"Guarded" Optimism

Oct. 17, 2003

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Listen to Steve Alford

Take one part experience and mix it with one part strong guard play and one part senior leadership and you have the makings of something that could be special, University of Iowa men’s basketball coach Steve Alford said in so many words Thursday at his team’s annual media day.

Alford said he believes teams that have solid play from their guard positions are better positioned to win Big Ten Conference basketball championships. And, while he wasn’t putting a “favorite” tag on the 2003-04 Hawkeyes, he did say he liked his group of floor leaders and also the fact that his fifth Iowa basketball squad is more experienced, deeper and, as a group, more talented than any he’s directed since arriving in Iowa City four seasons ago.

Iowa’s non-conference schedule includes road dates with Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Missouri Texas Tech and Louisville.

“Having more depth in the backcourt will allow us to do a better job of getting the kind of shots we want to get,” Alford said. “Our depth, I hope, will also make us a better defensive team and a better shooting team.”

Alford’s guard court is indeed a crowded one. Back after a solid freshman season is sophomore Jeff Horner, who spent more than 35 minutes a game on the floor last season learning what it means to be a floor general in one of the nation’s toughest basketball conferences. Horner averaged a little more than eight points a game a year ago, but he was Iowa’s second-leading scorer during the team’s five-game tour of Australia in August, averaging just less than 18 points a contest.

Right behind Horner on the scoring chart from this summer’s tour was senior guard Brody Boyd, who canned 19 three-pointers during the Hawkeyes’ swing down under – a good sign for the sharp-shooter who hit better than 42 percent of his three-point attempts during his sophomore season.

At the top of the scoring chart was sophomore guard Pierre Pierce, who averaged 20.8 points per game in his first action in over a year. Horner, Boyd and Pierce will be joined in the backcourt by junior Jack Brownlee, and freshmen Ben Rand and Mike Henderson.

At the other end of the roster, Alford thinks he has one of the league’s best players in senior center Jared Reiner. The 6-foot-11 standout became a force to be reckoned with during the final third of last year’s Big Ten schedule when he posted double-digit scoring in six of his final seven regular season games. Reiner was also a terror on the boards, collecting 10 or more in four of those final seven games en route to a Big Ten-leading average of more than eight rebounds a game.

“I think we have the aspects of a great team in the Big Ten,” Reiner told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “I definitely think we have the tools and the solid nucleus that we can make a run for the Big Ten title.”

Alford thinks this could also be a break-out year for senior forward Glen Worley. An honorable mention all-Big Ten player a year ago, Worley managed to rank second on the team in scoring a year ago with a 10.9 points per game average despite having fouled out in 12 games.

The 2003-04 Hawkeyes will also have on their bench sophomore forward Nick DeWitz, a talented player who shows strong skills both inside and out.

“DeWitz gives us something we haven’t had,” Alford told the Des Moines Register. “That’s a 6-8 shooting guard that can play inside or outside.”

“This is another typical year for the Big Ten. It’s going to be a challenge every night.”
Iowa Head Coach Steve Alford

Alford also sees continued growth from sophomore forward Greg Brunner, who played in all 31 of Iowa’s games last year – including 23 as a starter – and senior Sean Sonderleiter.

“This senior class has seen its ups and downs, and has been through a lot both individually and as a group,” said Alford. “I think they have a good chance of being rewarded for their perseverance if they keep working hard.”

Iowa’s head coach said the going won’t be easy…it’s never easy in the Big Ten. “This is another typical year for the Big Ten. It’s going to be a challenge every night,” said Alford.

The challenge for Iowa starts fast, too, beginning with a non-conference schedule loaded with big-time hurdles for a team that wants to break a two-year string of NIT invitations with a position in the big dance. Seven of Iowa’s non-conference opponents participated in post-season tournament action a year ago included NCAA Tournament participants North Carolina-Asheville, Louisville and Missouri. And, of course, there’s that date with Drake and former UI head coach Tom Davis in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in early December.

“It will be demanding and challenging, but, if what I saw during our preparation and trip to Australia is any indication, I think we should have a lot of fun. That’s what we’re looking forward to,” said Alford.

“We have six weeks between now and the start. We’re excited,” he added.