WATERLOO — Experience and continuity are two factors that could provide Northern Iowa’s basketball team with an advantage within a Missouri Valley Conference where impact newcomers produced parity last season.
The Panthers are one month away from a two-week trip to Italy that associate head coach Kyle Green believes will be as beneficial from a camaraderie standpoint as it is on the court.
Guard Wyatt Lohaus is the lone departing Panther who played in March’s Missouri Valley Conference title game loss to Bradley. UNI center Austin Phyfe has appeared to be fully recovered after receiving a medical redshirt season by the NCAA, and junior Tywhon Pickford is healthier after a fractured bone in his foot and a shoulder injury plagued him a year ago.
“With the number of guys we have back that have played significant roles, we’re certainly going to bank and count on that experience as we go forward,” Green said during Monday’s MVC teleconference. “We feel continuity as a coaching staff, continuity as players, them getting comfortable and familiar with one another will hopefully pay dividends. Our trip this summer is another chance for them to be together and bond.”
After battling vasovagal syncope that triggered fainting episodes, Phyfe has found progress through a monitored diet and exercise. He’s been a full participant in individual and team workouts.
Green is eager to evaluate his center during competition overseas.
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“He’s been good in practice, good in workouts, but obviously hasn’t played in a game since the beginning of last season,” Green said. “To get a chance to do that in August will give us a little bit of a benchmark in exactly where he’s at. All signs certainly point in the right direction.
“For our roster, he’s an important piece because he’s got the ability to score on the block and on the perimeter and create some mismatch problems.”
Returning frontcourt options Luke McDonnell and Justin Dahl were part of the mix in Phyfe’s absence and join Biggie Goldman, a junior college transfer who battled through injury issues of his own, as options within a deep frontcourt. The Panthers often played four guards around a center last season, but will look at a few different lineup options in Italy.
“I imagine there will be some opportunities for those big guys to get on the floor together,” Green said.
On the injury front, incoming freshman forward Cole Henry had surgery on his knee prior to arriving in Cedar Falls. Green said he’s on the road to recovery and anticipates Henry will be ready for October workouts.