IOWA CITY — Their shorts hang low, but nobody’s making a fashion statement.
They come with high promise, a lot of hype and their recruiting ratings are off the chart. Meet the future of Iowa basketball, this year’s five-member freshman class.
Two were Rivals’ top-100 recruits and all boast skill sets that should form the program’s foundation for the next four years. Actually, make that this year.
With 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury and 6-foot-1 point guard Mike Gesell at the forefront, this group of freshmen are expected to reshape the Hawkeyes into a contender. They’ve been described as basketball saviors, leading the proud program back to the promised land.
They’re also only teenagers. But they’re ready for it. Oh, man, are they ready.
“I definitely feel like I’m ready,” said Gesell, a top-100 player who hails from South Sioux City, Neb. “I’ve got tons of self-confidence, and that’s what you’ve got to have to play at this level. To be any good you’ve got to be confident in yourself. I feel like I can step in here and make an impact on the team however that is, whether that’s making guys better in practice or getting that chemistry up. Being a leader, I’m willing to do it.”
These aren’t your average freshmen who hope to contribute and work their way into leadership roles. They’re leaders now. They’re the faces of a new generation in Iowa City, and expectations haven’t been this high since … well, they were in elementary school.
“I think they welcome it,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I’m not worried about it. They’re not worried about. From that point, just move on. I don’t think it’s a big deal.
“These guys, they’re not afraid of it. They’re not afraid of any part of it.”
Woodbury was everybody’s high school All-American at Sioux City East, rated as a top-50 player by Rivals and Scout. Nearly every school in the country wanted him, and he chose Iowa over North Carolina. He talks about being a good teammate, which by all accounts is the case. But he brings a little swagger, too.
“I hope I bring a toughness, an attitude to win,” Woodbury said.
The interest in Iowa basketball is burgeoning again in the community. Iowa missed the postseason from 2007-2011, a drought that ended last year with a winning season (18-17) and a trip to the NIT. The players embrace the excitement and don’t carry a burden to perform.
“If you feel the pressure, your play is going to start decreasing,” Gesell said. “You’re not going to play up to your potential. You just got to block that out, not play to make mistakes, play to do some things well.
“You kind of got to block the pressure out,” Woodbury said. “I’m glad they have those expectations for us, but we’re going to play as a team and we’ll see what happens.”
But there’s more to the freshman class than Gesell and Woodbury. Point guard Anthony Clemmons, 6-1, was a state champion at Lansing (Mich.) Sexton. Swing guard Pat Ingram, 6-2, played on Indianapolis’ North Central team with Purdue freshman point guard Ronnie Johnson in a league that boasted several current Big Ten players. Kyle Meyer, a 6-10 forward from Alpharetta, Ga., played on the Atlanta Celtics’ AAU team, which produced NBA stars Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire.
They all know they’re walking into a market that’s hungry for a winner.
“I try not to look into all the hype,” Clemmons said. “It’s almost unbelievable not to look at it. But once you do, you’ve got to live up to it. Come out and play the way you want to play.”
Woodbury believes he’ll make an immediate impact in the Big Ten, widely regarded as college basketball’s best conference.
“That’s the plan,” Woodbury said. “If I’m not, then I’m going to be in a world of trouble.”
They’ve got expectations, but there are no banners hanging from Carver-Hawkeye Arena that read “2013.” It’s going to take some time, but excuse the freshmen for their confidence and lack of patience. They’ve got goals, and they’re lofty.
“We’re just trying to help everybody get better so we’ll be compete at that fast pace, the high levels, Kentucky and all those other teams,” Clemmons said.