Leistikow: One-on-one with Jordan Bohannon, who thinks NCAA is awful and Iowa hoops should be No. 1
A sharp-shooting guard with a flair for the dramatic, Jordan Bohannon has seen the spotlight find him over his past four winters with the Iowa basketball team.
But the popular Hawkeye also does a fine job finding the spotlight on his own — be it trash-talking on Twitter, via his role in swiping a branded rug from the NCAA Tournament, or by leaving a signed pair of his shoes on rival Iowa State's floor after a resounding road win.
Or, now, by co-starting a podcast called “The Standpoint,” in which he doesn’t hold back in his opinions — particularly when it comes to what he views as embarrassing leadership from NCAA president Mark Emmert. One of the early episodes, in fact, is called “Bohannon vs. Emmert.”
“I got some heat for that,” the youngest of four Bohannon brothers, at 23, chuckles in the early moments of an interview this week with the Des Moines Register.
From outsiders? Coaches?
UI COVID-19 tracker: How many cases are at the University of Iowa? Here's how to track the cases
“Nah, some (UI) compliance people talked to me for a little bit,” he says, still laughing. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.
"They don’t like me too much at the compliance office.”
Bohannon says the podcast — "in my ninth year at Iowa," he quips — was something he wanted to do to give an unfiltered voice about what it takes to be a student-athlete. The Marion native is actually "only" a fifth-year senior with the Hawkeyes, although Big Ten opponents might feel like he’s been tormenting them for nearly a decade.
With his final basketball hurrah as a Hawkeye almost here, Bohannon isn’t about to hold anything back, be it behind a microphone or on the hardwood. Even after surgery on both hips in 2019 and multiple rehabs, Bohannon boldly states he is in the best physical shape of his life.
Now that an official start date to the college basketball season is announced (Nov. 25) and with the Hawkeyes having held their first full-fledged practice Wednesday, Bohannon was ready to talk. And he was candid on a wide range of topics ahead of what is easily the most anticipated Iowa basketball season in at least 15 years.
Well, the hoped-for season. Bohannon’s skeptical that a season will happen. Very skeptical.
The headache from hell hit hard.
On his first podcast, Bohannon spilled the beans that seven people in the Hawkeye men’s basketball program had tested positive for the coronavirus in early August.
“I didn’t break any (HIPPA) laws,” Bohannon says. “I want to say that right now.”
What he didn’t share, until now, was that he was one of the seven, and he got by far the worst symptoms on the team. The initial headache was so bad, he says, that “I couldn’t even lay my head on a pillow without wanting to start crying,”
He says COVID-19 feels nothing like the flu. It's unimaginably worse.
“I was one of those people, I didn’t think it would affect me if I got it,” Bohannon says. “But I got it, and I was knocked on my ass for 10, 11 days. The worst headaches I’ve ever had. Fever, chills, vomiting. I felt like my esophagus was about to cave in. It was crazy. But I got through it.”
Bohannon was off the court for three weeks, because of both the illness and Iowa’s return-to-play protocol.
In an unexpected way, the outbreak wound up building tighter team bonds, with guys checking up on each other while in quarantine. There was joint determination to not let it happen again.
The Iowa men haven't been to a Final Four since 1980. The way the Hawkeyes are talking and thinking, they intend to break that four-decade drought.
But they can’t do it if key players are out with the coronavirus. Any confirmed positive test, according to the latest Big Ten protocols outlined in a planned October return to football season, will mean an automatic 21-day stay on the sidelines for that player.
“It’s a job that we have going forward that we want to accomplish something really great at Iowa that hasn’t been done in a while,” Bohannon says. “The talent we have, everyone in the locker room knows we can do something special.
“Where we are in six months, a lot of that will depend on our daily decisions.”
Yes, expectations are high. So is motivation.
