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Coaching highlights Prime Time title

BY KYLE MANN | AUGUST 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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The July 30 Prime Time championship did something that last summer’s may not have done: pit the two best teams against each other. The teams for Randy Larson’s Westport/Beat the Bookstore and Dan Ahrens’ Jill Armstrong had the two best combinations of talent and balance; each could score in bunches but prided its defense.

With such evenly matched rosters, there are fewer opportunities for one team to get a talent advantage over the other. That’s why, for once, the Prime Time title game shone the spotlight on the coaching matchup.

Of the seven Prime Time coaches, Ahrens could be considered the team builder of the bunch. In the summer of 2014, he assembled a three-headed scoring monster of Jarrod Utoff, Jeremy Morgan, and Dondre Alexander but was up-ended on his way to the title game.

This year, Ahrens again drafted perhaps the best one-through-five starting lineup in the league. With Alexander back as his lead guard, he surrounded him with the über-talented combo guard Kendall Jacks of Wayne State, two of the biggest and strongest post players in Hawkeyes Adam Woodbury and Okey Ukah, along with Northern Iowa shooters Luke McDonnell and Spencer Haldeman.

Ahrens also used his experience as an AAU coach to select players who had some degree of familiarity with each other, such as Alexander, Jacks, and bench contributor Malik Williams.

“A lot of the guys know each other from AAU,” Ahrens said. “They’ve played together, and seen each other, and know what each other can do. It makes everything easier when they’re out there.”

Despite losing only one game in the regular season, however, Ahrens admitted after his team’s semifinal victory he had concerns about facing rival coach and league Commissioner Larson.

“I just don’t have good luck against Randy in the playoffs,” Ahrens said. “I can win in the season, but I just can’t win against him in the playoffs.”

If Ahrens is the team builder, Larson is the strategist. He won the league last summer, granting him the first overall pick this year, with which he selected reigning MVP Uthoff.

Uthoff’s running mate at the top was Dom Uhl, but Larson has a uniquely team-oriented approach that emphasizes the contributions of his entire roster.

Northern Iowa’s Aarias Austin served as a game changer at times at the point-guard position, but Larson relied heavily on his accessory players not from Iowa or Northern Iowa much more than some other coaches.

Coe College’s Jake Timm spent a lot of time as his team’s initiator, Iowa City City Councilor Kinglsey Botchway provided shooting from the outside, and Iowa City West alumni Jake Gylten and David DiLeo were crucial two-way players.

“I never draft for talent; I draft for teamwork,” Larson said. “If I draft for teamwork, and then we don’t have it, we have no chance. I don’t have time to teach you plays, but I can teach you culture. We go through Jarrod, and he makes it work because the other guys have bought in to playing their role for the team.”

Larson’s prowess as an Xs and Os guy, as well as his confidence in Uthoff, were on display in the title game. He assigned the 6-9 wing to guard 6-5 point guard Alexander, which essentially cemented the outcome by halftime; Alexander had three fouls and was largely taken out of his game.

“Randy just told me to stay close. He’s a lot shorter than me, so being there would cause trouble,” Uthoff said. “[Larson] is a smart competitor. He’s intense, but he knows basketball.”

Uthoff scored 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the floor, and Larson’s team had 18 assists on 34 field goals in its 89-77 victory.

Spectators come out to Prime Time for the players on the floor. When it comes down to it, however, the coaches have a larger effect than one may think.


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