Bawinkel a Hawkeye journeyman


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When Devan Bawinkel was just 9 months old, he played with any kind of ball he could find. By age 4, he was competing in organized basketball at a Boys & Girls Club. By high school graduation, he had become the most decorated player in the school’s history.

But the Iowa basketball player’s journey since those days has not been ordinary. Seldom does any collegiate student-athlete attend three schools in three seasons — sitting on the bench, anticipating being called upon to check in and hit timely shots.

That’s just Bawinkel.

When the Iowa men’s basketball team plays its final home game against Indiana on Feb. 28, he will be the only senior honored. His story will have the ending many student-athletes envision.
Perhaps more meaningful may be how Bawinkel reached this point.

For love of the game

Bawinkel grew up in the small town of Winnebago, Ill.

His mother remembered the boy’s fitting demeanor for basketball.

“He was always just a really good team player,” Mary Bawinkel said. “He was, at a very young age, always competitive, and even at the age of 4, wanting to win. That was the most important thing.”

Any chance he had, Devan found the orange ball and started shooting.

In eighth grade, after playing games against Chicagoland kids, he began believing he could extend his basketball career.

“Just beating those guys whenever we played the Chicago competition, just beating them and outplaying them, that made me kind of feel like, ‘Hey, if you can do it against Chicago kids, you can do it against anyone,’ ” he said.

At Winnebago High, Bawinkel made the varsity team as a freshman, and as he got older, publicity followed.

As a senior, he was named Co-Player of the Year in Illinois’ Class A level. He holds his school’s career records in points (2,185) and rebounds (950), as well as assists and steals.

He liked the added attention that came with such a performance.

“You wanted to do well for not only yourself, but for your family, your friends, your community, and that kind of drove you to work even harder,”he said.

His top college choices all hailed from the Big East — DePaul, Georgetown, and West Virginia. He said West Virginia first had him on its radar when he was a sophomore.

Then-Mountaineer head coach John Beilein offered him a scholarship after the two met at a basketball camp in New Jersey.

Traveling ‘Country Roads’

Beilein was in the midst of bringing West Virginia basketball back to prominence, and the Mountaineers reached the Elite Eight in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2006.

Bawinkel knew his parents would support whichever school he chose.

“We started talking in phone calls, and I started watching [the Mountaineers] on TV,” he said. “I really liked the way they played and thought I could fit in well there.”

The transition from Winnebago to Morgantown was going to be difficult because of the distance. His parents knew they wouldn’t be able to make every one of his games, but they also knew he was happy.

At West Virginia, he concentrated on becoming a 3-point shooting guard. Although he didn’t start as a freshman, he won Beilein over when he took part in a drill while suffering a broken hand.

“He was running around the court with his arm dangling, and he refused to take himself out,” Beilein said. “We finally made him come out, and sure enough, it was broken. That’s the type of toughness that kid had both mentally and physically.”

West Virginia won the 2007 NIT championship, and Bawinkel envisioned becoming a more effective shooter. But that’s when his life changed.

A ‘reality check’

Shortly after winning the NIT, Beilein became the head coach at Michigan. Kansas State’s Bob Huggins replaced him.

Although Beilein was no longer at West Virginia, Bawinkel was determined to work through the switch and went through the off-season training. But just before the fall semester began, the 6-5 guard met Huggins in his office.

“He basically told me that if I wanted to play, I’d be better off going somewhere else,” Bawinkel said. “By then, most of the rosters had been filled up for other teams, so it was tough for me to find a place to go in such a short amount of time.”

Just like that, Bawinkel was back in Illinois, playing his sophomore season at Highland Community College in Freeport. For as much as he enjoyed his one year of junior college, his perspective changed.

“It made me realize basketball wasn’t just a game anymore. It was a business, especially at the Division-I level,” he said. “It was a reality check, and it was tough, but you just learn to adjust.”

While at Highland, the Iowa coaching staff met him to see what type of game he had. With AAU teammates who played at Butler singing the praises of Todd Lickliter and both of his parents being University of Iowa alums, Iowa was the perfect fit.

On March 15, 2008, he committed to the Hawkeyes.

“We always wanted Devan to have his own dream,” Mary Bawinkel said. “When the final things were said and done, and that ended up being Iowa for him, we were very thrilled with that.”

Maturing into who he is today

As a junior, Devan Bawinkel established a reputation similar to what he was going to become at West Virginia — a lethal 3-point shooter.

Naturally, under Lickliter, his role fits the mold of a wing player, someone who sees his opportunities and takes the open shot.

“He understands his strengths, and he has a strength that he can really shoot the basketball,” Lickliter said. “He’s not concerned about trying to prove anything else. I think he’s comfortable with who he is, both on the court and off the court.”

Not starting doesn’t minimize Bawinkel’s effect. He played more than 700 minutes for the Hawkeyes during the 2008-09 season.

But for all the 3-pointers he shot and all the minutes he played, one thing he hadn’t done until a game against Prairie View A&M on Dec. 5, 2009, was shoot a free throw.

In the game’s final seconds, he was fouled, then stood at the charity stripe to take a shot that wasn’t a 3-pointer. Two free-throw attempts, two points.

He also made a mark on the Hawkeyes’ biggest victory this season to date — a 78-65 win against Northwestern on Feb. 10. In that game, he knocked down 15 points, naturally coming via five 3-point shots.

Statistics aside, he and teammate Jarryd Cole earned the ultimate amount of respect from teammates after being named cocaptains.

“Jarryd’s more of a vocal leader, while Devan, he kind of leads by example,” sophomore Matt Gatens said. “He’s always doing the right thing.”

In December 2009, he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies, and come May, he will receive his diploma.

Now he faces the Feb. 28 game against Indiana, his last game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It has been quite a journey,” Mary Bawinkel said. “It’s had its ups and downs, but mostly ups, and it has been very exciting to see Devan on his journey and to be part of his life.”

He said he would like one day to become a high-school athletics director, preferably back in the area where he grew up. He wants others to see him as a role model, someone who likes giving back and can make a difference in a younger person’s life.

“I really want to show them that through hard work and everything, whatever you want to do is possible, as long as you just stick with it,” he said.

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