CEDAR RAPIDS — This was the same Jarrod Uthoff they remembered from playing summer basketball together. Tall and thin, always a smile, a real nice kid.
But there was something different. Namely his game.
“When we were sophomores, when he first came here, he was just head and shoulders above all of us,” said Cedar Rapids Jefferson teammate Tyler Meiborg. “We had played with him a lot when we were younger. But it was a surprise to see how much he had improved from when we played AAU basketball together in sixth, seventh and eighth grade.”
Uthoff left Iowa Valley High School and open enrolled at Jefferson for his sophomore year, in part to play with his old AAU buddies. As a freshman, he averaged a whopping 2.8 points per game, but once he got to Jefferson, he was — as Meiborg said — a different player.
The 6-foot-8 senior surpassed 1,000 career points in his team’s double-overtime win last Friday night against Cedar Rapids Washington and is close to the 500-rebound mark. Keep in mind these numbers have been put up in about two seasons.
Uthoff — who has 1,011 career points, including a school-record 44 this season against Marion — wasn’t eligible to play at Jefferson until the last half of his sophomore season because of transfer rules. He is only the fourth J-Hawk to reach the 1,000-point plateau, with Jackson Jones — a four-year varsity player — the all-time leader at 1,304.
“It’s pretty special, but it’s not really that important to me,” Uthoff said. “That game (against Washington) was way more important than any statistic I had, how many points I had or anything like that. Winning is so much more important to me.”
Jefferson Coach Stu Ordman said all those points don’t tell the whole story.
“What has been really special about Jarrod is his character,” he said. “He’s our hardest worker, he’s the one I shout at the most, get on the most. He’s so good that my expectations of him are very high. Fortunately, his parents have given me their blessing to push him. He has given me his blessing and has responded so well (to that).”
If you haven’t seen the Wisconsin signee play, you’ve missed one of the best big men the Metro has had in years. It’s his versatility that makes him so good, an ability to play inside but also shoot 3-pointers and drive the ball to the hoop.
He leads the state with a 25.9 scoring average, despite being the focal point of every opposing team’s defense. He gets triple teamed virtually every time he touches the ball anywhere near the lane but is more equipped to handle the constant banging because of a summer commitment to getting stronger.
At a listed 190 pounds, he’s got a long way to go to get fully prepared physically for the Big Ten Conference. But it’s a start.
“Yeah, I feel a huge difference because I can finish shots I couldn’t last year when I get fouled,” Uthoff said. “Not every foul is going to get called, I understand that. But (being stronger) makes a huge difference underneath the basket in just having the strength to put it up over people.”
Ordman was asked whether he envisioned Uthoff being the player he has become when he first got to Jefferson.
“I try never to estimate a student-athlete,” he said. “Because of that, our coaching staff coaches (guys) pretty hard. Fortunately Jarrod wants to be the best that he can be. I wouldn’t say that everything has just been rose petals and perfume, especially during practices, but the young man is very tough and has a great deal of courage.”
Ordman pointed out Uthoff is a steward for a read-along program at Taylor Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. A good student who was class president last year, he is the youngest member of Jefferson’s senior class.
“So you want to talk about the dramatic improvement he has made as a basketball player,” Ordman said. “But it’s his character, his work ethic, his consideration of others, the spirit that he brings to the team that makes him so valuable and special to our program.”
“I never thought it would be this good,” Uthoff said. “I mean, I had high expectations coming to Jefferson. But it has exceeded all of my expectations. It’s just been great. I’ve loved every minute of it.”