Nov. 27, 2008
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – – Iowa’s young basketball team, which features eight freshmen and sophomores on its 13-man roster, is spending the Thanksgiving holiday at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, preparing for Friday’s match-up against West Virginia in the semi-finals of the Las Vegas Invitational.
That contest, which has an 8:05 p.m. CT start time, can be heard on the Hawkeye Radio Network and is being televised on Mediacom Connections channels throughout the state of Iowa. Iowa will face either Kansas State or Kentucky Friday, starting at either 6:30 or 9:30 p.m. CT. The championship game will be televised on ESPN2, while the consolation game will not be televised.
The young Hawkeyes improved to 5-0 on the season with a 75-41 win over Southeast Missouri State Tuesday in Iowa City. Even while starting three freshmen in each game, Iowa is off to a solid start at both ends of the floor. Iowa leads the Big Ten in field goal shooting at 51.7%. Defensively, the Hawkeyes have picked up where they left off last season, allowing just 52.2 points per game.
With a number of newcomers on the Hawkeye squad, spending the holiday on the road with their teammates is a new experience. The team had its traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the entire travel party early Thursday afternoon before an early evening workout at the Orleans Arena, site of the Las Vegas Invitational.
While Iowa has not played in Las Vegas since meeting Nevada-Las Vegas early in the 1989-90 campaign, many of the current Hawkeyes have competed here in the past, as a number of high school and AAU events are held here each year. Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter has pointed out to his team that this is a business trip, first and foremost.
“We have to learn how to approach a business trip,” noted Lickliter. “Our guys showed a great response in that regard in handling their business on our trip to Charleston (70-48 Iowa win over The Citadel). But, this is a little longer trip. You want them to have a chance to relax, which I want them to be able to do, to spend some time together to get to know each other away from the court.
“You want them to enjoy this opportunity to play Division I basketball, travel to a beautiful place and hopefully see some sites,” added the Hawkeye head coach. “But also, to be able to handle in a mature way when it is time for game preparation, film study, to be prepared, and to do that in a business like way. That is where a young team really grows. I’ve said before, if you are going to be successful, you have to be successful on the road. You have to learn, that when, and who, and where, are not as important as how you play. We want to focus on playing the game the right way, regardless. Can we approach the game in the right way under these circumstances?”
Lickliter likes the fact that not only the Hawkeye players, but also their families, will have a chance to do some bonding. “Ideally, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family,” pointed out Lickliter. “But if you are on business and cannot spend it with your family, then it should be the next best thing, with your closest friends. I’d like to think that is where we are with this trip. John Streif does everything he can to make the experience first class and something that will be remembered. Our Thanksgiving meal today was just absolutely terrific. He spends his preparation time to make sure our experience is one that we will always remember.”
One Hawkeye player who will have family in attendance over the weekend is freshman Aaron Fuller, who joined the Iowa program from Mesa, AZ. Fuller’s family will make the drive from Mesa to see the Hawkeyes in action.
“My parents are driving from Arizona,” said Fuller. “With my family, my grandmother, my uncle and some family friends. Being here with my teammates, and being able to see my family and have them here to watch the games, it’s a win-win situation for me.”
Fuller competed in basketball events as a prep standout at Mesa High School, making several trips to Las Vegas. Now he travels with a new group of friends and teammates. “This team has bonded really well together,” noted Fuller. “This team is a close group; we get along well together on and off the court. We’re excited to see where we stand; this is a great opportunity for us as a team.”
Fuller is familiar with playing basketball in Las Vegas and becoming more familiar with his Hawkeye teammates. He is also familiar with spending the Thanksgiving holiday with his family.
“Our family always gets together at a relative’s house on Thanksgiving,” concluded Fuller. “My father always bakes his sweet potato pie, which is something everyone always looks forward to.”
Fuller knows his family will be in attendance when game time rolls around on Friday, but he doesn’t think he’ll get a chance at any sweet potato pie. As Coach Lickliter said, this is, first and foremost, a business trip.