CEDAR FALLS – Seth Tuttle turned, pivoted and sunk the shot countless times. Growing up in Sheffield, he considered it his bread and butter move. No one could stop it.
Then Tuttle introduced himself to the Barnstormers, an AAU team. He walked into a rec center in North Liberty and ran into towers they didn’t build in Sheffield.
“I turn and shoot my shot. I was like, oh this is going in,” the Northern Iowa sophomore said. “And it got just swatted.”
Six-foot-11 Will Artino sent the shot five rows into the bleachers. Artino got the best of Tuttle as a 15-year-old and again Wednesday. This time he turned away Tuttle as a member of Creighton.
“He just blocked me again,” said Tuttle of Artino’s only block in the Panthers’ 79-68 loss. He repeated phrase again, as if to question how it could happen again, “He just blocked me again.”
Tuttle won’t have long to mull the blocked shots. He and Northern Iowa face another Iowa foe, and not in singular form of an Artino. The Panthers welcome Drake to the McLeod Center Saturday. Both teams enter the game with nine losses and a 2-4 record in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The mediocre records only tell half the story of the intra-state opponents. All nine UNI losses came against the RPI’s top 100. Drake owns seven losses against similar teams. But the level of play isn’t far behind the major conference teams.
“This is my 12th year and the games are always highly competitive,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. “It seems that in some years that maybe one or two of the teams have been a little bit better. We’ve been on both ends of that spectrum, but for a couple years in a row now, all four teams have been good.”
The reason for the rise in state-wide basketball success can be found in the teams’ backyards. When Tuttle walked into that gym, and saw his shot swatted, so did his teammates Wes Washpun, Josh Oglesby and Jarrod Uthoff.
The list could act as an All-Iowa college all-star team. Wasphun transferred to UNI this season. Uthoff bolted from Wisconsin to Iowa. Both have wowed teammates in coaches in practice and are set to hit the court next year. When Uthoff does, he’ll join Oglesby on the Hawkeyes.
“The number of guy who are playing at a high level, at a collegiate level, it seems like, oh I forgot that guy is there, and this guy was that good and he’s playing there,” Jacobson said. “I think that speaks to the quality of the coaching that gets done at the high school level and even levels down junior high level. That gets down at the state of Iowa. “
The nation is beginning to notice that trend as well. Three Iowans competed on a national scale in the McDonald’s All American game from 1977-2009. In the last three years, Division 1 players Harrison Barnes and Marcus Paige represented Iowa in the game.
Tuttle has first-hand experience in turning fans into Iowa believers. On the same Barnstormers team, Tuttle traveled to Las Vegas for a tournament. The onlookers couldn’t compute how Iowa and Vegas lined up in the same equation.
Once the team took the court, the math began to check out.
“We were the ‘Iowa Boys,’ that the crowd just kept yelling, ‘How are these Iowa Boys winning?’” Tuttle said. “It’s because we know how to play together. We’re tough, we battle and we really understand the game of basketball. Our IQ is pretty high. It’s definitely a state you can’t overlook. There’s talent.”
It’s also a state that houses Drake, a team Northern Iowa can’t overlook either.
“The fans obviously know it’s going to be in-state, they’re obviously going to be able to follow and travel better,” Tuttle said. “It makes the atmosphere and the game more intense and that allows everyone to bring A-game.”