CEDAR FALLS – He doesn’t boast the measurables of a prototypical floor general. Jake Koch stands 6-foot-9 and tips the scale at 255 pounds. The power forward frame keeps him in the frontcourt, but doesn’t prevent him from running the Northern Iowa offense.
Northern Colorado found this out first hand. Koch built a 12-3 run by himself to grow a 14-point cushion, into a 23-point lead. The two minute and 35 second stretch showed his depth as a basketball player. He sank a 3. He made three free throws. He sealed off a defender in the post for an easy layup after receiving a Deon Mitchell pass.
But the 10th, 11th and 12th points of the run showed what Koch means to the Panthers. Northern Iowa’s offensive possession began to sputter. From the left wing, without the ball, Koch pointed to Seth Tuttle to set a screen for Mitchell. The sophomore guard, used the screen and defense doubled him. Mitchell swung the ball to Koch, who up-faked. After last possession’s 3-ball, the defender over-committed to the fake, allowing Koch to drive to the basket, to sink the bucket and the foul. Panthers up 67-44.
“I just see what’s going on,” Koch said. “I believe Seth had the power forward on him. I told him to get out of the way because I had the five on me.”
The Panthers will lean on Koch again Sunday as they welcome St. Mary’s into the McLeod Center.
The redshirt senior is in his fifth year in Cedar Falls and has done it all. He’s watched his older brother, Adam, don the purple and gold. He’s experienced the taste of a Sweet 16 trip. He’s had to swallow the bitterness of sitting at home while other teams competed in the postseason.
“The one things that I really want to take from Jake is the basketball IQ he has. It’s unbelievable,” sophomore Seth Tuttle said. “He knows exactly where he’s supposed to be in every situation. He knows where everyone on his team is supposed to be in every situation. He knows how to read defenses. He knows when to pass the ball. He’s the smartest basketball player I’ve ever played with.”
It didn’t take long for Tuttle to latch onto Koch for mentoring. In Tuttle’s first exhibition game with the Panthers, Koch noticed the deer-in-headlights look on the freshman’s face.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re nervous.’ I said, ‘Yeah I am! I’m a little nervous,’” Tuttle said. “He starts singing a song. I’m like what are you doing, we’re about to play a basketball game. He starts singing and it calmed me down.”
Every game that year, Tuttle found a spot next to Koch for their pregame calming.
Koch’s basketball maturation started as a youngster in Ashwaubenon, Wisc., with his older brother. A near-7-footer now, on the court then, he was the youngest and the smallest.
“I couldn’t get a shot off,” Koch said. “So I would just pass the whole time. Otherwise if I shot it, it would get rejected.”
As a sophomore and junior in high school, Koch’s size began to give him an advantage on the court, but the lessons on the court remain today.
In his sophomore campaign he became the only Northern Iowa player in the Division I era to record 30 or more assists, steals and blocks in a season. To show it wasn’t a fluke, he did it again as a junior. Add to the totals his 36 3-pointers and 37 offensive rebounds and he was one of 14 players to accomplish that feat.
“He’s got a ton of versatility. He’s got a great personality. He’s prepared himself at a different level,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. “He’s much more prepared this year. I think we’re going to see a much more confident player this year.”
So far, so good. With one more game before conference play, Koch is well on his way to that mark again. He has seven 3s, 16 offensive rebounds, 17 assists, 17 blocks and nine steals.
Most of the time Koch doesn’t realize he’s filled the box score in nearly every category. After five years in the program, he makes it look easy. So much so that, when he’s sitting next to Tuttle on the bench, waiting for his name to get called, he’s not thinking about stats, they just seem to find him.
“I’m not really a stat-stuffer. I just try to do what’s there in front of me, whatever I see,” Koch said. “It’s worked out for me so far.”