Hawkeye May finds his role with men's basketball


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Eric May has finally found his place with the Iowa men’s basketball team. And it’s paying significant dividends for head coach Fran McCaffery and the rest of the Black and Gold.

The senior battled through one of the worst seasons in program history as a freshman in 2009-10, when the Hawkeyes went 10-22. He dealt with injuries to his back and hamstring the past two seasons that limited his effectiveness. He also struggled with low confidence when his play suffered from those injuries.

Now, May averages just 4.4 points per game — ninth-best on the team — as a reserve for the Hawkeyes. But Zach McCabe said his teammate’s true impact isn’t always found in a box score.

“He might not be the best player on the court, or the most skilled, but he brings a lot of hustle and stuff like that for us,” McCabe said. “He makes key plays, makes smart plays for us. Anytime you have a player like that, it’s big for your team.”

May has continued to make efficient plays in Big Ten play this year, and he averages 5.6 points per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor over his last nine games. The Dubuque native said the key for him has been knowing his limits and not trying to do too much.

“I’ve been trying to do what I’m good at and play within myself,” he said. “We have a lot of great players on our team. I let guys who can take guys off the dribble do that and me be more of a facilitator and let the game come to me.”

McCaffery said May isn’t a mistake player and makes contributions in a variety of ways. He can play lockdown defense, drive and kick the ball out to shooters, or hit his own occasional shot, McCaffery said.

“He got two huge offensive rebounds for us [against Penn State on Feb. 1] when we desperately needed them,” McCaffery said. “That’s why I keep saying this, but regardless of who I start, somehow he ends up on the floor at the end of the game.”

McCaffery said it’s not the norm for a team to draw so much leadership from a bench player.

McCabe said the fact that May can provide that lift from the bench, after spending much of his early years on campus as a starter, is a testament to the senior’s character.

“It shows what type of teammate he is and how selfless he is,” McCabe said. “He’ll give up anything for his team.”

But those years as a starter added significant pressure, McCaffery said. The team lacked offensive firepower when May was an underclassman, he said. The points had to come from somewhere, and a large part of that burden was placed on May.

Because of that, McCaffery said, mistakes lingered in May’s mind, and he got down on himself easily. That’s not an issue anymore, May said.

“It’s just kind of an Etch-a-Sketch,” he said. “Shake it off, and forget you made a mistake. Go back and make a good play to make up for it. I don’t let little things get me down. I’ve been through it all.”

The Hawkeyes (15-9, 4-7 in the Big Ten) are now in near-desperation mode if they harbor hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament. And May — the last remaining player from former head coach Todd Lickliter’s tenure — will again be counted on, just not for points.

“He’s in a role that’s perfect for him,” McCaffery said. “He’s just a winning player, that’s what he is … He’s embraced that role and he’s excelled in it.”

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