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Big stage awaits Iowa basketball in New York

BY JACOB SHEYKO | NOVEMBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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Tonight, Iowa will play on arguably the biggest basketball stage in the world, Madison Square Garden.

But the stage of the game is less concerning to the Hawkeyes than No. 10 Texas, which they will face in the 2K Classic.

Since head coach Fran McCaffery has taken the reins at Iowa, the Hawkeyes have played in various locations, venues both big and small, both big games and less meaningful ones.

Today’s matchup figures to be a meaningful game, being Iowa’s first true test of the young season. And while Madison Square Garden is the “mecca of basketball,” don’t expect Iowa to get stage fright.

“I think anytime you have a chance to play in Madison Square Garden, it’s a great opportunity for our program, for our fans, especially for our fans from that part of the country,” McCaffery said Nov. 12.

In the past couple of years, the Hawkeyes have been well-traveled. 

They’ve played in the Bahamas, in Europe, at both the United Center in Chicago and Bankers Field House in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, and yes, they’ve played in Madison Square Garden in the 2013 NIT.

“We’ve played everywhere,” Gabe Olaseni said. “Hopefully, the big lights won’t shock us too much, but once the ball tips and you realize the rim’s 10 feet and the court is however long it is, then you just get into the game.”

Eight of Iowa’s players — most of whom see significant minutes — were on the Iowa team that played two games in New York in the 2013 NIT, which they finished as the runner-up, losing to Baylor in the final, 74-54.

“Some good memories there so far,” Aaron White said. “You can’t ask for a better place to play, with the history and all the media attention you get when you go there. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Even Iowa newcomer Trey Dickerson isn’t foreign to the Big Apple’s environment.

He grew up in Queens, New York, with an outdoor basketball court right around the corner from his home, where he could be found more often than not playing.

And while it may not be Madison Square Garden, Dickerson has laced them up and played at Rucker Park, an outdoor court with just as high of a standing in basketball lore as anywhere.

“In New York, everybody plays outside, it don’t matter,” Dickerson said. “Outside, indoors, they play everywhere.”

While daunting to some, the national spotlight of New York should be beneficial to the Hawkeyes. In fact, it’s one of the many reasons they scheduled this game in the first place.

Iowa basketball’s popularity has ballooned the past couple of years on the local level, but the Hawkeyes still don’t boast nearly the national recognition of Big Ten programs such as Michigan State and Wisconsin.

That recognition is something that’s developed over time with sustained success and exposure in games such as this one.

“Now, you know you have the ACC-Big Ten challenge,” McCaffery said at the team’s media day. “You know you’re going to play in a high-profile tournament. But we wanted our team in Madison Square Garden. We wanted our team on national TV.”

The only starter on Iowa’s squad who has never played in Madison Square Garden is Jarrod Uthoff.

Despite being on the team while it made its NIT run in 2013, Uthoff didn’t travel to road games because he transferred from Wisconsin prior to the season.

When Uthoff was asked what it would be like to return to the Garden, he quickly corrected the reporter.

“I didn’t get to take the trip, because I transferred. So I wasn’t there,” Uthoff said, then quickly smiled. “I’m excited, though.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.


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