CEDAR FALLS — With basketball season just around the corner, Northern Iowa supporters were given a taste of what to expect from the Panther men’s and women’s team Wednesday morning.
Fans were given a chance to mingle with players and coaches during the Lincoln Savings Bank Basketball Tipoff breakfast at the McLeod Center.
Following the meal, Athletic Director David Harris gave an speech before turning things over to head coaches Ben Jacobson and Tanya Warren, who introduced their players and coaching staffs to the public.
Both coaches expressed optimism for the upcoming season, saying they’ve been impressed with what they’ve seen during early season practices.
Despite losing key pieces from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament a season ago, Warren commended the progress of her group, saying new faces are blending well with established veterans.
“We’re going to be pretty darn good,” Warren said. “We’re young, we’re inexperienced because of what we lost last year ... but what I will tell you is this young group (will) work, work and compete.”
Jacobson has also liked what he’s seen early on, going as far as saying that one weekend workout “wasn’t just the best workout we’ve had with this group, it’s the best we’ve had in this gym for a long time.”
The two teams also drew praise for their off-the-court successes. In 11 years, Jacobson has had a graduation rate north of 90 percent, while Warren’s teams have earned top-15 national academic rankings in eight of the last nine years.
“We have, in my opinion, the best two basketball programs at any one university in this conference,” Harris said. “They do a great job representing us all the time.”
MAN DOWN: While players have thus far been unaffected, the early part of the season hasn’t been injury free for the men’s team.
The Panthers are currently without assistant coach Erik Crawford, who ruptured his Patella Tendon following a post-workout accident on Sept. 22.
“He’s doing OK (but ) he’s got some work to do in terms of getting back to fully healthy,” Jacobson said.
Crawford, a former Panther player, has already had surgery and Jacobson is hopeful he’ll be able to return to practice in a few weeks. And though he may still be limited physically, Jacobson expects Crawford to be on the bench when the Panthers host North Carolina-Pembroke in a Nov. 5 exhibition.