Mike Rolands has two reasons to be excited about the circumstances heading into the NIT semifinals at famed Madison Square Garden in New York City.
For one, he’s a life-long fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, who face Maryland in one semifinal Tuesday.
He’s also a friend of Baylor senior point guard Pierre Jackson, whose team plays Brigham Young in the other semifinal game.
So what’ll happen if Iowa and Baylor both advance to Thursday’s NIT championship game?
“I’d cheer for Iowa and then hope that Pierre has a good game, but not good enough to beat us,” Rolands said Monday afternoon in a phone interview.
Rolands grew up as a self-described die-hard Iowa fan in the northern Iowa town of Lake Mills. He now is the assistant vice principal at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas. Jackson graduated from Desert Pines and often visits the school when he returns home.
Jackson now is considered one of the top guards in the collegiate ranks. He earned honorable mention All-America recognition as a junior last season, leading Baylor to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight where it lost to eventual national champion Kentucky.
Baylor hasn’t had as much success as a team this season, but at no fault of Jackson. He enters the NIT semifinals averaging 19.7 points and 6.9 assists per game.
“I was just talking to my athletic director today; it’ll be fun if Iowa beats Maryland and Baylor beats BYU and just play that game,” Rolands said. “And you know, either (Pierre) is going to hear about it from me for a while or I’m going to hear about it from him.”
Rolands tried to sell Jackson on the Iowa program two years ago when Jackson was going through the recruiting process as a sophomore in junior college. Jackson was interested in Iowa and thought about taking a recruiting visit, thanks in part to Rolands’ salesmanship. However, the recruitment never materialized beyond having conversations and the 5-foot-10 Jackson eventually signed with Baylor.
Jackson was a hot commodity at the time after leading the College of Southern Idaho to the 2011 junior college national title, earning MVP honors while doing so. Baylor also was a program on the rise, whereas Iowa had just finished 11-20 in Fran McCaffery’s first season as head coach. It also was Iowa’s fourth consecutive losing season.
“He was interested (in Iowa) and then once Baylor got involved, that was it for him,” Rolands said. “The (Iowa coaches) wanted Pierre. It’s just they could never get in contact with him and his AAU coach got involved and starting steering him in different directions.”
Rolands said the timing wasn’t right for the Iowa coaches to land Jackson because the program still hadn’t turned the corner. Iowa has since been on the rise under McCaffery, finishing 18-17 last season and winning 24 games so far this season.
Rolands said he has reached out to Iowa assistant basketball coach Sherman Dillard about certain prospects from Desert Pines and that Dillard is always receptive.
The Desert Pines boys basketball team won the Division-1A state title this past season. One of its star players was senior point guard Julian Jacobs, who signed with the University of Southern California in November. Rolands said he didn’t try to persuade Jacobs to look at Iowa because the Hawkeyes already had two freshman point guards — Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons — on the Iowa roster.
“This one I think was the wrong position and wrong year,” Rolands said. “So maybe one year later, they would have been all over him.”
Rolands’ affection for Iowa is no secret around his high school. He likes to decorate his office with Hawkeye memorabilia and he likes to promote Iowa to potential recruits whenever he can.
In addition to Jackson, Rolands tried to encourage the Iowa football coaches to recruit former Desert Pines offensive lineman Cedrick Puotasi. Poutasi also said publicly that he was interested in attending Iowa because of Kirk Ferentz’s success in developing offensive linemen.
But Iowa showed no interest in recruiting Poutasi and he eventually signed with Utah, where he earned Pac-12 honorable mention recognition as a true freshman last season.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball