DES MOINES, Iowa — Tyler Cook couldn’t keep a straight face and neither could Jordan Bohannon.
The Iowa sophomores sat together on a stage in the moments that followed the Hawkeyes’ 90-64 win against Drake at the Hy-Vee Classic. A reporter asked Bohannon about a flex pose he showed the world when he sank a bucket midway through a dominant Iowa run. Cook couldn’t contain himself.
Cook turned to his right and hid his face. He laughed with tears running down his cheeks. Bohannon answered the question through his own laughter. They both smiled.
Smiles and laughter. What a combination. Basketball can be — and should be — fun. Yet, fun is something of which we’ve seen far too less from the Iowa basketball team this fall.
Expectations at Iowa (6-6) were high entering the season and rightly so. The Hawkeyes lost just one player, albeit the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Peter Jok, but returned the nucleus of a team that narrowly missed an NCAA Tournament bid last year.
A 3-0 start against NCAA bottom-feeders rapidly turned into a mirage. Before this week, the Hawkeyes had lost six of seven games, including four against Power 5 competition. There were a pair of Big Ten defeats and the never-palatable loss to instate rival Iowa State. This week, there was a quick exhale in a win against Southern but to assess progress, Drake (5-6) provided a more measurable opponent.
The game Saturday provided a crossroads for the Hawkeyes’ season. A win and Iowa players could think positive thoughts as they finish 2017. A loss and the criticism intensifies.
That’s why when Cook and Bohannon sat in front of reporters and laughed, it was therapeutic for the duo. So was Bohannon’s flex move.
“That’s something I’ve been working on lately because I haven’t really been having fun out there,” Bohannon said through laughter. “I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself. Sometimes you just need to flex your muscles to get back having fun with it.”
Certainly there was no laughter over how or why Bohannon flexed. The play was more pivotal in what it represented than what it meant to the final outcome. With the Hawkeyes leading by 17 midway through the second half, Iowa forward Nicholas Baer missed a 3-point attempt and the ball caromed to the right of the Iowa basket. Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl tapped it back to Baer, and the ball moved around the perimeter.
Bohannon, who stands 6 feet, finally got the ball in the corner and drove to the hoop. He was fouled hard by Drake’s Kory Kuenstling and fell backward. The ball bounced off the backboard and through the net. Bohannon moved his fists to his shoulders while on the floor. His teammates went crazy.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) December 16, 2017
“I’ve known Jordan for over two years now and I’ve never seen him flex,” said Cook, who led all scorers with 23 points. “Period. Like in the weight room, practice, in the locker room. Never. He’s strong, but he’s not the strongest guy necessarily.”
“You may not think of him like that because he’s short or whatever; he’s only 6 feet but he plays with a lot of heart,” Pemsl said. “He does everything to help us win. Sometimes I like to see his energy like that and show his emotions.”
“For someone who’s 5-8, who knows?” Baer said when asked if Bohannon should have flexed. “I’m really happy for him and how’s able to finish. I think we need a little bit more fun and when we’re winning, we have more fun.”
The fun part seems to match the performance and outcome. Baer was a terror, scoring 11 points, grabbing a personal-high 14 rebounds, dishing 5 assists and pulling 5 steals. No player at Iowa has posted those numbers since Reggie Evans in 2000.
Bohannon, who scored 15 points and dished 7 assists, in particular felt more pressure because the team’s offense has performed inconsistently this year. He finished last season with three consecutive double-doubles in points and assists, the first Iowa point guard since B.J. Armstrong to do so. Bohannon endured some unfortunate recent criticism on social media, and its effects took an obvious toll.
That’s why Bohannon’s flex was so important for himself and his teammates. Maybe this performance gives the team more confidence, or perhaps it’s just a respite in a long season. Either way, it’s essential for the team to enjoy the moment.
“I think Jordan Bohannon smiled a little bit today, he had that and-1,” Baer said. “When you’re up 20, you’re going to see a few more smiles. I think the best way for us to have fun is to continue to compete at this level that we’re playing at right now and continue to win.”