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June 18, 2010Like many Iowa basketball fans, leading returning scorers Matt Gatens and Eric May welcome the transformation from a grind-it-out offensive system to one that stresses a faster pace and increased aggression.
"It's going to be completely different," May said. "It's going to be up and down. I think it's really going to benefit my style."
After averaging a mere 60.5 points per game in coach Todd Lickliter's final season-last in the Big Ten-new coach Fran McCaffery has vowed to bring excitement back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. For Gatens and May, that means preparing for adjusted roles and improving their physical condition.
Gatens has been asked to drop 15 pounds from last season's playing weight-something he says he's nearly accomplished already. He is also expected to enhance his ball handling skills and quickness.
"I think (McCaffery) wants us to attack the rim more," Gatens said. "He wants us to work on our conditioning so we can get up and down the court. He wants us to cut down on our weight and be a little quicker.
"I'll be more of a two-guard now. In the past, I've played anywhere from a two to a four. It's nice to be able to concentrate on one area."
Assistant coach Andrew Francis, who followed McCaffery from Siena, believes the two can make the transition to a new system. He sees two players that already possess a solid set of skills.
"As we move forward, we'll get a good feel about what they bring to the table," Francis said. "Obviously Matt is a great shooter, but he's more than just a shooter. He should be able to go off the dribble more. He's more than capable.
"May is a very strong, extremely athletic slasher. If he can attach a greater shooting prowess to his athletic ability, he'll be a more complete player."
However, the question outside of the Iowa locker room will continue to center around whether a group of players recruited into Lickliter's system can play an up-tempo game. Francis knows that it will take time, but he believes the current roster can handle the switch.
"I think it fits," Francis said. "I think they have the desire to play faster. We want to get out and run but also play smart. Our style is a controlled style. They have to be able to read and react, and they'll continue to get better at those things. We want to empower our guys to be able to do that."
As the McCaffery era draws nearer, the anticipation builds for Gatens and May. They believe they'll be ready come November for the earth-shattering changes that have hit Iowa basketball. The passion in May is evident when he speaks of the McCaffery style.
"It gives us the opportunity to attack the basket more," May said. "There's going to be a lot more slashing and coming off of curl screens. We want to get to the basket and go hard."
Going hard to the basket should mean more rim-rattling dunks for May, who got accustomed to high-wire acts as a prep at Dubuque Wahlert. The new coaching staff has encouraged the 6-5 sophomore-to-be to finish with authority. May plans to oblige both coaches and fans with plenty of highlight reel slams.
More than anything though, Iowa's talented duo hopes to rack up more W's.
"I'm excited for whatever helps us win," Gatens said. "If we go up-tempo and it doesn't help us win, then that doesn't excite me. It should be fun, though. It gives us more freedom to create and get more open looks. We should score more points and hopefully get more wins.
"We want to be the group that turns things around and gets Iowa back to the Tournament."