The date of Brian Dolan’s hire as men’s basketball coach at Upper Iowa University — March 13, 2006 — is important.
It tells you something about Peacock basketball that year — the season was over. Seven years later, UIU is getting ready for the NCAA II Regional for the first time.
It was all part of Dolan’s master plan.
“It means everything,” Dolan said of his team’s at-large bid to the national tournament. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve stayed the course. They’ve done the work.”
Seven years ago, UIU didn’t have the best reputation in the state. Not only was the program struggling, but the roster was filled with players from outside Iowa.
Changing that roster was part of the plan.
“We really wanted to do it with Iowa kids,” he said. “But we had a hard time getting in the door.”
So Dolan spent that summer getting in school doors, visiting team camps and open gyms.
“It all started with that first recruiting class,” he said, mentioning former Solon prep Matt Lassen among his prizes that year.
The struggles continued, but seeds had been planted. That first team went 3-24 overall, 2-16 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Three years later, that group went 12-15, 9-11.
“This year’s senior class learned from those seniors” that year, Dolan said.
And learned well. The Peacocks take a 20-11 record (14-8 NSIC) into this weekend’s Central Regional in Mankato, Minn. They play Augustana (S.D.) Saturday.
The roster has 13 Iowans, seven from Eastern Iowa. Tucker Wentzien of Solon is the leading scorer at 14.7 points per game. Sam Elgin of Center Point-Urbana (12.6) and Jake Hughes of Cedar Rapids Kennedy (9.6) follow.
“They just play together,” Dolan said, another part of his plan. “We need the guy on our left or the guy on our right. We’re a team. The guys have to play together, and they do.
“We’ve preached since day one you have to be something bigger than yourself.”
While the Peacocks have reached their “ultimate goal,” they don’t want to be one-and-done in Mankato. The eight-team regional concludes Tuesday with the championship game — and a berth in the Elite 8.
“I’m going to pack three suits,” Dolan said.