobson at UNI is very hopeful we’ll continue and we hope to.  But if we don’t, it’s been 23 years and that’s a lot of basketball players that enjoyed a lot of games.  

Basketball revenue shows rapid decline at Iowa

February 21, 2009

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s men’s basketball program has stumbled on the court in recent years, advancing to just two NCAA tournaments since 2001.

Financially, the program has faded even faster. For the last four , Iowa’s men’s basketball program’s profits have tumbled by $2.2 million the last four years. From ticket sales to total revenues and profits, the program is in a monumental slide that affects nearly every sport at the university.

In the 2005 fiscal year, Iowa’s men’s basketball program generated a $6 million profit with revenues exceeding $10.6 million. In 2008, men’s basketball revenues slowed to $9.255 million and expenses soared to nearly $5.5 million, giving the program a profit of less than $3.8 million, according to figures provided to The Gazette by Iowa through the Freedom of Information Act. Some of that drop is because of an accounting change that shifts about $1 million annually from basketball revenue to general revenue. But that change doesn’t affect attendance or ticket sales.

Iowa is on pace to post its worst attendance season in recent history. With three home games left on its schedule, the men average 10,372 fans a game. That’s about 400 fewer per game than last year, which is lower than at any time since 1980. And those attendance figures combine tickets sold with fans attending games with free or reduced tickets.

Iowa’s ticket revenue has plummeted to even greater depths. In the 2005 fiscal year, the men’s basketball team generated more than $4 million in ticket revenue. That number drifted to $2.85 million last year. This year, it’s headed even further down.

“I think we’ll see another little drop,” said Rick Klatt, Iowa’s associate athletics director for external affairs. “Ticket sales were flat or had a little drop, and we have not had single-game sales at the full price that we would have needed. There’s lots of reasons for that.”

In an effort to stem the hemorrhaging ticket sales and recover some revenue, Iowa began offering $10 ticket general-admission tickets for the final five home games. That has helped lift Iowa’s attendance average by more than 500 — Iowa had averaged 9,858 fans before the surge. Also, Iowa allowed student season-ticket holders to bring a friend to each game for free.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta endorsed the change as a chance to reclaim revenue.

“When we’re talking about our bottom-line budget and we’d taken a look at what we’ve sold so far, we just decided that this made the most sense and it was the right time to do it,” Barta said after the $10 ticket plan was announced.

Barta said he and Iowa’s athletics administration have three goals for changing the ticket policy.

“One is to help out people in tough times by making a very affordable price,” he said. “Two, selfishly, we want people to come out and support what I think is a very young and up-and-coming team. We want to fill the arena.

“Third, we want to make sure we get closer to meeting budget because right now, it doesn’t take much to figure out that our numbers are down and that does affect the budget.”

Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter has little to do with the marketing or financial profile of his basketball program. He just wants to fill the arena.

“I really wasn’t involved, but I did look under our basket, and I wanted some people back there so I think it’s filled that need,” Lickliter said. “I don’t know about all the different marketing strategies. I’ve heard (about) the $10 tickets, maybe that really played a part in it. And if so, hey, I’m just glad they’re there and we did something to get more Hawkeye fans in there. … As a basketball coach, you just let them (the fans) in. You want your fans.”

The reasons are plentiful for Iowa’s attendance decline. Some fans blame former Coach Steve Alford. Others blame Lickliter or his team’s defensive style of play. Ticket prices, the economy, last summer’s natural disasters, winter weather, game times and walking distance from parking lots also are factors used when officials or fans explain why attendance lags.

By providing cheap tickets and some freebies, Iowa administrators hope to grow its future base. Klatt calls it “a sampling opportunity.”

Slow ticket sales isn’t exclusive to Iowa. Indiana has offered $5 balcony seats, and Klatt pointed to Northern Iowa’s sluggish crowd against Drake on Wednesday where only 5,109 fans showed for an instate game with Missouri Valley Conference title implications.

“I think that’s evidence we’re all feeling economic pressures,” Klatt said. “But I think there’s a lot to be said for us operating in the Corridor, who really took the brunt of the tornadoes and the floods.

“We’re under even deeper pressure because a big chunk or our audiences just aren’t in the mood or aren’t deciding to get out and attend basketball.”

Both Klatt and Barta said the department will re-examine the basketball program following the season. That could include different marketing strategies, ticket prices or an assortment of possibilities.

“One of the things that I think we need to make sure of not doing in intercollegiate athletics is taking for granted someone’s entertainment dollar,” Barta said. “Everything is on the table; we’re just trying to make it a better experience.”