UNI hopes Green is game-ready
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
CEDAR FALLS — Once a mighty mid major, Northern Iowa has lost more games than it has won over the past two seasons.
The Panthers are hoping four-star freshman point guard A.J. Green can help them get back to the top of the Missouri Valley standings.
Green, a consensus top-80 recruit whose father, Kyle, is a longtime Northern Iowa assistant coach, is the kind of rare natural talent that the Panthers rarely land.
They won’t wait to use Green either.
Northern Iowa (16-16 in 2017-18, 14-16 the year before that) opens its season against Bemidji State on Nov. 6, and Jacobson said on Wednesday that the ball will be in Green’s hands when it does.
“A.J. Green has got a tremendous work ethic. His competitiveness, his discipline, his determination, those things are all at an extremely high level,” Jacobson said. “He is a terrific player. But what I have found out…being around him every day is that he has earned every bit of it.”
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound Green, who grew up cheering on the Panthers and his dad, averaged 26 points a game in leading Cedar Falls High to a state title last winter.
Green had more than his fair share of Power Five offers, even though recruiters were right to assume he’d end up with the hometown program he’s been around since he was in kindergarten. Kyle has also been playing ball informally with many of the Panthers for years, and his father thinks that should help Green transition from coach’s kid to impact starter with relative ease.
“Where he’s comfortable is on the court. So I don’t think he thinks about it that way. I just think that he just thinks it’s basketball,” Kyle Green said. “He’s fortunate be surrounded by some really good players, and guys that he’s comfortable with. I think that makes a big difference. He knows these guys.”
The Panthers hope that Green will be ready to jumpstart an offense that was boring and ineffective a year ago, and Jacobson indicated during Wednesday’s annual media day that Green is also talented enough to facilitate a change in the way the Panthers attack opponents.
Jacobson hinted that he might play up-tempo much more often this season and even use four guards and a big man, with Green leading the way in transition.
Green is hardly the only guard the rebuilt Panthers are hoping to lean on in 2018-19 though.
Jacobson said that senior Wyatt Lohaus, the leading scorer in the Valley among non-starters last season, is in “tremendous shape” after battling injuries throughout his career.
Tywhon Pickford, who averaged 9.1 points and 7.8 rebounds as a freshman a year ago, had foot surgery on his right foot six weeks ago but should be ready to return to practice by the start of November.
Pepperdine transfer Trae Berhow, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, averaged 10 points a game in his lone season with the Waves and hit 40 percent of his 3s. He’ll be a big boost to a team that surprisingly struggled to hit shots from the perimeter a year ago.
“Our offense is going to look different. The pace of play for us will be different. This roster is built to do that,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson announced on Wednesday that junior college transfer Tray Croft, who scored 1,626 points in two seasons at Iowa Central, is suspended indefinitely. Jacobson also said that Croft, a point guard, will redshirt the season anyway because of academic issues.
But it’s clear that, for all the potential in Northern Iowa’s back court, Green will be the guy charged with turning around a program he grew up dreaming of playing for.
“I’m really excited to finally be a part of the team. I grew up my whole life watching the team, and now the sides have kind of switched,” A.J. Green said. “Although I am a freshman, it doesn’t really feel like it.”