By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Joe Wieskamp didn’t have to score a career-high 30 points against Nebraska on Saturday to show what he means to the Iowa men’s basketball team.
His value can’t be measured just in statistics alone because that only tells part of Wieskamp's story.
His impact, and his influence on and off the court, goes far beyond just stuffing the stat sheet.
The 6-foot-6 Wieskamp is a combination of high character, high talent and low-maintenance, and that makes him the ideal teammate and a head coach’s dream.
It could have been argued heading into the season that Wieskamp was sort of the face of this Iowa team, especially with the uncertainty surrounding senior point guard Jordan Bohannon’s playing status.
That could have been due partly to Wieskamp being from nearby Muscatine and because he tested the NBA Draft process last spring. He also made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team last season and was one of 10 players voted to the media’s preseason All-Big Ten team for this season, and was the only Hawkeye to earn that accolade.
Wieskamp seemed poised for a breakout sophomore season, and in many ways, he is having a breakout sophomore season as one of 10 finalists for the 2020 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year award.
But Wieskamp has also been overshadowed for the most part by Luka Garza’s improbable rise to dominance.
Garza has gone from being a good player to arguably the leading candidate for Big Ten Player of Year, and maybe National Player of the Year. The 6-foot-11 junior center leads the Big Ten in scoring, is one of just three players nationally to average at least 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, and is clearly the face of this Iowa team, which is 17-7 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten heading into Thursday’s game at Indiana.
And that seems just fine with the soft-spoken Wieskamp.
Some players with Wieskamp’s high profile and notoriety might have resented having to take a back seat to a teammate, and would allow it to affect team chemistry.
Wieskamp, on the other hand, has too much character and humility to put himself before the team, and that’s one of many reasons why Iowa has exceeded expectations so far this season.
“To have a guy like that who can score at all three levels, who pushes the ball in transition and runs the court and also defends, he’s one of the best players in the country for a reason, and he’s been really good for us this year and throughout the entire year, and not just tonight,” Garza said of Wieskamp after the Nebraska game. “He’s been really consistent, and that helps to have a guy like that, and for me and him to be kind of duo.
“We’ve got one of the best duos in the country.”
Iowa went nearly eight minutes in the first half without scoring in Saturday's 96-72 victorty over Nebraska, but it was Wieskamp who finally ended the drought with a basket.
"He was just huge all night," redshirt freshman guard C.J. Fredrick said of Wieskamp.
It would be hard to find a more efficient, a more productive and a more versatile duo than Wieskamp and Garza.
They complement each other well on the court, and share a mutual respect that helps to create an environment in which to excel.
One of the big reasons why Iowa has exceeded expectations without two injured starters, including Bohannon, is that Wieskamp has accepted his role while also embracing Garza’s ascent to stardom.
There seems to be no jealously or sense of entitlement with Wieskamp, and the importance of that can’t be understated.
Wieskamp learned at a young age that basketball is a team sport and that sharing goes with the territory.
He also respects the game, and his opponent to much to be a distraction.
That’s why Wieskamp apologized for a dunk that he made with 12 seconds left in Iowa’s 72-65 victory over Illinois on Feb. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, even though he didn’t owe anybody an apology.
Two of the Illinois assistant coaches reportedly were upset that Wieskamp had dunked the ball with Iowa leading by eight points so late in the game.
But in fairness to Wieskamp, he thought Iowa was only leading by five points at the time, and Illinois still was pressing and trying to foul.
Wieskamp did absolutely nothing wrong, and yet, he still was decent and humble enough to apologize.
That says a lot about his character.
Remember, this is the same young man who donated the $1,000 that he won for being named the 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year in Iowa to the local YMCA in his hometown of Muscatine.
His local YMCA has played a key role in Wieskamp’s evolution as a basketball player and he wanted to show his appreciation.
But there was also another reason that Wieskamp donated the money to his local YMCA, a reason that so perfectly defines his character.
“I think encouraging kids to go out to the Y and stay active was part of the reason as well,” Wieskamp said at the time.
Wieskamp used to be one of those little kids who flourished at his local YMCA.
And now he is flourishing as a Hawkeye.
Wieskamp might not be the star of the team, but his value to the team is enormous, from what he does on the court to how he conducts himself as a teammate.
Iowa has a special chemistry, and much of that is due to Wieskamp having accepted his role.
“He’s really just so incredibly efficient with what he does,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
Some others words that come to mind when describing Wieskamp are unassuming, modest and unselfish.
He is all of those things, in addition to being a great player, and Iowa is fortunate to have him.