CEDAR FALLS — It’s not uncommon for athletes to know each other in high school, then become teammates in college. Typically, it’s one or two guys or girls per team who may have played together or known each other beforehand.
The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team, however, features five players who played high school ball in the Mississippi Valley Conference, and a few more who played with them on AAU teams.
With such a large portion of the roster having extensive knowledge of one another before this season started, the Panthers were able to jell as a team quickly.
“I think it’s really helped them. I think those things have really helped the chemistry of this group. They have a certain amount of respect for each other,” said UNI Coach Ben Jacobson. “I think that fast forwards that process of getting to know each other. (They) already know. Wes (Washpun) already knows what (Matt) Bohannon can shoot the ball, and Bo knows what Wes can do.”
Bohannon (Linn-Mar), Washpun (Cedar Rapids Washington), Matt MacDougall (Prairie), Max Martino (Kennedy) and Jeremy Morgan (Iowa City West) all faced off at one time or another while they were in high school, and on the AAU circuit, Seth Tuttle teamed with Washpun and faced off against transfer Paul Jesperson.
The rivalries of the past have now faded into a strong bond as teammates at Northern Iowa. To a man, each of the five who played in the MVC in high school all said that at this point, it’s easy to forget they were ever not teammates.
“Until you say it, you don’t really think about it, because I just see them as teammates now. But a few years ago I saw them as utter rivals,” Bohannon said. “So it’s different, but it’s fun. We know each other, we know what we play. Knowing that we’ve played against each other for so long and now playing together, it’s cool. It’s a really cool process.”
With AAU ball in the summer such a big part of the basketball landscape these days, guys like Tuttle spent as much time playing against his teammates in high school, even though he didn’t play in the MVC.
If there were any hard feelings at all from tough losses in the past, those have long since passed.
“It’s different. Once you go through the entire off-season of playing with each other, it’s basically like you never played against each other,” Tuttle said. “As much time as we spend together, you basically forget about that. You come so close to one another that it’s not an issue at all.”
But just like brothers, the teammates like to have some fun with each other from time to time. Every once in a while, the trash-talking will start, and old games get brought up.
Tuttle and Washpun both said they like to remind teammates how good their AAU team used to be – “We all kind of joke with each other and talk about past games — ‘Almost had you here, almost got you there,’” Washpun said — and it makes for some good-natured debates.
“It’s definitely always fun to bring up (high school teams), especially when we were playing,” Bohannon said with a laugh. “I’d kind of give Wes a little stuff for beating him (while at Linn-Mar) — but don’t tell him I said that.”
Jokes aside, Jacobson said the knowledge the guys come in with is centered on knowing what to expect out of their teammates.
And though the season hasn’t started out quite like the Panthers may have wanted — UNI is 5-6, including an overtime loss to No. 14 Iowa State — getting a grasp on the rules changes and finding a rhythm while gelling as former opponents and current teammates is invaluable.
“If you can get that to happen, I don’t know what number you could put on that — if it helps you twice as much or three times as much — I don’t know what number that would be,” Jacobson said. “I do know it’s important. It doesn’t always happen that way.”