We are getting dangerously close to that time of year again. The time of year when the haves are punching their ticket to the dance and that have-nots are really licking their wounds and talking about what they can muster for next year. But do the Iowa Hawkeyes fit into either of those categories? Well, we certainly are not in with the haves. I would contend that we aren’t necessarily in with the have-nots either. Wait, wait, wait, give me a second to explain myself before you call me an idiot and close out of the window (or whatever the hell you Mac people would call it). In terms of wins and losses, you are right, we are most definitely have-nots. We are poised to break the school record for losses in a single season and will most definitely finish in the bottom 3 of our conference.
But are we really in with the group talking about next year? I mean, sure, there are those of us out there that are actually kind of excited to see what this year’s crop of recruits can put together in the Big Ten. But there is a much larger portion that remembers what went on about this time last year and is half expecting it to happen again this year. Not that we want it to or that there have been a lot of grumblings amongst the players (in fact, quite the contrary has been the case – players have publicly said they will be back), but when a season looks the way this one did and with the things that went down last year, you have to kind of brace yourself for that awful D-word. Defection. How many will there be? We are all holding our breath, praying to the basketball gods that there won’t be a single one. But a little birdie told me that perhaps we shouldn’t all be buying into everything our players and the local media are selling us. As much as it hurts me to say it, I could see it happening again. But who, you say.
We’ll start with the easy one: Cully Payne. Cully was one of the prized possessions in last year’s class. But he was thrown into the lion’s den this year and I can’t imagine he much liked it. Add to that the fact that his folks, who used to be a nice three-hour drive away in the Chicago-land area have moved to Florida since the frosh point guard signed with the Hawkeyes. Now, it doesn’t sound like much, but when you are playing for a team that has a record like ours in front of the crowds we’ve seen and with the, hmmm, how should I put this, less than happy fans ranting all over cyberspace, I think it could start to add up. And now for the deeper reason: recruits. Some of you young guns out there may not have been around for the great Roy Marble, Sr. but the guy is the leading scorer in Iowa history. Next year, a new generation of Hawk fans will get to watch Roy Marble in the form of Roy Marble, Jr. – a 6’6” combination guard that is rumored to have the raw talent to take serious minutes away from Cully Payne.
Now this is just my cynical view of things, but if you were the kid who could be losing the starting job on a team that is underperforming for a coach that apparently nobody likes anymore, wouldn’t you consider jumping ship for the sunny skies of some smaller school in Florida – where, by the way, mom and dad just set up shop (hey, the kid is just a freshmen and we have seen plenty of other Hawkeyes leave to be with family, a la Tyler Smith and Jake Kelly).
But as I said, Cully may be replaced any way. So is he the real stinger here? I don’t think so. The one that would really hurt: Aaron Fuller. The 6’6” sophomore has really proven himself this year and is at the top of the Big Ten in conference rebounding. He is what we need (although he could use a few inches). He offers athleticism and a presence inside. I know we have guys like Cole, Brommer and Cougill, but none of them play the style of ball that Fuller does. Cole is too timid and spends most of his time setting picks for the three-ball, while Brommer just looks goofy and out of place and Cougill looks like he’s going to pass out if he has to go up and down one more time without a cheeseburger (no disrespect to any of our guys, but you would think with all the minutes they are getting, they would at least be in shape and capable of dropping a few points against big time competition). I do think these guys can hold their own next season, but they just don’t have the spark and none of them are legit threat to score (except maybe Cougill making it rain). If we lose our most athletic “big,” it would be pretty tough, in my opinion. Sure, we get Larson coming next year, and from what I hear, he will help tremendously, but the kid will have to kick his pain killer habit if he wants to see the court and will surely take at least a quarter of the season to feel things out at this level.
At this point in time, there’s no reason to think that the players were telling anything but the truth in their February 24th chat with the Press Citizen, but I must say that I have had more than one relatively credible source (guys around the water cooler and on message boards, you know, the can’t miss sources) say they think at least one of these guys will be on their way out. It would be a shame, but we won’t know for a while. I would love to believe every word they say, but we all know where that got us with Jake Kelly last year. D-Day (Defection Day) is coming folks and the question is not when, but who. I’ll be with the rest of Hawkeye Nation, praying that there is only one defection: John Lickliter.