Three Big Question Marks Answered at UNI Basketball Media Day
The UNI Panthers will kick off their basketball season with an exhibition game against Dubuque on November 2 in the McLeod Center. Their first Division I competition will come at Richmond on November 11.
With the departure of several key pieces on the roster, there are several question marks entering the 2022 basketball season.
At UNI's basketball media day Monday, we got the answers to a few of those questions. Let's take a look.
Austin Phyfe Not Cleared... Yet
The number one concern on every Panther fan's mind going into this basketball season surrounded Austin Phyfe.
The 6'9 center from Waverly has dealt with a variety of issues regarding his health in his six years as a Panther. During his sophomore campaign, Phyfe faced heart problems that -- on occasion -- would result in him passing out if he stood up too quickly.
This last season, his minutes were limited after long-haul COVID drastically affected his ability to stay on the court for an extended amount of time. The former First-Team Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) player went from averaging 27.1 minutes per game in 2020 to just 12.1 in 2021.
After the season came to an end in March, his progress healthwise has been quite a rollercoaster, and his future with the team has remained up in the air. He faced blood clots in his lungs and legs and went into emergency surgery in June. Since then, he's been on blood thinners to avoid any more clotting.
Phyfe elaborated on his future on the court this season:
At this time, I'm not cleared by doctors since I am still on those blood thinners. We're still clearing out some of those clots because of how many there were and how long there were there. ... That timeline I'll still be on those is unsure. You never know what's going to happen in the coming months. I could react better to the medicine than they think and then hopefully get back out there.
Should things go a different way and Phyfe be unable to see time on the court this season, he fully plans to participate in any way he can with the team, specifically filling a coaching role, as Coach Jake said:
(His role has) included a number of different things already -- whether it's grabbing a player after a drill and saying 'Hey, maybe think about this, or that has worked for me.' ... It's been valuable, and it will continue to be that. Whichever way it goes, his impact on this team will be tremendous.
Who's Filling the Scoring Void?
Moving into this season -- along with possibly not seeing Phyfe -- there are four familiar faces that won't be in Cedar Falls in 2022. Two-time MVC Player of the Year AJ Green has moved on to the NBA, Noah Carter transferred to Missouri, and Trae Berhow and Tywhan Pickford both graduated.
Specifically, between Green, Carter, and Berhow, much of the offensive output will be missing. 44.1 points per game and 164 of the team's 377 total assists, to be exact.
So, where will that offensive output come from in 2022?
Coach Jake started it with one simple statement:
They will be in the starting lineup, and we talked about that with the guys this summer. Those three have clearly separated themselves.
Center from Oskaloosa, Cole Henry said this of the trio:
The scorers on our team are Nate, Bowen, and Tytan, mainly. If we can get the ball in their hands, I think we'll be really good. ... Bowen has worked harder than anyone I've ever seen this summer. Tytan as well, Coach (Jacobson) called on him and said 'We need more scoring out of you.'
Regarding that work and expectations this season, Born told me this:
I put in a lot of time this summer working on different things and things I feel like I'm going to be doing those things season. ... I'm stepping into a bigger role. ... Guys like me, Nate, and Tytan, we're going to have to score because a lot of scoring left.
(MVC) Player of the Year is my goal, man. That's how I worked this offseason. I don't typically care about individual awards, but being the player of the year, you also help your team win.
Born is coming off MVC awards in back-to-back seasons. In 2020, he won the MVC Freshman of the Year, and in 2021 he was named the conference's Sixth Man of the Year.
Jacobson added this of Anderson, who hasn't started regularly prior to this season:
He's worked really hard, and he's put in a lot of time. ... He's ready to move into a full-time spot. ... Now, instead of doing it for 5-12 minutes, he's going to be doing it for 30+. We're really excited for Tytan.
New Faces Will Contribute
There's plenty of talent remaining on the rest of the 15-man roster, and there are plenty of minutes to fill this season, too.
Along with the trio of Anderson, Born, and Heise, Coach Jacobson pointed to several other Panthers that could step into the starting lineup this season. Joining Born in the backcourt will likely be one of Michael Duax or Cedar Falls natives Trey Campbell and Landon Wolf.
This is what the five-time MVC Coach of the Year had to say about the three new guards:
Landon and Mike have done well. We think both of those guys are going to be good for us this year, and they're headed towards big careers. ... Trey has the ability to create some things, his timing is good, his passing is good. ... He's always been a very efficient scorer, now he's working to find ways to do that at this level.
Heise added this of the three:
They're good players -- they're really talented. The most important thing is that they have basketball IQ. They're going to be able to pick it up as they go. This summer and fall, they've picked up a lot already.
He finished with this:
Michael Duax is going to be a really good defender.
In the frontcourt, Coach Jake said it will be more known commodities in either Henry, James Betz, or walk-on Derek Krogmann.
Whoever steps into the remaining two starting spots, the others will be in the mix of playing time.
A transplant from Izmir, Turkey, Ege Peksari, will see minutes this season, too. Coach Jacobson pointed to Peksari's international experience as being a different, but highly valuable asset to this team:
That game (overseas) is so different from ours. They play with a shotclock growing up, and they play against older players a lot. You can feel that with Ege. ... The way he plays and thinks about offense -- it's at a high level. He's got the unique ability to get his teammates really good shots.
You can watch more on UNI men's basketball media day here, from my interview with college basketball analyst, Kevin Lehman: