IOWA CITY — Jarrod Uthoff barely conceals his excitement for Friday’s basketball opener against UNC-Wilmington.
The 6-foot-10 Iowa sophomore watched two different groups of teammates play while he quietly offered encouragement. He sat in a suit last year at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and cheered on his teammates, one season after transferring from Wisconsin. It was uncomfortable, and he’s thrilled his waiting game is now over.
“It’s not easy to sit on the sideline. You get used it,” Uthoff said. “Sunday night, it was like, ‘It’s finally here.’ It was a little unreal.”
Uthoff, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson graduate, played 21 minutes in Iowa’s exhibition win against Augustana (Ill.). He was 1-of-4 from the field but sank four free throws, totaling six points. As expected, he did a little of everything: two rebounds, two steals, an assist, a block and no turnovers.
But he was apprehensive, especially early in the game. He missed his first shot and passed up other opportunities.
“I was a little nervous stepping out there for the first time,” Uthoff said. “But the more I played, the more I got comfortable.
“I definitely need to be more aggressive.”
Uthoff settled into his role when he re-entered the game before halftime. He was solid in the second half, and Coach Fran McCaffery expects his confidence will grow.
“I just keep encouraging him to shoot the ball when he’s open, to drive the ball, just go play,” McCaffery said. “Don’t be trying to make it a game of perfect. It’s not what it is. Just trust his talent and rely on his instincts. He’s got really good instincts on how to play, and he can really score. So go score, don’t turn shots down and try to get closer and then you drive into packs of people, then you get all jammed up and turn it over. Just take what’s there, and that’s easier said than done sometimes when you haven’t played a regular game.”
Uthoff is Iowa’s second forward off the bench behind senior Zach McCabe and likely will enter alongside center Gabe Olaseni. Uthoff is the Hawkeyes’ most versatile player but feels most comfortable playing small forward. He can post up on centers, dribble, pass from the perimeter and take shots from anywhere. He’s also a solid defender.
“He’s almost 6-10 so he can do a lot of things on the floor,” Olaseni said. “He can play two through five, actually one through five, because he can handle the ball. It’s just exciting to have someone with that versatility on your side.
“I’ve seen his confidence grow, his game evolve some. I’m just excited for the point for where it comes together for him and he starts executing offensively and defensively.”
Uthoff was the state’s Mr. Basketball as a Jefferson senior and averaged 26.2 points a game. He signed with Wisconsin and elected to red-shirt in 2011-12. At season’s end, Uthoff opted to transfer. Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan initially restricted Uthoff from contacting up to 26 schools, but Wisconsin officials eventually trimmed to list to include only Big Ten schools.
Uthoff and Iowa coaches were not allowed to contact one another until Uthoff stepped on campus during the 2012 fall semester. Uthoff had to pay his own way for one year and was unable to travel with the team last season.
Now, Uthoff has a full scholarship and travel privileges. He’s got built-in support from relatives and acknowledges fan expectations are high for him.
“It’s a good thing because it just encourages me to do whatever I can on the court,” Uthoff said. “It encourages me to get better.
“My whole game’s better. A, I’ve put on some weight. I’ve gotten a lot stronger, my handles have improved, my shot’s improved. My ability to create my own shot has definitely improved.”
McCaffery expects Uthoff will become a fan favorite.
“I think everybody appreciates a guy who really wanted to be here, and they know he’s talented,” McCaffery said. “He was Mr. Basketball in Iowa, and he’s going to be great. But he might have a bump in the road or two, but I think our fans will stay with him as he goes through that.”