Eric May was being interviewed by several reporters before practice Friday when I started having flashbacks to a similar circumstance a year ago.
Listening to May reminisce about his up-and-down career as an Iowa basketball player and about how he appreciates the support from his close-knit family reminded me of when former Hawkeye Matt Gatens said almost the exact same things to reporters last March.
May hasn’t achieved the same individual success that Gatens had at Iowa. But May has earned the same respect and admiration from his teammates and coaches for how he conducts himself on and off the court.
May has embraced his role as Iowa’s senior leader from in state, just like Gatens did last season. The Iowa fans have embraced May in return, as they did Gatens a year ago.
May’s popularity will be apparent today when he is honored before Iowa’s regular-season finale against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. His ceremony has standing ovation from the sellout crowd written all over it.
“I’m excited for tomorrow,” May said. “It’s going to be a fun day. I’ve had a great time at Iowa and I expect the crowd to be crazy and it’s going to be a good environment.”
It also could be a day filled with milestones, but only if May and his cohorts take care of business. A victory would give Iowa its first 20-win season since the 2005-06 squad finished 25-9 under former coach Steve Alford.
A victory also would be the 300th for current Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and it would give Iowa its first nine-win season in conference play since the 2006-07 campaign.
“I think we all know what’s at stake here and we know what we’ve got to do to take care of business,” May said. “You try to put the emotions aside and just go out there and take care of business and have fun, play loose and play like we’re capable of playing.”
McCaffery tried to downplay the milestone stuff Friday while meeting with reporters, other than saying that winning 20 games would be special for May.
“It’s not something we’re going to talk about because the (Big Ten) Tournament is next week and we’ve got a lot in front of us,” McCaffery said. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment and I’ll be very happy for Eric May to be able to say for the rest of his life that he was a captain for a 20-win team in the best conference in college basketball.”
May has helped lift Iowa to a higher level this season compared to last season. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for the Dubuque native, with Iowa losing seven of its first 10 conference games. But the team has stayed the course largely because of May’s influence and leadership, not to mention his contributions on the court, where he is arguably Iowa’s best defender and most explosive player.
May also has stayed healthy for a change, unlike the previous two seasons when he was hampered by injuries, including a nagging back injury last season.
“I think it’s a great example for the other guys to watch somebody continue to persevere through injuries and some other obstacles to become what he’s become,” McCaffery said.
May and Gatens both will be remembered for helping to lay the foundation under McCaffery and for persevering through tough times under previous head coach Todd Lickliter.
Gatens never achieved his goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament, but he helped bring the program closer to that level before handing May the leadership torch.
Gatens, who is from Iowa City and now plays professionally in Spain, inspired his teammates to play better and to work harder because they wanted so much for him to have success. May has had the same effect on this year’s team.
“It’s a big incentive, sending him out well and being able to finish the season right and just trying create memories now for him,” said junior guard Devyn Marble, who needs just two points to reach 1,000 in his career. “It’s been fun for me just playing with him these last three years. I know he’s going to miss it and we’re going to miss him.”
The Iowa players said similar things about Gatens heading into the regular-season finale a year ago, but the special occasion was tainted by a 70-66 loss to Northwestern.
Perhaps that’s why May on Friday kept stressing the importance of taking care of business because he remembers how bittersweet last year’s Senior Day was for Gatens and his family.
May looks forward to sharing the moment with his family, whose members have been at his side throughout college. His mother and father have attended almost all of his games in college, both home and away. That’s something else May has in common with Gatens, whose parents did the same thing.
“I think they’ve been to every arena in the Big Ten,” May said of parents. “There are only a couple games that they miss a year. So they’ve been phenomenal with that and I’m so lucky to have that support system wherever I go.”
McCaffery feels lucky to have May on his side.
“He’s one of the easiest guys I’ve ever had to coach,” McCaffery said. “He just comes every day ready to go.
“I can’t imagine a better employee to have in your company, on your team whatever that team is. You want Eric May on that team.”
McCaffery said similar things about Gatens last season. No two players are alike, but May and Gatens, who both stand 6-foot-5, are almost twins when it comes to being leaders.
INJURED GESELL COULD PLAY:Freshman point guard Mike Gesell is making progress with his injured right foot, including having the boot removed that was protecting it.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday that he was guardedly optimistic about Gesell playing in the Big Ten Tournament next week. McCaffery also said Gesell won’t have a second MRI on the foot because it won’t reveal enough information to help make a decision on Gesell’s playing status.
“It’s a process to get him ready,” McCaffery said. “So he’s walking without the boot. He’s riding the bike without the boot. Over the course of the weekend, he’ll start running and he’ll start shooting. If at any point in time he felt a lot of pain that would be problematic. And that would mean he probably wouldn‘t play. It’s baby steps.”
Gesell started the first 27 games and is Iowa’s third leading scorer with 9.0 per-game average.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball