Iowa point guard Anthony Clemmons thought briefly this past season about joining a growing trend in men’s college basketball.
With his playing time cut dramatically compared to his freshman season, Clemmons was frustrated as a sophomore sitting on the bench behind teammates Mike Gesell and Devyn Marble.
“I can’t lie and say it didn’t (cross my mind),” Clemmons said Friday of transferring. “Yeah, it has. But I thought long and hard about it. I distanced myself from everybody and I prayed. And at the end of the day, my pride wouldn’t let me.”
Clemmons’ pride wouldn’t let him transfer mostly because of the influence of his father, Anthony Askew, and because of his respect and admiration for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
“Even if I wanted to (transfer), my pride just wouldn’t let me tell (coach) McCaffery I want to leave,” Clemmons said. “Because I know he recruited me for a reason. I know what I’m capable of doing and I didn’t show it (this past season).”
Askew didn’t coddle his son during tough times this past winter. Instead, he spoke the truth. And sometimes, the truth hurt.
“It really took my dad to tell me,” Clemmons said. “He just flat out told me, ‘Mike’s playing better than you. Dev is being Dev.’ And they were the two people at my position. My dad was one of my biggest critics, but he always kept it real with me.”
Clemmons learned as a young child growing up in Lansing, Mich., that quitting was to be frowned upon. It was a sign of weakness and something that would be easier to do the next time.
And even though a record of more than 500 Division I players transferred from one school to another this past offseason — the total is expected to be similar this offseason — Clemmons considers transferring as a form of quitting, as does his father.
“We talked. I let him know, ‘Hey, don’t run from a challenge,’” Askew said. “This is a challenge. A lot of kids go through it. You don’t want to start anything than quit in the middle.”
That’s exactly where the 6-foot-1 Clemmons is as a Hawkeye: Right smack in the middle of his career as a junior-to-be next season. He knows now more than ever that time is precious for a college athlete.
“It took me to actually sit down, myself, to realize that I only have two more years left,” Clemmons said. “These could be the biggest two years of my life to make that step to where I want to go.”
It was tough enough for Clemmons to deal with his own struggles last season. But his team also unraveled at the end, losing seven of its last eight games.
Clemmons made brief appearances in games down the stretch and showed glimpses of his freshman form. But his role mostly was reduced to being a cheerleader on the bench. Clemmons tried to make the most of it by accepting his role and being a good teammate.
“It was real tough because I was going through a struggle when the team was doing well,” Clemmons said. “I felt like if I would have had some opportunities, I probably could have done something. But the opportunity didn’t come, so therefore seeing the team unravel, it was hard for me. But at the end of the day I was cheering for my team to do better. I still spoke up. I still tried to give out motivation and help some of my teammates get better.”
Rumors about Clemmons considering transferring surfaced late in the season, which saw his playing time cut from 16.8 minutes per game as a freshman to 11.3 as a sophomore.
Clemmons helped to bury the rumors by telling reporters after Iowa’s loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that he was to blame for his poor season. He vowed to work harder in the offseason.
Two months later, nothing has changed.
“I didn’t put in the extra time in the gym like I used to,” Clemmons said. “You can go back to when I was first coming in to college, I had a different kind of mindset. My hunger was just different. You’re coming to the big stage, and me competing against Mike (Gesell) I felt like I had something to prove.
“And after my freshman season, I felt that I got a little too comfortable. I had fans coming up to me. I was in the paper and all over the media and stuff. And once you go through that slump your sophomore year, all that stuff is gone. And there is a reason that happens. It’s just a reality check. That’s how I took it.”
Another reason Clemmons wants to stay put is that he simply loves being a Hawkeye and the perks that come with it, including feeling safe and comfortable with his surroundings. He doesn’t always have that luxury back home.
“I love this school,” Clemmons said. “Coming from where I come from, there are not a lot of safe areas. And here I feel comfortable. I don’t have to worry about anything. I can leave car door unlocked because I don’t have to worry about somebody trying to drive off with my car.
“The people are real nice. Even when you’re having down days, the people understand that. Just the people around here are just so nice, and with the campus, it’s one of the best schools in the country.”
Clemmons said his father reminded him that wherever he might choose to transfer, it probably would be a step down from Iowa. Clemmons was committed to Eastern Michigan before switching to the Hawkeyes.
“I told him, ‘You have a real good situation down there,’” Askew said. “He’s got people that want to work with him. I said, ‘Hey, it’s up to you to get to work.’”
It also helps that Clemmons thinks so highly of Gesell, with whom he shares a house, along with 7-1 center Adam Woodbury. Clemmons and Gesell both compete for the same thing every day in practice, but they don’t let it affect their friendship.
“He always wants to make me better and I try to make him better because at the end of the day we’re teammates and we’re both in it to win,” Clemmons said of Gesell, who started all 33 games at point guard this past season. “We can battle on the court. But once we get home, it’s all love. He makes me better as a basketball player and as a person.”
Clemmons always knows where he stands with McCaffery, whose straight-forward approach he appreciates. McCaffery believed in Clemmons enough to start him for 13 games as a freshman.
It’s now up to Clemmons to earn back McCaffery’s confidence.
“When I had a meeting with him he kept it real with me,” Clemmons said. “He didn’t sugarcoat anything and he didn’t beat around the bush. He told me, ‘This is what you were doing and this is what I needed you to do and wanted you do. And this is why you weren’t in, because you weren’t doing this.’”
“So I questioned him, ‘If I do this is my (role) going to increase as being a player on this team?’ He said, ‘No doubt. You were before. What’s stopping you now?’”
“I appreciate him and he has all my respect.”
Clemmons is taking a more serious approach to this offseason compared to a year ago, when he coasted at times.
“Coming off my freshman year, I was just so exhausted with school and all the traveling,” Clemmons said. “I wasn’t used to it and I was tired from it. I worked out, but it wasn’t on a consistent basis. It wasn’t like I was doing it every day. I’d take a day off or too many days off. I think this summer I’m going to take it more serious because I’ve only got two more years left.”
Earning minutes at point guard won’t be easy next season even without Marble, who used up his eligibility this past season. In addition to Gesell returning for his junior season, junior-college point guard Trey Dickerson also will be in the mix. Dickerson averaged nearly 20 points per game at Williston State College in North Dakota and earned third-team junior college All-America recognition.
“Yes, it does motivate me,” Clemmons said of Dickerson joining the team. “But at the end of day, how is he any different than Mike? I’ll be going at him and he’s going to be coming at me and it’s going to make me better. And it’s going to make him better.
“That’s what this game is about. You have to compete. It’s all a mindset thing. I never want to get into I don’t like this kid because he’s the same position as me and stuff like that. That’s not me. I work for what I get.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball