The Uhl project


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No matter what, the plan from the beginning was to play Dom Uhl.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery understood there would be missteps. There always are with freshmen.

There would be games when Uhl was out of rhythm, when he couldn’t make a shot or would turn the ball over, seemingly out of place in a more advanced game than he was used to. But that didn’t matter.

“I’m going to play him,” McCaffery adamantly said at Big Ten’s media day. “And he’s going to make mistakes, but I’m going to play him. If he does, we’ll help him through it.”

Iowa’s 67-44 win against Alcorn State Tuesday night was not one of those mistake-filled games for Uhl. Instead, it was a glimpse into what he could become as a basketball player.

He’s not the best player on the roster. He’s probably not even the best player off the bench. But he’s definitely the most intriguing.

“Coach has been telling you guys that he’s a player, and it’s all about the process, growing up when you get here, it’s a different level,” Aaron White said. “I think he’s starting to understand the level he’s got to play at on both sides of the ball.”

Uhl’s career-high 11-point, 6-rebound performance against the Braves was a small but accurate sample size of the forward’s versatility.

He posted up a smaller defender and scored, hit a catch and shoot baseline jumper, then another, flew in from the 3-point line to tip in a missed shot, and finally, grabbed a defensive rebound, took the ball coast-to-coast, slicing through the defense for a finger roll at the other end.

And that’s just scoring the ball. It doesn’t include his length on defense — the 6-8 Uhl estimates his wingspan is about 6-11½ — or his ability to crash the boards.

“Taking care of the ball, hitting shots, he’s athletic, so he can affect the game in a lot of ways,” said White — who claimed before the season started that Uhl had more potential than he did.

He’s far from perfect, but in the last two games — the first time all season Uhl has played 20 minutes in back-to-back games — he combined for 14 points (6-of-9 shooting), 9 rebounds, and 2 steals.  

“I just tried to play aggressive, play defense,” Uhl said after the Alcorn State game. “My shot was just falling today … I feel like I’m getting more used to the game and the speed.”

Uhl said the hardest part of transitioning to the college game has been the intensity. When he arrived, the native of Frankfurt, Germany, wasn’t used to having to play Division I players on a nightly basis, having to bring it every possession.

Ten games in, that’s coming along. He’s more comfortable and confident on the floor.

The kind of comfort that allows him to handle the ball even with quick guards occasionally guarding him — Uhl credits his coach in Germany for his ball-handling skills. When he first started playing basketball, he didn’t really practice with the team. Instead he ran drills off to the side.

And the kind of confidence that enables a freshman to not hesitate taking a shot on a national stage against North Carolina.

“When I’m open, I’m going to take it,” Uhl said. “Some may fall. Some may not.”

There are still learning moments.

In Iowa’s game against Maryland-Baltimore County on Dec. 6, Uhl bit on a pump fake, jumping past the then-driving player.

McCaffery called a time-out, unhappy with his team’s willingness to trade baskets, and met the entire unit on the floor before they reached the bench. Among those he spoke to was Uhl.

It was a minor mistake, one that occurred in a moment that held little weight in the outcome of the game. And after all, mistakes with Uhl, or any freshmen for that matter, aren’t a surprise; McCaffery expected them from the beginning.

“He’s got a unique skill set,” McCaffery said after the game. “… I mean, you can tell that he’s almost there. He’s not there yet.”

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

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