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Gatens, Tucker back Lickliter

BY BRENDAN STILES | MARCH 30, 2009 7:30 AM

When Alex Rodríguez admitted publicly last month to using performance-enhancing drugs, teammates including Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada showed their support of the Yankee slugger by showing up when he addressed the media.

As Iowa men’s basketball head coach Todd Lickliter, in a packed press room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 27, discussed four of his players leaving his team, he received support from two of the players who remained.

Jeter and Posada they’re not, but Iowa freshmen Matt Gatens and Anthony Tucker both took a page from the Yankees’ playbook by voluntarily attending Lickliter’s press conference as a way of boosting their head coach’s spirits.

“We thought it would be good to support Coach [Lickliter] at his press conference and let him know that we all still believe in him,” Tucker said. “People think it’s a reflection on him when four guys up and leave. People make their decisions for themselves and for their own reasons.

“Coach is doing a great job with us, and we’re all excited to be here.”

While the freshman campaigns of Gatens and Tucker took much different paths, both will be counted on by Lickliter as the Hawkeyes forge ahead without Jake Kelly, Jeff Peterson, Jermain Davis, and David Palmer.

Gatens had about as good a freshman year as any Hawkeye fan could’ve asked for. The Iowa City native started all 32 of Iowa’s games, the only Hawkeye to do so.

Averaging 34 minutes per contest, Gatens led Iowa in free-throw percentage (90.4 percent), was second on the team in 3-point field goal percentage, rebounds, and blocks, and third in assists and steals.

With the departure of Kelly, Gatens now becomes the team’s returning leading scorer, averaging 10.8 points per game.

“This year, I played a lot of minutes, so I felt like whether I wanted to or not, I had a leadership role out there because I was on the court with these guys,” he said. “I’m sure it’s going to have to step up even more this off-season, becoming a sophomore and becoming more of a leader for these players.”

Then there’s the story of Tucker. After emerging as the team’s leading scorer early, things began to turn sour for the native of Minnetonka, Minn. First, he was suspended after being arrested for a public intoxication last December. Upon return from his suspension, he came down with mononucleosis.

His freshman year then was cut short in January, when he was ruled academically ineligible.
Yet there he was with Gatens, taking in everything that transpired on March 27.

“I think it’s mutual,” Tucker said. “I can speak for myself, I know I have all the confidence in the world in Coach [Lickliter]. I really believe in what he’s doing, and I’m excited to be here.

“The coaches have been so supportive of me and given me all the opportunities to come and right the ship. I’m very thankful for all the opportunities they have given me.”

In a week in which players’ roles came into question, no one needs to ask either Gatens or Tucker which ones roles they’ll play next season. Just like returning team captain Jarryd Cole, both sophomores-to-be have prepared for the roadblocks that will lie in front of them.

“I’m looking forward to meeting this challenge head on,” Gatens said. “There’s a great group of people here with the coaches and weight coaches and everybody that is behind us, and hopefully, we can get the fans behind us.

“We’re going to work hard and try to be successful.”


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