CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Luke McDonnell and Spencer Haldeman have never shared a basketball court with the likes of Noah Carter.
Now, all three Dubuque County natives figure to factor heavily in what the University of Northern Iowa hopes to be a bounceback season.
Dubuque Senior grads McDonnell and Carter and Western Dubuque alum Haldeman were each specifically mentioned by Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson as impact players for UNI’s upcoming men’s basketball season during the program’s media day at the McLeod Center on Thursday. Jacobson specifically mentioned Carter will be relied heavily upon as a true freshman in a rotation that he estimates goes 9-10 players deep. McDonnell is one of four returning starters for the Panthers, and Haldeman is coming off a turn as the Missouri Valley Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago.
“Within this group is a good mix of size and mobility, guys that can score the ball. It’s a group that we’re excited about,” Jacobson said during his media day press conference. “This roster is better built (to compete) with the depth of the roster and the experience. … Practice is more competitive because of those things.
“They’ve got to come in here every day and play their tails off. … You’ve got to come in here and fight for it on a daily basis.”
Carter, who led the Rams to their first Iowa state high school championship game in 42 years in March, is part of a seven-player freshman class that’s essentially a “who’s who” of Iowa prep elites from the class of 2019. Joining him are fellow Iowa all-staters Cole Henry (Oskaloosa), Logan Wolf (Cedar Falls), Evan Gauger (Indianola), James Betz (Garner-Hayfield-Ventura) and Derek Krogmann (West Delaware), joined by Minnesota native Antwan Kimmons. Krogman, Henry and Gauger are each red-shirting this year, but the rest will fill out a team that has 10 returning letter winners from a season ago.
Jacobson had no reservations in naming Carter a key player in the mix for crucial minutes. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward brings a lot of versatility on the offensive end, and Jacobson is already listing Carter among UNI’s best 3-point shooters alongside the likes of Haldeman and returning top scorer A.J. Green (a sophomore).
“I’m happy to be here with this team. We’ve got a great group of guys and chemistry’s really high,” said Carter. “In practice we’ve been going really hard and it’s been really fun just competing with everybody. I’m not sure where playing time stands but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen.”
McDonnell and Haldeman, meanwhile, rank among the Panthers’ most experienced pieces this year. Both are redshirt seniors who saw action in all 34 of UNI’s games a season ago, with McDonnell and Green the only two players to start every game last year. Haldeman and McDonnell each averaged 7.5 points per game, good for third among UNI’s returning top scorers.
“You’ve got a group of 10 guys that are back … from that standpoint, there should be and I think there is a lot of excitement not just with our team but for the people I’m talking to and the things I’m seeing,” said Jacobson, whose team was 16-18 (9-9 MVC) last year. He said that as of today, Haldeman is holding down a starting guard spot. “In terms of expectations, as we talk about every year, those haven’t changed for a long time. They’re the same again this year — the expectation of coming to practice and getting better and the goals of being in the hunt for a (MVC) championship and winning NCAA tournament games.”
This is also the second season for the newly-installed offense for the Panthers, which funnels the ball through its bigs like the 6-9 McDonnell in the high post. Jacobson called the Senior grad “the quarterback” of UNI’s offensive sets, with wing players surrounding McDonnell making cuts based on his positioning at the top of the key.
“Last year it was new to us, so we’re still kind of learning and figuring things out,” said McDonnell. “It’s a lot of dribble-pitch, screen and roll… I think we’re going to have a great year this year. All the guys are back. We’re developed and learning.”
The Panthers were picked to finish third in this year’s MVC preseason poll by the Associated Press. They open the season on Nov. 5 against Old Dominion at the McLeod Center.