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.
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.