Tough Team Tickles Alford
With about three minutes remaining in a tight game against No. 8 Illinois on Jan. 15, Iowa coach Steve Alford turned to his father, Sam, who's an assistant coach, laughed and said, "I want to win this thing, but man, our guys are really fighting out there." The Hawkeyes did win, 68-61, leaving them with a 3-0 record in the Big Ten (11-3 overall) through Sunday, a mark reflected in Alford's demeanor. "I can't remember a time when I've been in a laughing mode at the end of a close game," Alford says.
Before the season few expected Alford to have much to smile about. Following a rash of transfers and suspensions in the off-season, Iowa had just eight available scholarship players, one of whom was a walk-on last year. Alford dictated a team-first mentality in October when he informed the players that he was having their names removed from the backs of their jerseys. The relative scarcity of talent has helped the team's consistency, and its chemistry. Says 6' 11" junior center Jared Reiner, "It doesn't matter who's scoring. All of us know we're going to get plenty of minutes and plenty of shots."
Much of the offense has come from 6-foot senior guard Chauncey Leslie, who at week's end was leading the team with 16.1 points per game, and 6' 7" junior forward Glen Worley (13.1). The biggest reason for Iowa's resurgence, however, has been the surprisingly mature play of 6' 3" freshman point guard Jeff Horner. Having had surgery in August to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, Horner played sloppily at times early in the season, but in his last five games through Sunday he had 30 assists and just six turnovers. Against Illinois, Horner had 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals. "At the beginning of the season, I was really tentative," Horner says. "I'm trying to be more aggressive now, so I'll make strong passes without even thinking about it."
Eastern Illinois' Domercant
Unheralded but Unstoppable
Henry Domercant is on the verge of joining an exclusive club. At week's end the 6' 4" senior from Eastern Illinois was the nation's second-leading scorer (26.4 points per game), and if he maintains that pace, he almost certainly will become the 11th player in NCAA history to be among the nation's top five scorers for three straight years. (Domercant was second last year and fifth as a sophomore.) The list of players who have accomplished that trifecta includes Larry Bird, Bill Bradley, Pete Maravich and Oscar Robertson.
A native of Naperville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Domercant has honed his marksmanship through early-morning shooting drills at Eastern Illinois' student rec center three or four times each week. "The days when I really don't feel like going are the days I make sure I go," he says. Domercant's sessions are so intense (he tries to sink 100 to 150 jump shots in an hour) that last season Panthers coach Rick Samuels told him to scale them back because he was worried that Domercant was wearing himself out.
As prolific a scorer as Domercant is, he's no shameless gunner. He's a heady player who moves well without the ball. In addition to his routinely superb perimeter game (through Sunday he was shooting 42.2% from the floor and 39.3% from three-point range), he gets more than a quarter of his points at the foul line, where he was sinking 80.0% of his attempts.
Last summer Domercant held his own in Chicago-area pickup games that featured several NBA players, including Michael Jordan, Antoine Walker and Michael Finley. That experience helped reinforce Domercant's belief that hell play in the NBA one day. "I don't know when it's going to happen, but it's going to happen," he says. "You can count on it."