IOWA CITY — Anthony Hubbard exposed his life in front of Hawkeye world for the first time Wednesday and opened up about his prison experience, his teammates’ jokes and his future dreams.
Hubbard, a 26-year-old incoming Iowa junior, will play basketball this year fully aware that he’s a target for opposing taunts. He knows his life is viewed through a prism of intrigue and his coaches will bear the scrutiny of allowing an ex-convict to receive a basketball scholarship.
He feels pressure to not let anyone down, especially his family. It’s been a journey for Hubbard, who described in detail about how he feels to have another chance at life after spending nearly four years in prison for robbery from 2004 through December 2007.
“I think when I was announcing what college that I was going to, I think it really hit me then,” Hubbard said. “The whole junior-college experience from Odessa (Texas) to Frederick (Md.) was surreal. There would be games where I would be in tears before the game just thinking about where I had been or where I was at that point. But I think when I was sitting down at the table and there were my family and people around me to support me, my decision making, it really hit me and I kind of broke down.
“I think that’s the point where it really hit me that I was going to be playing in the Big Ten.”
Hubbard met with reporters Wednesday, in part to share his story and not have to retell it repeatedly in the coming months. He was flanked by Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and Coach Fran McCaffery, who described the recruiting process to bring Hubbard to Iowa.
McCaffery said he and assistant coach Sherman Dillard visited Hubbard three times at Frederick Community College. They met with Hubbard’s probation officer, the team’s coaching staff and spoke with coaches at Odessa Community College, Hubbard’s first school.
Before McCaffery recruited Hubbard, he discussed the process with Barta.
“I’m a realist. I know what the climate is,” McCaffery said. “That’s why right off the bat, I took what information we had and went to Gary, which is my responsibility, to say, ‘Hey we don’t know how far this is going to go. I need to know that we can go to the point where if we all feel comfortable, we’re going to pull the trigger and take him. If we’re not going to do it, let’s not do it right now.’
“So the important thing for Gary was, ‘OK, proceed, but proceed with caution. Talk to everyone.’”
Barta and McCaffery also made sure UI President Sally Mason was informed “so she doesn’t get blindsided.”
Hubbard’s past caused nearly everyone in campus to meet with him on his recruiting trip. The basketball program still has public scars after former guard Pierre Pierce’s multiple convictions related to sex-abuse charges in the early-to-mid 2000s. Barta, however, refused to compare Hubbard with Pierce.
“The two poor decisions have nothing to do with each other; they’re not related,” Barta said. “The difference was, eight years had passed. A lot had happened in Anthony’s life and watching what he had done with himself during that period of time, I became more and more impressed as the process went along.”
Hubbard earned a high school diploma following his prison stay and had tried to gain employment upon his release. He went to work for a deck company and was fired because his supervisor’s boss was uncomfortable hiring an ex-con. He had friends talk him into playing college basketball and he gained a tryout in Odessa. He stayed there for a year, then transferred to Frederick, which is closer to his hometown of Woodbridge, Va.
Hubbard averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds a game last year and earned second-team junior-college All-American honors. He was sought initially by up to 50 schools and picked Iowa over Big Ten competitors Nebraska and Penn State in part because of McCaffery — and his wife’s apple dessert — and the fan support he witnessed when Iowa upset No. 6 Purdue in March.
He’s received solid support from his new teammates and rooms with sophomore Melsahn Basabe. He even took a lighthearted verbal jab from Basabe on Wednesday morning.
“I live with Melsahn Basabe and he woke up and I was like, ‘My foot was hurting,’” Hubbard said. “He was like, ‘Man you’re 30 years old.’ He was like, ‘You’re getting old.’ So I laughed it off. I know I’m going to get it from my teammates.”
Hubbard knows taunts from opposing Big Ten and in-state fans will be intense. But compared to prison, he said there’s nothing he can’t handle.
“I think that (prison) was the toughest point of my life, and I don’t think that it can get any worse than that,” he said. “I kind of use that as a gauge.
“I don’t think — still to this day — it will really hit me until (he plays in a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena) that actually happens.”