Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon determined to rebound from one of the worst experiences in his life

img
Jordan Bohannon directs the offense in a game last season. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Jordan Bohannon is competitive to where he sometimes can be a jerk.

That’s not me saying that, but rather him at media day on Monday.

Iowa’s junior point guard was talking about trying to be a better leader and dealing with teammates on an individual basis, and about his near-obsession with winning when he offered this self-assessment.

“Ever since I started playing basketball everyone was saying that I probably come off as a jerk sometimes because I’m so competitive and I want to win every single time I step on the floor,” Bohannon said. “While that might get me in some arguments that aren’t needed at certain times, I’m starting to realize that you can say some things to different teammates that you might not be able to say to others.

“I think that’s main thing I’ve taken away from this. And I think that’s the big part of becoming a leader is realizing that and try to take that into a game and realize when you can say something to a teammate or not.”

Bohannon’s quest to become a better leader comes on the heels of a season in which Iowa suffered a stunning decline, finishing 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall after having made six consecutive trips to the postseason.

He probably would’ve said the same thing following a successful season because it’s only natural for one of the best players on a team to accept a bigger leadership role as an upperclassmen.

But this is more a case of crisis management under the circumstances.

Bohannon despises losing, so this past winter was a cold and deflating grind that forced him and his teammates and coaches to do some self-evaluation and reflection during the offseason.

Iowa performed woefully on defense, and that overshadowed the fact that Bohannon is well on his way to becoming the greatest 3-point shooter in program history and one of the all-time leaders in assists.

He is the only player nationally to record at least 150 assists and 80 3-point baskets as a freshman and sophomore over the past 25 years.

But Bohannon is also halfway through his college career and hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa returns its top nine scorers, but unless those nine players improve on defense, it probably won’t matter how much they can score, as last season so painfully demonstrated.

The players mostly tried to downplay that there is pressure to win at media day, but not Bohannon.

He said is there pressure to win and that the players have a chip on their shoulder because of what happened last season.

“I think the best athletes in the world put the most pressure on themselves,” Bohannon said. “And for them to become great, they’re able to deal with that pressure and fuel it into other sides of their game, whether that’s motivation or putting that chip on your shoulder.

“I think we all have that chip on our shoulder. I think that’s kind of the mentality we came into the season. The practices have been really competitive and we know that when you have a season like that, it’s going to take a lot to push us to the next level.”

As part of the fallout from last season, Fran McCaffery has sort of reinvented himself as a coach who now emphasizes defense.

The 59-year old McCaffery until now has been a coach driven by offense and by playing at a frenetic pace.

He used that approach to rebuild the Iowa program, but it failed miserably last season.

And somewhat lost in all of the failure was Bohannon’s sophomore season in which he started all 33 games, made honorable mention All-Big Ten and missed on purpose the most famous free throw in the history of the Iowa program.

Bohannon already was popular with the fans before he intentionally missed a free throw against Northwestern in February that would have broken Chris Street’s school record for most consecutive made free throws.

But Hawkeye fans now hold Bohannon in the highest regard for having honored a fallen legend.

Bohannon has defied the odds by becoming an offensive force in the Big Ten despite being undersized at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds and despite lacking quickness.

He has incredible Chris Kingsbury-like range on his shot, but is more consistent than Kingsbury, who played at Iowa from 1993-96.

Bohannon can make 3-pointers off the dribble or from a stationary position, and he can score in traffic due to having a quick release on his shot.

He also has the trust of his head coach.

“I've given Jordan the green light to be the guy,” Fran McCaffery said at media day on Monday. “He can call plays. He can gather his teammates, whether it be in the locker room or at any given point in time in practice. I think he's earned the respect of everybody. So that if he does that, they will listen to him, and he has to understand that they will listen to him; that he has my support and the support of our staff.

“What I think you'll see is a guy who is better in that area, and while at the same time, consistently putting up the kind of numbers we've seen.”

Bohannon has been durable since coming to Iowa, playing in all 67 games over two seasons, and in many cases, playing virtually the entire game.

Bohannon played an average of 34 minutes in Big Ten games last season, mostly due to a lack of depth at point guard.

Help is on the way, though, with a healthy Connor McCaffery now available. The 6-5 Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, missed most of last season due to injuries and illness, but is now healthy and ready to contribute as a pass-first combo guard.

“We have some flexibility there,” Fran McCaffery said. “I typically don't like to play him that many minutes. I mean, he's proved that he can play that many minutes. It's been said before, but he did that some days on a bad foot. He's a tough kid. But I think for him to be at his best, especially the way teams are going after him, you know, he was a marked man last year; was not the year before.

“So, yeah, we're excited about him. We're excited about his ability and his capability of putting up 30, but at the same time, we want to keep him rested, especially for the end-of-game situations.”

Bohannon understands the need for him to rest, but his competitive side still doesn’t like it.

“Having help is nice, but I’m still going to say I want to play forty minutes a game if I’m capable of doing that,” Bohannon said. “But having (Connor) come out, maybe I’ll move to (shooting guard) and I always want to shoot the ball, obviously.

“I’m a big believer in trying to get myself to score the ball. I think the team runs a little better when I’m able to be more aggressive like that.”

Bohannon spent much of the offseason working on his lateral quickness in order to improve his defense. The former Linn-Mar star, who is the son of former Iowa quarterback Gordy Bohannon and the younger brother to three former college basketball players, is at a critical stage of his college career.

He only has two more chances to make the NCAA Tournament, but Iowa is considered a long shot to make it this coming season.

The Big Ten Conference will hold its annual media day event on Thursday near Chicago and the media picked Iowa to finish 10th in the conference this season. That makes sense after what happened last season.

“It honestly sucks because we know the work we put in before the season and how it ended is not what you want,” Bohannon said. “Especially with the amount of people that watch you every single game. You want to play the best you can.

“But looking at the broad picture, it takes those failures, sometimes, to kind of reach that next level.”

Bohannon experienced a difference kind of failure this past summer at Lake Okoboji when he tried to learn how to ride a wake board for the first time.

He tried over and over to get up on the wake board, only to fail.

But he kept trying until he finally succeeded.

“I’m very aggressive. I’m not a giving up type,” Bohannon said. “It took me about an hour-and-half to get up out the water and I finally did it.

“It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life other than getting to the Division I level. I think that’s the second-most toughest thing I’ve ever done.”