Jan. 9, 2004
Sophomore Pierre Pierce prides himself on being a team player. And after having to take a redshirt last season, his line shows he’s happy to be back.
Through the first 10 games of the 2003-2004 season, Pierce is Iowa’s scoring leader with 161 points, having gone 57-of-128 on the season and starting all the games. Pierce has the highest rebounding rate of any guard and the third highest on the team with 59. He follows only point guard Jeff Horner with 33 assists, and he has 10 steals and six blocks.
Pierce, Horner and freshman substitute Mike Henderson team up to create a powerful three-guard front on this season’s Iowa squad, and the out-of-the-ordinary strategic decision by Head Coach Steve Alford has had positive results.
“We can beat any team offensively,” says Pierce, “and we were doing well until the UNI game, when we just kind of fell off and had to start really focusing on our defense.
“That’s a great thing about the Big Ten. There are a lot of great players to face every night, and they help make you a better player and competitor.”
Iowa sophomore Pierre Pierce
“We need to stay consistent too. Beating Louisville and losing to UNI is not. And at UNI, that one 3-pointer really took the life out of us. But when Jeff and I step up, it all adds up and it creates an effect.”
The 6-foot-4 native of Westmont, Ill., led the Iowa team with 114 assists in 2001-2002 – the third best ever for an Iowa freshman. And Pierce led the Hawks when they went down under last summer with 20.8-point-and 4.8-rebound-per-game averages, over the five-game tour against teams in the Australian professional league.
But despite his recent accolades, Pierce is still singularly focused on his recent statistical blemish. He leads the team in turnovers at 37.
“I have to limit my turnovers,” said Pierce consistently, even though he is one of the strongest defensive players on the team in addition to his offensive work. “I pride myself on defense. It takes effort and the mindset that you’re going shut them down tonight.”
Coach Alford has also felt comfortable putting Pierce up against the toughest individuals in the preseason in man-to-man defensive situations.
“Pierre’s been outstanding this year. (Missouri forward Rickey) Paulding (who Pierce guarded on Jan. 3) may not have another game all year where’s he’s held to no field goals,” said Alford.
“That’s a great thing about the Big Ten,” said Pierce. “There are a lot of great players to face every night, and they help make you a better player and competitor.”
In high school, Pierce placed second for Mr. Basketball honors as a senior, and he holds career records for points, rebounds, assists and steals at Westmont High School. He also scored 52 points in a game as a senior, which set the school’s record for most points in a match-up. Pierce even earned all-area honors as a freshman.
Considering his current records and recent history, it’s hard to imagine Pierce not being in a highly competitive basketball environment. Last year, though, he was not an active part of the Iowa roster, and the experience has forced him to reflect on what basketball means to him.
“I took basketball and a lot of things for granted,” he said. “And I love the game too much to do that.”
Pierce found practices to be his respite.
“The practices are what you look forward to,” he said. “They helped relieve a lot of tension and pressure.”
Pierce practiced on the Gold team and said he spent his time trying to make the Black team better in scrimmages.
“I focused heavily on basketball,” he said.
Now that Pierce is back as a full-fledged member of the Hawkeyes’ team, he’s devoted himself with renewed energy to making sure the senior members of the team, who he’s known for the past three years, “end on a good note.”
“That’s the thing about this team,” he said, “it has nothing to do with individuals. And that goes back to the seniors (and the tone they’ve set).”
With the Big Ten season in its infancy, Pierce is determined to make sure that this year will be the one in which the Hawkeyes break through.
“I think the only thing we need to prove is that we can compete with the rest of the Big Ten,” said Pierce. “We have a good mixture and good depth.
“This should be the year.”