CEDAR FALLS — As is the case with most new parents, the holiday season is proving to be a frenzied time for Northern Iowa guard Hunter Rhodes.
Three months after the birth of their daughter Leighton, Rhodes and longtime girlfriend Jordyn Chasteen are going all out for her first Christmas, with an excitement that sometimes has them foregoing long-standing holiday traditions.
“I’ve probably gotten her 10-to-15 presents and nothing has been wrapped,” Rhodes said. “(Jordyn) says ‘Oh, wrap it for her’ then before I can she’s wearing it.”
While most college seniors, particularly student-athletes, may not be prepared for the rigors of parenthood, Rhodes, who turns 22 on Dec. 27, seems right at home with the domesticated lifestyle.
“We were pretty nervous at first because I feel like you have to be when you’re bringing a child into your life,” he said. “But we were both really, really excited about it.
“And now, when I come home it’s awesome seeing the little one. It just makes me smile. She’s starting to smile now so it’s just a great feeling getting to see it.”
For the people around Rhodes, a change in his demeanor has been easy to spot.
“I tell you what’s cool is seeing him when he comes through the office, how he lights up,” Panther coach Ben Jacobson said. “When I ask him how it’s going and how everybody’s doing at home, he just lights up. I think that’s really, really cool.”
From a basketball standpoint, things have also changed a bit for Rhodes. While Jacobson says his practice habits are exactly where they need to be, the senior guard’s fatherly duties have prevented him from taking part in a few organized team activities off the court.
“(Staying home) is not too difficult because I know taking care of her is far more important than basketball,” he said. “I love being with my teammates, but when you compare the two, I have to be with her more than anything.”
The arrival of his daughter has also helped Rhodes deal with a frustrating start to his senior year in which a preseason foot injury caused him to miss the first four games and has prevented him from finding a steady spot in the rotation. In five games, he’s averaging 1.8 points in 10.3 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, he’s enduring a few barbs from teammates like Klint Carlson, who insists Leighton is “a lot cuter than he is.”
Rhodes ultimately doesn’t protest Carlson’s assessment too much.
“I think I’m pretty cute, too,” he said. “But she’s definitely cuter than me, I’ll admit that. To me she’s perfect.”