IOWA CITY, Iowa — Eric May doesn’t plan to go away quietly.
The lone survivor from a three-member recruiting class and the only scholarship senior on the Iowa basketball roster is determined to make the most of his final year in a Hawkeye uniform.
Coach Fran McCaffery wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I would be really surprised if he wasn’t a major factor on this team,” McCaffery said. “I think a lot of people are way too quick to write him off. That’s not our plan at all.”
That’s not May’s plan, either.
The 6-foot-5 guard has a blueprint of his own, wanting to assume a role that starts with being a lockdown defender on the opponent’s top-scoring perimeter player.
“That was something Matt Gatens brought to our team last year and it’s an area where I feel like I can contribute,” May said. “I want to be that guy on this team, where I can be locked in on the other team’s best player and take him out of his game.”
Improved defensive performance is an area of emphasis for the Hawkeyes this season.
When Iowa lost last season, opponents shot over 50 percent from 3-point range, benefiting from dribble penetration and a kickback to the perimeter for an open look.
“It’s a mindset, wanting to defend and wanting to force teams to try to beat you another way,” May said.
“We can’t accept anything less than our best effort on the defensive end. We can’t give up on plays because the shot clock is winding down. We can’t accept getting beat. That’s the approach we’re taking.”
May arrived at Iowa in the fall of 2009, part of a recruiting class that included Brennan Cougill and Cully Payne.
Like the coach that brought the three to Iowa City, Cougill and Payne have taken their skills elsewhere. Cougill is now playing at Wisconsin-Green Bay, while Payne is beginning his first season of eligibility at Loyola in Chicago.
May’s athleticism allowed him to show early promise as a Hawkeye. He averaged 9 points and 4.6 rebounds while earning a spot on the Big Ten’s all-freshman team.
His numbers have slipped in each of the past two seasons, in part because of back issues that have limited his availability.
“His lack of minutes were really a function of his injuries,” McCaffery said. “He wasn’t as effective when he was playing, so he couldn’t do what he wanted. That led to his minutes declining and that affected his confidence. It all sort of snowballed on the kid.”
That’s not an issue now.
McCaffery said May enters his senior season following good off-season workouts. He likes his mindset and appreciates that he doesn’t lack motivation.
“Physically, mentally, I more ready for this season than I have been for any year since I’ve been here,” May said. “The last couple of years, it’s been tough. I’m ready to finish this up in style. I know my role, I understand it, and I’m ready to make the most of it.”
McCaffery, whose team hosts Quincy in a 1 p.m. exhibition today, believes that will happen.
“He’s in great shape,” McCaffery said. “He’s like a lot of guys on our team. He may or may not start, but I think he’s in a position to play major minutes and give us the leadership we need with a team that is still fairly young.”
That doesn’t prevent May from talking about the team’s potential.
“I can’t think of a better way for my senior season to end than for it to end the NCAA tourney,” he said. “Given everything we’ve been through, that would be big and it seems like the next step. We’ve been to the NIT. Now, we want more.”
By the numbers
Eric May’s year-by-year statistical averages for the Iowa basketball team:
Year FG% FT% Reb. Pts.
2009-10 40.2 66.7 4.6 9.0
2010-11 42.3 60.4 2.9 7.8
2011-12 38.4 62.5 2.4 4.3