By Pat Harty
NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa – The 31st edition of the Prime Time League is in the stretch drive with Thursday marking the sixth session of games this summer.
The PTL playoffs will start on Sunday at the North Liberty Community Center, followed by the semifinals next Thursday in Waterloo and the championship game on July 23rd back in North Liberty.
The league has served its purpose again this summer by giving the Iowa basketball players a structured and competitive environment in which to play in front of their fans.
It also has given fans their first glimpse of incoming freshmen twins towers Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, while also providing a stage for the returning Hawkeyes. Garza and Nunge squared off in the PTL on Thursday, and for the second time this summer, with Nunge's team prevailing, 107-100.
Here are 10 observations from covering the PTL this summer in no particular order:
1. Ryan Kriener's touch: It's easy to overlook the 6-foot-9 forward from Spirit Lake with all the other talented frontline players on the Iowa roster.
But don't be surprised if Kriener plays a significant role because of his ability to shoot. I already have written about Kriener once this summer because he scored 38 points on that specific evening. He made five 3-point baskets and scored 29 points on Thursday. He also scored 42 points in a recent PTL game.
Kriener is a gifted shooter, whose accuracy is matched only by his confidence. That strength alone will earn Kriener minutes on the floor this season.
2. Jack Nunge’s height: I knew he was tall, but didn’t realize just how tall. Nunge is close to being one of the few 7-footers in the history of the Iowa basketball program.
He is also thicker than I expected, but still has a ways to go in the strength department.
But his height, coupled with his diverse skills, make Nunge an intriguing prospect. He scored 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Thursday's PTL game.
Iowa's Fran McCaffery was among the first coaches from a major program to start recruiting Nunge and McCaffery never let up.
By the time schools like Vanderbilt wanted Nunge, it was too late.
As for Garza, he is just what I expected, and that is meant to be a compliment. He's big, skilled and works hard, just like I saw on film before the 6-10 Garza arrived this summer.
You don't get the kind of scholarship offers that Garza had from schools like Louisville, Georgetown and Notre Dame without being accomplished and talented.
He played well again on Thursday in the PTL, matching Nunge's double-double with 32 points and 10 rebounds.
3. Isaiah's opportunity: The graduation of all-Big Ten shooting guard Peter Jok could impact Isaiah Moss more than any player on the team. The 6-5 Moss started the final 28 games last season as a redshirt freshman and played brilliantly at times and poorly at times.
Moss seems more aggressive and more sure of himself on offense this summer in the PTL compared to a year ago. He scored 35 points on Thursday.
4. Baer facts: Nicholas Baer is unique when it comes to the Prime Time League.
He is one of few Iowa basketball players, besides maybe Reggie Evans, whose style of play doesn’t really change from the Prime Time League to real prime time.
Baer’s motor never stops in either setting, and he impacts the game in multiple ways, even on defense in the PTL. The summer league is hardly a showcase for quality defense, but it’s also not as bad as some make it out to be.
Baer was named Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year last season, and he might not start next season, but it won’t matter because the 6-7 forward from Bettendorf still will be a key part to a deep rotation. Baer showed why on Thursday by recording a triple-double in the PTL with 43 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
PTL stats are to be taken only so serious. But we've already seen Baer make a huge impact in real prime time.
5. Rising star: I had heard that Cedar Falls guard A.J. Green was a special talent, but hadn’t seen him play until this summer in the PTL.
In his case, the hype was right.
Green has more than held his own against college competition this summer as a 6-1 scoring point guard. He has better-than-average quickness and is highly skilled and fundamentally sound as the son of a college basketball coach. Green’s father is an assistant coach for Ben Jacobson at Northern Iowa.
It is widely assumed that the younger Green will join his father at UNI, and if so, the Panthers will be getting a top-notch guard who should contribute right away.
If Iowa fans are wondering, there is no available scholarship for Green. Iowa’s lone scholarship for the 2018 class already has been promised to 6-6 Muscatine star Joe Wieskamp, which is a wise decision if you’ve ever seen Wieskamp play.
Green will make some college team happy, though.
6. Attendance: It was a struggle to fill the PTL rosters this summer, but the two gymnasiums where the games are played at the North Liberty Community Center have been a different story.
Both gyms have been packed on a regular basis this summer, often with standing-room only crowds.
Interest is high in the Iowa basketball team, thanks largely to the emergence of the freshmen class last season. Iowa was fun to watch last season and won enough games by finishing 19-15 to spark enthusiasm despite not making the NCAA Tournament.
7. Tyler Cook's focus: Iowa's star-on-the-rise sophomore forward has certainly had some rim-rattling dunks in the PTL this summer. But it hasn't been like last summer in the PTL when Cook seemed pre-coccupied with trying to impress the fans with thunderous dunks.
The St. Louis native seems more concerned this summer with expanding his game by using the PTL as a chance to improve in all facets. The 6-9, 253-pound Cook is a special talent, but his game has flaws, especially on defense and the further he moves from the basket on offense.
Cook has shown this summer in the PTL, including on Thursday, that he can make medium-range jumps shots. The next step is making them in real prime time.
8. Ahmad Wagner's challenge: The junior forward from Ohio already has shown that he can defend and rebound in the Big Ten, but his offense still is very much a work in progress.
Wagner is emphazing his offensive game this summer because he knows that his minutes will increase in real prime if he can score more consistently. He doesn't have to become a 3-point shooter, but it would help Wagner, and would help Iowa, if he could develop a more reliable mid-range jumper.
He has shown flashes this summer in the PTL, but it's still way too eearly to know for sure if Wagner's offensive game has evolved.
9. The UNI factor: The presence of Northern Iowa players makes the PTL so much more competitive and interesting. Each of the six teams has at least two players from Iowa and two from Northern Iowa.
That creates a more competitive atmosphere in which the players truly can match their skills against other Divison I-level talent.
10. A new-and-improved point guard: Jordan Bohannon showed last season as a true freshman that he is a gifted 3-point shooter and an offensive force at point guard.
He is working to show other parts of his game this summer in the PTL, including his ability to penetrate and get to the basket. Bohannon this summer often has passed up what for him are makeable 3-point shots in order to penetrate to the basket.
That's encouraging to see because it means Bohannon is using the PTL as a way to get better, the same as like Cook and how all the Iowa players should treat the summer league, which dates back to 1987.