IOWA CITY — The situation was far from ideal for Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery when he walked on to Iowa’s campus four years ago. But McCaffery did walk into a program with outstanding leadership.
In McCaffery’s first year, center Jarryd Cole was a three-year captain and guided the Hawkeyes in their transition to a new coaching staff. Local product Matt Gatens unquestionably commanded the Hawkeyes during McCaffery’s second year with his high-caliber play and vocal leadership.
Last year, Eric May became a rock for the team with his guidance and toughness. This year, No. 14/16 Iowa (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten) has a different, almost nebulous form of leadership. It lacks the sole vocal authority of the three previous seasons, but Iowa’s players said the team still has the structure necessary for success and accountability.
“I think we have a lot of talented players so everybody is a leader in their own right and with what they do,” Iowa senior forward Melsahn Basabe said. “Different people bring toughness, some people bring defense. Dev (Marble) brings leadership in scoring, offensive toughness in being clutch. So I think everybody has their own identity that plays and that’s what they gravitate to as leaders.”
“We’ve got more guys who have the ability to lead and have that voice and also we’re a better team than we’ve been in the past,” said Devyn Marble, a senior co-captain with Zach McCabe. “We’ve got more guys that can contribute.”
Players gravitated to Cole during McCaffery’s inaugural Iowa season, which ended 11-20. Cole earned respect often without saying a word by how he carried himself. When he did speak, everyone listened.
Gatens became one of the Big Ten’s best players as a senior, which allowed players to follow his lead on the court. Gatens also had no problem with dispensing encouragement or confronting issues head-on in an 18-17 season.
Last year, May started just seven games but displayed a freakish strength in the weight room and a superior athletic ability, especially when dunking.
“I think when I was a part of those teams, those guys kind of had to (lead) because they were probably, because Matt was definitely our best player,” Marble said. “Jarryd was really the only guy returning, he was the only senior on that team from my freshman year, coming in with three freshmen. We kind of needed that as players.”
Marble, McCabe and Basabe are seniors but none of them lead vocally. McCabe is fiery but not talkative. Marble, the current Big Ten player of the week, also doesn’t say much. Basabe offers more words of encouragement rather than provide negative feedback.
“You can’t fake leadership,” Basabe said. “You have to lead in different ways. Me, I’m not a person to yell at people. I’m (full of) enthusiasm, getting people confident. A lot of times I talk to my teammates during the game at different spurts. I’m not the type to be demonstrative and that’s just not how I do it. I like to show people also through my play and just keeping everybody up, that’s the type of leader I am.”
“I think it’s more of my play on the court and my demeanor,” Marble said. “Being vocal, it’s not really me. I can be (vocal) and I’ve picked my spots. I think I impact more from a leadership standpoint by going out there and doing what needs to be done and hopefully my guys are following.”
It’s a different type of leadership structure to McCaffery, but he’s confident with how his team works together.
“Dev leads just by how he goes about his business. He’s not a big talker,” McCaffery said. “There are times I wish he would say more because he’s incredibly cerebral a player. You look at a talented athlete and sometimes you stereotype him. He’s a thinking‑man’s player, and I think he’s got more to share. But I think in some ways he’s constantly focused on what he’s supposed to be doing, and where he’s supposed to be going and things of that nature. And (junior Aaron) White has become more of a vocal guy.”
McCaffery describes both Basabe and McCabe as “workmanlike players” who avoid mistakes.
“Those guys have all come together, I think, in their own way and collectively have led very well,” McCaffery said.
There is value in having verbal leaders, the players said. White has emerged as the primary voice in huddles but the team’s collective experience diminishes the need for veterans calling out players.
“I think I’ve kind of stepped up in that role and got on guys and tried to keep my head on at the end of games in situations to make sure everyone’s doing the same thing, make sure everyone knows the time, score, fouls, and so on,” White said. “It’s kind of (leadership) by committee. It’s kind of a couple of us, taking responsibility of it and it works for us, obviously. You never needs just one guy to overpower everybody else.”
“I think now we’ve come a long way,” Marble said. “We’ve got a lot more experience. Even our sophomores aren’t really sophomores, they’re more seasoned. They started a lot of games their freshman year and been through a lot of battles and wars up to this point. I just think it’s the structure of our team.”
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