By Adam Hensley
Ahmad Wagner isn’t known for his shooting.
The junior forward averaged only 3.6 shots per game last season, and most of those came on put-back tips and layups.
But in Iowa’s 92-58 win over Alabama State on Nov. 12, Wagner found himself open in the corner, behind the 3-point arc. With no defender in sight, he pulled the trigger, draining the first 3-pointer of his Hawkeye career.
“He has been shooting it a lot better,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “He doesn’t shoot a lot, but the one that he made [against Alabama State] is kind of the one he’s been shooting. If he’s in rhythm, and he’s wide open, he’ll shoot it, and he’s been making them.”
With Nicholas Baer going down with a broken pinky, the 3-position opened, and Wagner filled the role.
Prior to Iowa’s opener against Chicago State, McCaffery said he wanted to get more minutes for Wagner.
In the second exhibition game of the season (and Iowa’s first without Baer), Wagner started but only played eight minutes.
But in Iowa’s first games of the season, Wagner’s minutes bumped — he played 19 and 12, respectively.
“It’s something you got to adjust to,” Wagner said in regards to his minutes fluctuating. “We have a really talented team, and we’re really deep. When I’m on the bench seeing how successful my teammates are, I’m a happy guy. When my number is called, I’m ready.”
Iowa’s depth is arguably the best it’s been under McCaffery, as almost any lineup the coach puts on the floor is capable of scoring.
Because of this, Wagner’s not too worried about feeling the need to score, especially in the starting lineup. Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Tyler Cook, and Luka Garza are proven scorers.
Wagner is too, but it’s a matter of finding where he gels with that group.
“For him, it’s going to be energy, offensive rebounding, defense,” McCaffery said. “He’s scoring the ball a lot better. He’s shooting the ball better; he’s driving the ball better. He’s always been a good guy off the dribble making plays for others.”
Wagner compared his role on the team to Golden State Warrior Draymond Green. The former Spartan is Golden State’s do-it-all player; he can score when needed but thrives on getting rebounds and dishing passes to teammates.
In Iowa’s opener, Wagner scored just 2 points but grabbed 6 rebounds and threw 4 assists. In the second game, he scored 5 points, secured 7 rebounds (4 on the offensive glass), and recorded 1 assist
The forward said he’s still getting into the mindset of playing more on the wing rather than in the post, where he found himself for the majority of his first two seasons as a Hawkeye.
“Coach said ‘You’re still thinking like a 4, you need to start thinking more like a 3,’” Wagner said.
Iowa spreads the floor on offense in order to create penetration into the paint. For someone with Wagner’s play style, this opens things.
“He’s a guy who’s got the quickest first step I’ve ever played with,” Baer said. “[With his jump shot], he’s really improved out there, to the point where you got to respect him.”