Oct. 14, 2004
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Iowa men’s basketball coach Steve Alford on Wednesday expressed a lot of hope for an “exciting” 2004-2005 campaign and a team that can be “very special,” when he spoke to the press in his annual media day.
Alford, now starting his sixth year as head coach at Iowa, said the past few years have thrown him and his team curveballs – with academic issues, players leaving the program, and injuries. The coach said this year was going to be the “year of the fastball.”
“Sometimes you hit the curve and sometimes you don’t,” Alford said. “I think the team did a great job with everything that was thrown at them. I think they did as much as they possibly could given the circumstances. Now we have to make sure that we say this year is the year of the fastball.
“We’re going to be aggressive defensively – putting as much pressure on people as we can – and hope the best that we stay healthy and keep improving. I like the makeup of this team. I like the demeanor. It has a chance to be very special.”
The 2004-2005 Hawkeyes have one senior on the roster in Ft. Dodge, IA-native Jack Brownlee, a walk-on who earned a scholarship for his final season. The team has four freshmen and two sophomores as well, so Alford hopes that the primary leadership will come from his core group of juniors: Pierre Pierce, Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner, who were all three named co-captains.
Pierce and Horner underline what Alford considers the strongest part of the team – guard play.
“I think over the last couple of years we’ve been able to hang in there and hang around and make some positives because of some really good, solid guard play,” Alford said. “But it hasn’t been deep guard play. This year, I think we’ve got the guard play and we’re versatile.
“Giving these guys the chance to play in a lot of different areas is something that we haven’t been able to do a lot in the past. We were small last year in the backcourt and this year we get bigger and more athletic, and that gives you more freedom from a coaching standpoint and that helps us defensively.”
Sophomore Adam Haluska, who was named among the top transfers by Athlon Sports, will start his career at Iowa with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. After a redshirt season last year following his transfer from Iowa State, Haluska, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard, will have the job of replacing Brody Boyd.
“I think if you look at a guy like Adam, he’s going to be asked to do a lot of things from day one,” said Alford, who also indicated that Haluska was likely to be a first-game starter.
After starting all 31 games for the Cyclones in the 2002-2003 season, Haluska was the second-leading freshman scorer in the Big 12, averaging 9.2 points per game. This summer, during the Big Ten tour, the Carroll, IA-native averaged 10.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Pierce and Horner, no doubt, have the greatest jobs to do in leading the guards.
Pierce averaged 16.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 2003-2004, and Horner averaged 13 points and 5.3 rebounds per game at point guard. Last season it was also not uncommon to see Horner play all 40 minutes.
Horner put in a team-leading 1,084 minutes on the court last season. He also had the best free throw and best 3-point percentages of any starter.
Alford said that Horner, at point guard, will be like the quarterback of the Iowa squad. He also said the 6-3 Mason City, IA-native was “hungry” for the role.
“He’s all about the team,” Alford said. “He has wanted this to be his team, and this being his junior year, he’s the leader, he’s the captain, he answers to nobody but the other two guys who have the leadership. I think he’s waited for this moment and now he’s got it, so I hope his encore is just to better himself and take this team, just like the quarterback does in football, to a whole different level.”
For the head coach, that “different level” is the NCAA Championships. After four straight winning seasons and four appearances in post-season tournaments, Alford says he’s feeling “internal pressure” to make his first appearance in the Big Dance since 2001.
“I think our guys are hungry for that,” he said. “Literally, we were a second and a half from being in the NCAA Tournament and winning 11 Big Ten games (last season). They understand how close they’ve been. They understand the game, and they compete. That’s what’s made it fun over the course of the last few years, the type of individuals they are.
“He has wanted this to be his team, and this being his junior year, he’s the leader, he’s the captain, he answers to nobody but the other two guys who have the leadership. I think he’s waited for this moment and now he’s got it, so I hope his encore is just to better himself and take this team, just like the quarterback does in football, to a whole different level.”
Head Coach Steve Alford on Jeff Horner
“They deserve (a trip to the NCAA), and I hope that they continue to stay to it, and hopefully, they’ll get some of those good breaks that have kind of gone the other way.”
Ultimately, though, the key measure of the success of the team will be how it performs on defense. Last season, opponents averaged 68.9 points per game to Iowa’s 71.4 and they scored more than 40 percent of the time.
“I hope we’re aggressive man-to-man,” Alford said. “We had to hang in there and not play where we would have liked to defensively because we had to keep Horner or Brunner out of foul trouble. Hiding people to keep them out of foul trouble is one thing, and now I think this year because of our depth, we can get back to playing the way we want to play.”
Alford said Wednesday that newcomers such as Haluska, fellow sophomore Mike Henderson and freshmen Carlton Reed and J.R. Angle will add the requisite depth at guard to make Iowa’s defense more punishing.
“Last year we were a team that was hard to guard, and I think we’ll still be hard to guard, but if we want to do the type of things that we want to do – win championships – then we have to buy in and understand how to play man-to-man defense,” Alford said. “If the guys do that, they have the ability to be really good.
“That’s probably my biggest concern going in,” added Alford, “because we have not played as much man-to-man defense as I hope we would have, and now these guys have to turn the switch. It’s not so much guarding one area and that’s all your responsible for, but you have to be responsible for your man and your help side and directing the way things go. That’s going to be an adjustment.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com