Bohannon makes no bones about it: He will see your social-media slights and more than likely be driven by them. When he saw somebody call him “fat” last season, he stowed that away. Yes, the 6-foot-1 Bohannon was playing at around 190 pounds, just six months after right-hip surgery. He ended up cutting his season short with left-hip surgery in late December after playing 10 games and was awarded a fifth year of eligibility in May.
“That (comment) definitely impacted me,” he says. “I went through hell just to try to get those 10 games in on one bad hip and another bad hip. I knew I didn’t have time to get back in shape.
“I told myself (that after the second surgery), I was going to be completely healthy and the best shape of my life. And I got to that point.”
He’s slimmed down to 170 pounds with more muscle mass, thanks in large part to an improved diet (including cutting out fried foods) and obsessively running hills near his one-bedroom apartment.
The hips feel great. The shot?
“Like riding a bike,” he says, with typical Bohannon swagger.
His 40.3% career accuracy from 3-point range and overall court vision (504 career assists) will be invaluable weapons for the 2020-21 Hawkeyes, who are loaded with offensive firepower and widely considered to be a preseason top-10 team nationally. Even Bohannon was legitimately surprised that consensus all-American and national player of the year (by some) Luka Garza chose to come back for a collegiate season that contains so many unknowns.
“I thought he was leaving, for sure," Bohannon says.
A top five of Bohannon, CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery and Garza — with forward Jack Nunge and speedy guard Joe Toussaint also having starting experience, and highly rated recruit Patrick McCaffery healthy again — brings huge expectations to a program that hasn’t been to a Sweet 16 since 1999.
Top 10? That threshold is selling Iowa short, Bohannon says.
“If you ask me, we deserve to be No. 1,” the Hawkeyes' all-time leader in 3-pointers says. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the Big Ten or the Power Five that has the talent and experience that we have coming back. We have the player of the year. He’s going to win it for a second year in a row. I don’t really see how anyone can handle us offensively.
"And our defense is getting better every day.”
So, what will it take for Iowa to meet its own high expectations?
Bohannon has a one-word answer: Games.
Give Iowa games, he says. Get the Hawkeyes on the court.
But he has zero confidence that the NCAA is ready to make that happen. This is the portion of the interview in which Bohannon’s voice turns from humorous and confident to frustrated and angry.
“I don’t think they have any plan, and I don’t think anyone on the outside realizes that right now,” Bohannon says. “The NCAA does what they always do — comes out with an announcement (like the Nov. 25 start date) to please the public.
“They could have figured something out a long time ago if they really wanted to play.”
Bohannon hears of continued postponements in football games and worries that every day that passes without a clear-cut plan of game action, the chance of a season taking place lessens. The delays, he says, take a toll on athletes' mental health.
“What happens with football is really going to (dictate) what we do,” he says. “I’m praying that it’ll last. But I just don’t really see it happening.”
Bohannon is a proponent for a bubble-type atmosphere — the idea in which a group of teams with negative-tested players gather in one place and play bundles of games, then return home. He wants the NCAA to know: There’s a determined team in Iowa City willing to do whatever it takes to play.
“They need to find a way like the NBA did to have a safe season,” Bohannon says. “The money’s there for the Power Five conferences, for sure, to do something like the NBA did, to have some kind of bubble.
“If it’s only league games, then do only league games. Then figure out the NCAA Tournament down the road. But for sure there needs to be a season, and there needs to be a plan implemented now. We can’t wait until the final seconds.”
Bohannon gets depressed thinking about himself, Garza and possibly Wieskamp playing their final games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena without fans. But he'd rather have that scenario than no games at all.
Our interview ends with a hypothetical scenario and a return to humor.
If there is an NCAA Tournament and Iowa makes a run to the Final Four, would Bohannon use that platform — with the NCAA logos surrounding him — and publicly bash Mark Emmert?
Hey, he’s an amateur player. Emmert can't possibly punish or fine him, right?
In typical Bohannon fashion, he ends the interview with a walk-off shot: “I wouldn’t put it past him.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.