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Freshman of the Year: Matt Gatens

BY SCOTT MILLER | MAY 11, 2009 7:28 AM

The only problem with naming Matt Gatens The Daily Iowan’s Freshman of the Year is that the Iowa City native hardly looked like a first-year player on the court.

First in the conference in free-throw percentage (90.4 percent), sixth in 3-point shooting (40.3), and seventh in minutes played (34 per game), the sophomore-to-be solidified himself as a legitimate scoring threat, all while playing well above his grade level.

“His game was a lot higher than a freshman, and he played with a lot more confidence than a normal freshman would play with,” senior-to-be Devan Bawinkel said. “And I think that’s what made him be very effective.”

Another thing that made Gatens so effective in his first year on campus was his ability to contribute to the team in numerous ways. Sure, the freshman was the second-leading scorer from last year’s 15-17 campaign, scoring in double-figures in 21 of the Hawkeyes’ 32 contests. But Gatens earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team because of his defensive intensity, along with his willingness to make the extra pass and snag a rebound at a pivotal point in the game.

Despite Gatens’ consistent play all year, the coaches and the media voted Ohio State’s William Buford the conference’s Freshman of the Year — something that was OK with Gatens, who said, “I wasn’t too worried about awards or whatever. … It doesn’t really matter too much to me.”

During the March 3 game against Ohio State, in which Gatens played all 40 minutes and contributed 11 points, the freshman showed why many considered him the best first-year player in the conference.

In the game, head coach Todd Lickliter gave his star freshman the task of defending first-team All-Big Ten forward Evan Turner. With 44 seconds left in the contest and the Buckeyes up two points, the 6-7 Turner isolated Gatens at the top of the key. Gatens forced Turner to dribble into traffic and turn the ball over, giving Iowa a chance to tie or win the game.

Even though the Hawkeyes fell short against the Buckeyes, Gatens’ ability to understand his role was one of the reasons they were able to hang around for so long.

“He wasn’t timid; he wasn’t scared,” junior-to-be Jarryd Cole said. “He knew what the coaches expected from him, and he knew what we expected from him. He stepped up into that role. He’s one of those guys who does know his role, and he plays it really, really well.

“When I say role, I’m not talking position; I’m talking just knowing what to do on the floor when he’s on the floor. He knows that. And when you know that, positions don’t even matter.”

But at times during the season, Gatens looked tentative with his shot. Only 10 times last year did the freshman attempt more than 10 shots from the field.

“I’d love to see him shoot a little more,” Cole said, as Gatens was busy making 17-of-20 3-pointers in the background. “He’s a great shooter — a great 3-point shooter. He proved that last year. What was he, 40-something-percent from beyond the arc? He needs a lot more shots, I’d say.”

Gatens, though, isn’t concerned with getting his shots or lighting up the scoreboard. The Iowa City native, who said the best moment of his freshman year was walking out of the Carver-Hawkeye Arena tunnel for the first time, is only concerned with doing anything that contributes to an Iowa win.

“People say, even family friends … ‘Why don’t you shoot more?’ ” he said. “I’ve always been the type of player where … I don’t try to force it, because I don’t think the team really needed me to force it last year.”


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