Former Iowa basketball player Matt Gatens has much to be happy about these days.
He’s engaged to be married.
He’s playing professional basketball in the premier league in Spain.
He gets to spend the holidays with his family, with his parents and two older sisters scheduled to be in Spain to celebrate Christmas.
And he gets satisfaction in knowing that his former college team is much better off now than when he arrived in 2008 as a freshman guard from Iowa City.
“I definitely still feel close to it,” Gatens said of the Iowa basketball team Wednesday in a phone interview. “Good things are happening. I still stay in touch with some of those guys. They’re doing a great job now, and I just kind of watch it from a far.
“You definitely feel like and hope that you had a little bit to do with it. But they’re the ones out there doing it. And they’re going to continue to keep doing it, and I’m going to continue to enjoy watching it. They’re good guys. And they’re good players.”
Gatens’ former team has won eight of its first 10 games, highlighted by an 80-71 victory over Iowa State on Friday before a near-sellout crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“The win the other night was real fun to watch here by myself kind of going crazy,” Gatens said.
Iowa has a chance to enter Big Ten play with an 11-2 record if it can win its final three nonconference games against Northern Iowa, South Carolina State and Coppin State.
Northern Iowa (6-3) should provide the stiffest challenge Saturday, with the game being played at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines as part of the inaugural Big Four Classic.
Gatens has watched most of Iowa’s game this season on his computer, sometimes by himself, a one-man cheering section with a unique perspective as a former star player. The time difference has caused him to do it at some odd hours, but Gatens wouldn’t miss the opportunity to cheer for his alma mater as it continues to ascend under third-year coach Fran McCaffery.
“I think I’ve caught all but one or two of the games,” said Gatens, who ended his career last season as Iowa’s sixth all-time leading scorer with 1,635 points. “It’s definitely something fun to look forward to and keep track of while you’re over here.”
One of the story lines to emerge this season has been the rise of Iowa’s three freshman starters, including point guard Anthony Clemmons, who has 34 assists and just nine turnovers.
Before moving to Spain this summer, Gatens played in some pick-up games with Clemmons and saw flashes. Gatens was impressed with Clemmons’ demeanor and his approach to playing basketball, even something as simple as a pick-up game.
“Just being around him, he seemed pretty straight-forward and controlled,” Gatens said. “When I played in scrimmages with him, some guys in scrimmages, especially a freshman, will play out of their element. But he always seemed in control and poised. He seemed pretty comfortable.
“So hopefully, he can stay with that as teams scout him more and know more about him, and the Big Ten knows more about him. But I’m sure he’ll figure it out, and hopefully, have some more success.”
The fact that Clemmons is ranked 15th in the country with a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio is a testimony to the poise that Gatens saw from the Lansing, Mich., native over the summer.
“When you come in too anxious and too nervous you don’t play up to your potential,” Clemmons said Wednesday before practice. “So I try to just relax and play my game.”
Gatens is optimistic that his former team can take the next step and make the NCAA Tournament. He suffered through three consecutive losing seasons at Iowa, along with a head coaching change, before leading the Hawkeyes to the second-round of the National Invitation Tournament as a senior last season.
Six of Iowa’s top eight scorers returned from last season. They have since joined forces with the three freshmen starters, which also includes combo guard Mike Gesell and 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury.
“The freshmen are coming along and growing,” Gatens said. “I’ve been really impressed with Mike and Adam. And then Anthony has just been a great addition, another ball handler, another scoring threat. He just seems real composed out there.
“It’s definitely great to have he and Mike at the same time. To know you have that core group of guys for the next four years is something pretty cool and special.”
As for his playing career, Gatens is 11 games into it and learning with each game. His team, which is stationed in Murcia, Spain, has a 4-7 record and Gatens is its third leading scorer with an 11.6 per-game average.
Gatens was a prolific 3-point shooter at Iowa but has struggled early on as a professional. He’s only made 14-of-47 3-point field-goal attempts but is 9-for-20 over the past five games.
“It’s a jump,” Gatens said. “Individual play is better all around. It seems like guys’ first steps are really fast, and the guys are really smart. It seems like every team has a couple seven-footers on it. It’s definitely a step up and something I had to adjust to.”
One of his biggest adjustments off the court has to do with the traditional daytime sleep in Spain known as a siesta. Gatens said it’s almost like the country takes a break in the late afternoon so people can take naps.
“I don’t really do it because I’m not really much of a napper,” Gatens said. “But whenever we’re on the road, it’s definitely worked into our schedule that we have like a siesta. Everybody just kind of goes to their rooms and does their own thing or sleeps.
“It’s interesting; it seems around 2:30 (in the afternoon) traffic kind of picks up and I think people are going home (to sleep). Some stores close, and restaurants don’t usually open up until about eight at night. It’s different.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball