Speeding Up to Slow Down

Nov. 8, 2004

Head Coach Steve Alford will be looking at the pace of his new team of Hawkeyes at their first exhibition game against Upper Iowa on Wednesday night, but his new center will just be looking to slow down.

Alford said Monday at his weekly press conference that he didn’t like the pace of play at Saturday’s Black and Gold Blowout scrimmage, and that he would be closely scrutinizing his players’ levels of fatigue against the Peacocks.

Iowa is slated to open exhibition play at 7:05 p.m. inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday. The game won’t be broadcast on TV or on the Hawkeye Radio Network.

“I told our guys we looked a little tired in the second half (of the blowout),” Alford said, “and that’s a mental thing because they’re in pretty good shape. It’s a mental toughness thing, so I want to see their mental toughness in putting together 40 minutes.”

Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t include substitutions and that had a lot to do with the players’ fatigue, the coach noted. But Alford was also quick to point out that an up-tempo game will make demands on his players.

“The pace at both ends will dictate what (our opponent) does offensively,” he said.

Alford added that he wasn’t pleased with the progress of the man-to-man defense that will also be a centerpiece of Iowa’s new look.

“I think that’s the area where we have the furthest to go,” he said. “The two areas that concerned us the most are our transition defense and our man-to-man defense. Those were our two most glaring weaknesses on tape, and we’re going to spend a lot of time on those in the next two weeks.”

Center Erek Hansen said that he felt the man-to-man D had been progressing from last year. A season ago, Iowa saw the most success when adopting a zone posture.

“I think it’s going very well,” the 6-foot-11, 215-pound center said, “and we’re doing well on the help side and stopping the drives and everything.”

Alford said that Hansen was one player that has made the most significant improvement since last season, when the junior had to come in midway through the Big Ten season against Illinois for the injured Jared Reiner.

“Of the bigs, Erek was the most impressive, without question, hands down, in our scrimmage,” Alford said. “Erek had six blocks, but the thing that impressed me the most in the practice was that he had 15 rebounds, and that’s been a concern.”

The coach was also quick to point out the center’s offensive performance. Despite being a bit basket-shy last season, Hansen went 6-of-12 from the field at Saturday’s scrimmage for 13 points, second only to Pierre Pierce on the Gold team.

“He’s really worked on that area of his game,” Alford said. “He was really raw coming out of high school. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he got some time last year and got in the game. He was able to get into the flow of things.

“Of the bigs, Erek was the most impressive, without question, hands down, in our scrimmage. Erek had six blocks, but the thing that impressed me the most in the practice was that he had 15 rebounds, and that’s been a concern.”
Head Coach Steve Alford on Erek Hansen

“He has a long way to go yet, but he’s starting to develop a jump hook and he has a very good turnaround shot, and he’s using the backboard well. It’s to his credit that he’s really taken an interest in developing his game. He can have two big years because of it.”

Hansen said his offense has come about by slowing down and getting set.

“I always tried to move too quickly, and I’d take steps and travel, so I’ve been really trying to slow myself down and make better shots,” he said.

As far as his line is concerned, Hansen says he feels he could hit double-doubles along with up to half a dozen blocks each game.

“That’s what I’m shooting for,” he said. “I’ve never been that strong at rebounding, so I’ve been trying to pick that up. I’d like to get my rebounds to about 10 a game and maybe 10 points a game.”

With those statistics, Alford said Hansen may have a breakout year.

“We hope,” he said. “It would be a nice thing to have. I think last year he knew he was behind Reiner and (Sean) Sonderleiter coming in, there’s a lot of work just to get minutes. He comes into this year knowing that is his position, it’s his job to lose, and it’s a whole different mindset.

“He has really responded well to that challenge,” Alford added. “I think he knows his importance to us, so hopefully he can take that confidence and have a good year.”

The exhibition season hasn’t even started yet, but two Hawkeyes won’t be playing against Upper Iowa on Wednesday.

Standout transfer Adam Haluska will be out with a combination injury with a hip flexor and an abdomen strain. The 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore has missed roughly a week of practice, but Alford did report that he may see time on Sunday against Laval University.

“He’s showing progression each and every day,” Alford said. “We still have some time here, so I don’t want this to be something that’s nagging him every day.”

Haluska sustained the dual injuries on Oct. 30 running a baseline drill, according to Alford.

“Adam’s getting awfully close, but I want to make sure it’s absolutely at 100 percent before he comes back,” Alford said. “He’s in great shape and he’s doing the things he needs to do to stay ahead of the game, but we may be looking more at Sunday rather than Wednesday for him.”

Seth Gorney, a 7-foot, 245-pound freshman, sprained his ankle which will “take some time,” according to the coach. Gorney, a native of Vandalia, OH, will be backup center to Erek Hansen.

Coach Alford said it would be unlikely that he will redshirt any players for the upcoming season. The Hawkeyes have four freshmen on the 2004-2005 team, and the decision to have any wear a red shirt this year will have to be made by Wednesday.

“Right now if we had to start today, we probably wouldn’t be redshirting,” Alford said. “All that can change here in the next couple of days, but right now I don’t see that happening.”

For the first time in Coach Alford’s tenure at Iowa there will be an associate head coach in former NBA assistant coach Craig Neal, who spent the past eight years with the Toronto Raptors as a talent scout.

Neal is a native of Indiana, where he earned all-America honors and was a member of the Indiana all-star team following his senior year in high school. He has been a longtime friend of Alford.

“He and I are very good friends, and I respect him a great, great deal,” Alford said. “He and I have really been trying to crunch out the practices and get the team ready to play each and every day. I just think with what I’m asking Craig to do is very similar to what I’d ask a head coach to do.”

Alford said the different title is in recognition of Neal’s time spent in the NBA.

“We’re getting somebody who’s been in the league for 10-plus years,” Alford said. “I’ve given him an awful lot to digest and an awful lot of input. I have respect for what he has to say on both sides of the ball.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com