The Young Leading the Young

Nov. 5, 2010


IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s the young leading the young for the Hawkeye men’s basketball team as it enters the 2010 preseason.

Because of injuries, the squad’s veteran top-scorers Jarryd Cole and Matt Gatens have taken seats on the bench, leaving underclassmen and newcomers running the floor. Leading the pack is point-guard Cully Payne and guard/forward Eric May, who must step up as leaders for the young offense — a sizeable responsibility for the second-year Hawkeyes.

But head coach Fran McCaffery said he is confident in the duo, based on their experience last year.

As true freshmen in the 2009-10 season, Payne started all 32 games at point guard, while May started 23 of the 32 matchups he played.

McCaffery is hopeful their early success will carry over this season.

“The key is how we’re going to play at crunch time,” McCaffery said. “That’s when we’re going to need our relatively inexperienced guards to step up.”

May said, as far as leadership, he feels the sophomores have already been “stepping up” both on and off the court.

“This year has been a lot different than last year,” May said. “We’ve got a season under our belt, so Cully and I have had to encourage other players and set the tone in practice. We’re working to pick up the energy and keep everybody focused. Matt and Jarryd are key players, but having them out is not season-ending. Everyone’s adjusting really well.”

Gatens, a junior guard, said he understands the pressure May and Payne are under as young team leaders, but he is confident in their ability to call the plays until he returns.

“Guards are leaders,” Gatens said. “They are only sophomores, but obviously they’re going to play a lot. I think they’re doing a good job, but they’re also learning on the run, so it’s difficult from that standpoint.”

But the guards aren’t the only ones “learning on the run.”

McCaffery — a newcomer to Iowa City himself — said everyone on his freshmen and transfer-laden squad is going through the “learning curve” together, and they are adjusting to the plays, lineups, and differing style of play as a team.

With few upperclassmen, the new generation of Hawkeyes has been given a unique opportunity — one that McCaffery thinks will benefit his student-athletes in the long run.

“With Matt and Jarryd out, all the guys are getting reps now,” McCaffery said. “I think they’ll benefit knowing they can play major minutes, take shots, and not get yanked. When you have a lot of experienced upperclassmen, it’s hard for the guys coming in behind them, knowing they are coming right back out. To settle down and play through a mistake is not always a luxury many young guys have, but they will have that opportunity.”

So the youthful Hawkeyes will have a chance to make their 2010 season debut at home this weekend at the exhibition opener Sunday against Illinois-Springfield.