'Mr. Practice' pushes Hawks


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T.J. Sayre isn't Iowa's best-known basketball player.

With two career appearances, the senior walk-on doesn't get much playing time. He hasn't played at all since Iowa's 61-point win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Nov. 26, and he probably won't see the court very often once the Hawkeyes' tough conference schedule begins, either.

Instead, Sayre is one of coach Fran McCaffery's most valuable practice players. The forward helps run opposing teams' offensive and defensive schemes, and he is at least partially responsible for the recent string of big games from his frontcourt teammates.

And while some players would bristle at the thought of not playing when the minutes count, Sayre said he's more than happy to make his contributions on the practice court.

"I embrace my role as a practice player," the Cedar Rapids native said. "I can bring energy and intensity to practice and encourage my teammates — and help them get better. We have a lot of talent on the team, and a very deep bench, and every single player needs to keep getting better on a daily basis if we want to compete this year."

Sayre joined the Hawkeyes so late that he doesn't appear in Iowa's official team photo or media guide, but he said his decision to try out wasn't a spur-of-the moment choice: He said he considered joining the team for Todd Lickliter's final year but ended up missing tryouts because of miscommunication with the athletics department.

McCaffery is glad Sayre joined the team when he did, though. The 6-6, 220-pound senior's size and shooting ability make him an excellent practice opponent for starting forwards Melsahn Basabe and Jarryd Cole, and he has the basketball IQ to cleanly replicate opponents' game plans.

"One of the reasons we kept him, of course, was his size," McCaffery said on Dec. 2. "But he's been coached. He knows how to show on a ball screen, [and] he knows how to get over and help. So when [he] defends our starters, we get something out of it."

The long road to Iowa City

Sayre grew up a Hawkeye fan and was a three-sport letterman at Cedar Rapids Xavier. He captained the Saints' basketball team his senior year, was a second team all-conference wide receiver in football, and took his soccer team to the state tournament despite only picking up the sport to stay in shape.

Despite his obvious athletic prowess, though, Sayre turned down small-school basketball recruiters and didn't play any organized sports in his two years at Creighton. After changing his major from business to health science and pre-pharmacy, he transferred to Iowa for his junior year and walked on to McCaffery's squad a year later.

"It's a little surreal," he said about taking the court in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "We come out of the tunnel, and the stadium's full, and people are cheering — it's great to see that. It's exciting. It's great to be in that atmosphere."

Sayre the Hawkeye

Sayre hasn't had many opportunities to experience that atmosphere in game minutes, but his teammates have made the most of their chances. Cole recorded a monster 10-point, 15-rebound double-double against Northern Iowa, Andrew Brommer went off for 12 points against Iowa State, and Basabe roasted the Cyclones for 14 boards and seven blocks.

The freshman forward praised Sayre's practice contributions after the performance.

"Usually guys want to go to sleep when you're playing against the scout team, but you can't go to sleep against [Sayre]," Basabe said. "[If you do], you're going to pay for it. He's a smart player and a good shooter. There are things T.J. brings to the table that you have to be aware of."

While Sayre said he's happy to make his teammates better in practice, though, he's reluctant to take any direct credit for their performances. Still, it's hard to ignore the numbers — and Sayre's humility hasn't gone unnoticed.

"I love T.J.," Basabe said. "He's friends with everybody. He's not really an ego guy, he's just supporting the team. He's a great kid — a good kid to be around and a kid you want in your program."

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