IOWA CITY — Anthony Hubbard believes in second chances. Today, he’s glad the Iowa men’s basketball coaching staff does as well.
Hubbard, 25, signed a letter of intent Saturday to play at Iowa, the Hawkeyes’ third new player for next season. For Hubbard the date is significant because it was his late older brother Bubby’s birthday. The date also ends a personal journey that took Hubbard from high-school dropout and prison inmate to a second-team All-American junior-college player.
“It’s breathtaking for me,” Hubbard said. “I hope that it motivates people to never quit with their dreams, never give up. It’s never over. You can do anything that you put your mind to, and I’m a testament of that. I never dreamed that I would playing in the Big Ten or at any school in the nation for that matter a couple years back.”
Statistically, Hubbard has top-flight talent. He averaged 20.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and shot 64 percent this year for Frederick (Md.) Community College. Hubbard had more than 60 schools seeking his services, and his finalists included Big Ten schools Nebraska and Penn State.
But he’s also a felon. That scared off several schools and brought scrutiny to those who considered him.
Hubbard, 25, was charged with four felonies as a teenager in connection with burglarizing a house, robbing and beating a man on Dec. 13, 2003. Hubbard turned himself in three days later and within four months he pleaded guilty to robbery. He spent 3 years, 11 months in prison.
After his prison release in 2007, Hubbard floated around his hometown of Woodbridge, Va., before earning a high school diploma. He didn’t play high school basketball, but a close friend tried to get him a shot playing basketball at Frederick (Md.) Community College. The Frederick staff wanted him to take a year to study rather than play basketball so he instead earned a scholarship to play at Odessa (Texas) Junior College. A year later he returned to Frederick.
Frederick Coach Dave Miller said he was “very, very thorough” when looking into Hubbard’s background before giving him a chance to play.
“I think I’m a pretty good judge of people,” said Miller, who has worked in education for more than 40 years. “Everybody here agreed, including myself, that this was a good kid who made a mistake once in his life and he is a good kid that deserves a second chance.
“My feeling is that all of the experiences that he’s had from age 18 to prior going to Odessa have made him a much better person.”
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery had concerns, too. He poured into Hubbard’s background and discussed Hubbard’s recruitment with school officials who wanted to learn more about Hubbard.
“I heard that he was a really good player,” McCaffery said. “I didn’t really know anything about him. So of course we followed up on that. His coach (Miller) immediately told me what happened and said, ‘What I have to tell you is if he wanted to date my daughter, it would be OK with me. That’s how much I think of him. I’ve never had any problems with him. I recommend him without reservation.’
“So then of course we made sure folks here were at least comfortable pursuing that. So we needed to do our homework, and we did. We needed to get him here and meet everybody. We were satisfied after we completed our due diligence that he’s somebody we’d like to have in our program.”
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta didn’t talk about Hubbard’s specific recruitment but said he trusts the coaching staff.
“Recruiting-wise, I know who he’s talking to; (McCaffery) involves me in some of the conversations,” Barta said. “They work tirelessly. They are recruiting as hard as any staff I’ve seen recruit. Hopefully that will continue to pay dividends.”
Hubbard visited Iowa in March and fell in love with the school, the atmosphere and Iowa fans. He developed a strong friendship with Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe, who served as his chaperon. Hubbard said the meetings he had with everyone — especially Barta — made him feel comfortable that Iowa was the place for him.
“(Barta) was very enthusiastic about getting me to come to Iowa,” Hubbard said. “That is really what weighed heavy in my heart, is that my past didn’t dictate how they felt me about a person in the present.”
Hubbard, who has earned a 3.2 grade-point-average so far, is considering sports psychology as a major.
For McCaffery, the next step is developing Hubbard as a player within his system. Hubbard is a raw athlete with only two years of organized basketball experience. But his upside is limitless, according to Miller. That’s what motivates McCaffery.
“He’s a versatile player with a real complete skill set,” McCaffery said. “He’s powerful, he’s 6-foot-5, he can handle the ball, he can make a play off the dribble, he can rebound, he can pass it, he can make a 3. He’s got a real good feel for how to play.
“So I think he’s a guy that brings something to the table that our team needs. Now that’s the key to recruiting. You bring pieces that fit to other pieces that we have.”
Hubbard said he’s gained maturity from his prison experience.
“It matured me in a lot of ways,” Hubbard said. “It almost has to kind of mature you in some ways. It maybe opened my eyes, that one day you could be here and the next day you could be nowhere in sight.”
McCaffery said Hubbard’s age and experience can help Iowa’s younger players gain maturity. But he also doesn’t want to place that kind of pressure on him, either.
“I think he can (provide maturity) but at the same time, I don’t want him to feel like he has to do that,” McCaffery said. “We just want him to come in and be comfortable. If that happens, that’s great. I do think his maturity level is very unique. But I just want him to play his game and become the best player that he can be.”