By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Iowa forward Ryan Kriener fouled out near the end of last Tuesday's loss at Michigan State, he waved at the Spartan student section before finally taking a seat on the bench.
On Tuesday, the 6-foot-10 Spirit Lake native, will wave goodbye to Carver-Hawkeye Arena when No. 18 Iowa looks for revenge on Senior Day against a Purdue team that torched the Hawkeyes 104-68 on Feb. 5 in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Michigan State students were teasing Kriener by chanting at him to sit down, but he savored the moment and kept waving until after Aaron Henry made a free throw.
That moment is exemplary of Kriener’s personality – gritty with a side of moxie.
“He’s always been really competitive and never backed down from anybody,” Kriener’s father, Rich Kriener said Monday in a telephone interview. “Whether he was in second grade or third grade he always wanted to get in there and go. He’s always been competitive. He doesn’t back down from a challenge.
“He likes to have fun. The kids took it well, because after the game a lot of them came up to him and were giving him props.”
Ryan Kriener will be one of three players honored at Senior Day on Tuesday, aloing with graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn and former walk-on Riley Till.
Till still has a year of eligibility left, but head coach Fran McCaffery said on Monday that the Dubuque native will either graduate and pursue a job or play at another school next year.
Though his career numbers aren’t overwhelming, Kriener has been an integral part of Iowa’s identity, particularly this season for a team that has overcome a plethora of injuries to find itself with a 20-9 record and in the thick of the race for a double bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
“I’ve always been about team first, that kind of a culture” Ryan Kriener said. “I’ve always been a team first guy. Playing here, playing for this university, for this team has always meant so much to me, you know, growing up a Hawk fan. I’ve got a few games left and I have to try to soak it all in.”
Perhaps the most bittersweet part of Ryan Kriener’s final home game as a Hawkeye is that he will have go through the senior day festivities as the last remaining player from Iowa’s 2016 recruiting class that included his former AAU teammates, and current Iowa teammates, Cordell Pemsl and Jordan Bohannon.
Pemsl redshirted last season due to injury, Bohannon shut his season down after the Iowa State game.
The 2016 class also included Tyler Cook, who turned pro after last season, and Maishe Dailey, who transferred to Akron.
“It is really weird,” Kriener said. “I was actually joking around with Jordan the other day because, earlier in the year when he didn’t know if he was going to redshirt or not, I told him ‘If you’re going to redshirt I have to redshirt’ because I didn’t want to be out by myself.
“It’s kind of been weird the whole year because I’m the only old guy, even though I’m probably the youngest one in the whole class that came in.”
With Ryan Kriener’s grit and determination comes a diverse skillset that garners high praise from his head coach.
“He can come off the bench and lead,” McCaffery said. “He can come off the bench and bring toughness, and he can come off the bench and be a defender. He can switch ball screens and guard small guys. He can close and contest at the rim and block shots.
“Just phenomenally valuable, and one thing I always say about him is he's not out there making mistakes, plays within himself. He has a complete skill set.”
That skillset that McCaffery referenced has also helped the development of junior center and Big Ten player of the year candidate Luka Garza, who has been battling against Ryan Kriener in practice for three years.
“He presents challenges for me on both ends and I think that’s what has helped me improve so much,” Garza said. “A lot of guys don’t have the luxury of, when they go to practice, to play against a big of his caliber. I think that’s really, really helped me.”
Six of Ryan Kriener’s eight career starts have come this season, including three consecutive double-digit scoring performances against Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State while freshman guard C.J. Fredrick sat out with an ankle injury.
If nothing else, Ryan Kriener's claim to Hawkeye fame can be answering the call of duty.
"Sometimes players, if they’re too stuck on that stuff, they’re not ready when their moment comes and they can’t respond," Rich Kriener said. "I think a lot of times when Iowa and Fran have needed Ryan, he’s come through. Honestly, that’s the way I would reflect on his career. He wasn’t stuck. What I like to say is players sometimes get in their own way. But I think Ryan was mature enough to be a great teammate. When he was called on, he stepped up and he has had some great moments for the Hawkeyes."
With Fredrick back in the lineup, it seems fitting that Ryan Kriener will end his career at Carver-Hawkeye Arena right where it began - coming off the bench, trying to provide a spark.
“I’m totally fine with that,” Ryan Kriener said. “I don’t know if I’m still eligible for sixth man of the year, but we’ll see. If I have to campaign, maybe get some flyers out or maybe buy some ad time, I’ll see what I have to do.”