Lickliter looks ahead to 2009-10 season


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Seabiscuit, of all things, was a topic of conversation inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday, as Iowa men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter addressed reporters at the team’s media day.

The third-year head coach brought up the thoroughbred racehorse not to show his wide-ranging sports knowledge but instead to provide a point of comparison to his team, which even Lickliter himself acknowledged will “be predicted by the experts at the bottom of the Big Ten this year.”

National Geographic described Seabiscuit as “an ungainly and boxy scrapper” that evolved into a champion racehorse. Lickliter hopes a similar transformation happens in the 2009-10 season after finishing near the basement of the Big Ten in each of his first two years on campus and having four players transfer after last year’s 15-17 campaign.

“We look at that as just a great challenge, because we’ve got great confidence in our team and in ourselves,” Lickliter said about the preseason expectations surrounding his team. “I think that we’ve got the talent, and we’ve got the philosophy.

“We’ve fallen out. It’s not acceptable, and we’re going to work to recapture that.”

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So another year of Hawkeye basketball begins with little in the way of outside expectations, and the players, along with their coaches, have taken note.

True freshman point guard Cully Payne, a late commitment for the Hawkeyes in the spring, confidently said, “We’re going to surprise people this year, and I think it’s going to be a fun time.”

Sophomore Matt Gatens, one of the team’s most veteran returnees from last year’s team, said, “We’re just looking forward to getting ready and proving people wrong.”

Other than the team’s worst-to-first, Seabiscuit-like expectations for the year, Rusty Burney, the team’s new strength coach, was the topic of much conversation on Monday. Lickliter raved about Burney as far back as last spring, telling The Daily Iowan that the team had made “terrific progress” in its strength and conditioning.

On Monday, that progress was evident when looking at a few of the players, especially Gatens and sophomore guard/forward Aaron Fuller. Both seemed noticeably bigger than they appeared six months ago.

“It’s been a long off-season in [the weight room], but it’ll pay off in the long run,” Gatens said. “The Big Ten is a fierce league and a strong league, so we know we’re going to need it.”

Junior captain Jarryd Cole expects the intensified program to pay dividends as the season wears on, specifically with the Hawkeyes’ four scholarship newcomers — Payne, Eric May, Devon Archie, and Brennan Cougill.

Iowa plays physical teams, such as Texas, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, all away from Carver this season — the latter three all coming in the last month of the season.

“The season is really long, and it is very important that the guys realize that and that they have to keep grinding,” Cole said. “That is what we expect from them.”

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