Iowa Hawkeyes Basketball and the Curious Case of Eric May
College basketball is funny.
Funny in the way that if you put 20 coaches and 20 recruiting specialists in a gym with all eyes on one 18-year-old kid, each will walk away with a different opinion on his collegiate future.
Nothing would be left off the table. The good. The bad. The ugly.
Depending on the program those coaches hail from or the type of talent pool those recruiting specialists typically evaluate, an athletic 6'5", 220-pound combo guard could be either the steal of a century or simply a player reaping the benefits of a weak high school basketball conference, division or state.
Both of these scenarios have seemingly played out for one particular player on this year's Hawkeye basketball team. That in and of itself has made it extremely difficult analyzing and evaluating what type of player fans should value him as.
You know who I'm talking about. That lowly Hawkeye senior who started off his career so well under a jester of a coach, who is now only used as a punchline. A natural born athlete whom Iowa fans now wish gave up his basketball scholarship to walk on to Kirk Ferentz's football team as one of those project-athlete types that the long time coach has turned into NFL-caliber defensemen or tight ends.
Of course, I'm talking about the enigmatic Eric May.
In my short time here at Bleacher Report, I've taken a few unwarranted shots at May's ability to shoot a basketball as well as his odds of being voted onto one of three All-Big Ten teams. For those justly jabs, well, I'm not exactly sorry. You see they are warranted. He forced my hand.
But that doesn't make it completely right.
It was brought to my attention recently that I haven't given Mr. May a fair shake and if I plan on using him as a season-long punching bag, I need to at least explain the misdemeanors against the tight end, er, shooting guard.
So where to begin?
How about breaking down his ESPN scouting report from a few years back,
"All he does is help his team win and at the end of the game you look at his stats and say "wow"."
All he does is help his team win?
Reading this four years after the fact truly made for a good laugh. But at the time, this statement may not have been too far off. I'm not one all too familiar with Dubuque, Iowa basketball, but I would guess May's athletic prowess might have made it seem like he was a Blake Griffin/LeBron James hybrid. He filled the stat sheets (just like he did his freshman year), threw down a few jaw dropping dunks and hit a long range shot or two. By the end of the game you couldn't help but talk yourself into him.
The problem, again I assume, is that May never did any of those things against hard-bodied, Big Ten talent.
In fact, let's be completely honest for a second. All jokes aside, May was destined to thrive at a smaller program that had comparable opponents to the ones he played in high school. It's not as if he was doing these things in the Chicago Public League, and his "schools of interest" proved that fact. Before he committed to Iowa, May had standing offers from UNI, Iowa State, Creighton and Butler (while Lickliter was still head coach there).
From what I remember (I was a junior at the time), expectations weren't high for May. That was probably the best thing for the true freshman. He was athletic, he competed to the best of his abilities, he finished every play and made sure to relish the floor time he received.
This was the best case scenario for May, and during his freshman year he wanted to prove he belonged with the Big Ten talent around him. What helped his cause (and seemingly put the freshman in over his head) was that May was Lickliter's guy. The ex-Iowa coach loved him for his multi-faceted style of play. He loved that May could get to the rim, draw fouls and play tough defense.
In return, May loved his coach and fully committed to the Lickliter system.
Not many did.
But why wouldn't he? What 18-year-old doesn't want a permanent green light to chuck up three-pointers on almost every offensive possession? It's like playing in the ultimate pick-up game night-in and night-out with the added bonus of being on BTN and ESPN once in a while.
Don't believe me? Look at his Prime Time League numbers from this year. He put up 18.2 points per game and grabbed nine rebounds (in case you forgot, May averaged 4.3 points and 2.4 rebounds during the regular season). The Prime Time League is the definition of pick-up basketball and every player from May to Jarryd Cole has a permanent green light no matter what their "coaches" say (Cole shot 11 three-pointers in the PTL this year, three more than he took during his entire Iowa career).
During that first year on campus, May averaged an amazing 31 minutes per game for the season and 8.1 shot attempts. Both career highs. He also chucked up 143 of Iowa's 753 three-point attempts that season. Only Matt Gatens shot more.
May's freshman season ended with 10 wins.
And Lickliter was fired.
But that didn't stop Iowa fans (however many there were of us at that time) from lofting our expectations for May. Though his numbers were the direct product of a bad offense, the Hawkeye faithful put their hopes on his shoulders. We figured May would be able to make continual steps at becoming a legitimate threat alongside of Gatens, no matter who the new coach would be.
We. Were. Wrong.
But our optimism was well thought out.
Once it was learned that Siena's Fran McCaffery would be bringing his high-powered, fast-break offense to Iowa City, we were convinced Eric May would be able to flourish better than before.
Mainly, because we knew (again from May's ESPN Scouting Report) the now sophomore was,
"...very strong with the ball going to the rim. He finishes well and draws alot of fouls at the end of games. Good foul shooter - great form. Smart with the ball, always looking up for an open man."
Is May not the perfect specimen for a fast-break coach to walk in on? He can control the ball on the break with his head up. He can finish after contact and nail down a free throw if he gets put on the charity stripe.
What should have been, wasn't. May was different almost from the start of the White Magic Era. Gone was his green light to run around and be Eric May. Now he was expected be himself within planned offensive sets and three-point shot attempts were only to be taken at the end of the shot clock or on wide open reversals.
Here's a fun stat: During May's freshman year and Lickliters last as head coach, Iowa shot 753 three pointers. In May's sophomore year and McCaffery's first as head coach, Iowa shot 465. Quite the difference.
That sequentially seemed to have affected May. Again, he didn't have the green light to shoot. The new regime wanted May to harness his actual talents by working the drive and kick game. That meant the glory days of standing around the three point line with an under-sized forward working the middle were over. This was big boy basketball now.
May was never equipped for that type of game and his statistics dwindled because of it. His rebounding numbers fell. His turnovers went up. He was ineffective on both ends of the court and was extremely indecisive. The Iowa coaching staff realized his timidness and started to give his minutes up to the freshman.
Marble and McCabe in particular made the most of floor time and May, who looked like a shinning light only one year before, was now on the outside looking in. How things changed in a matter of months.
During McCaffery's second year on the job, May's minutes declined even more. Out of the nine players that played in 30 games or more, May was second to last with 14.7 minutes per game. Only Andrew Brommer had fewer with 7.9. May was an afterthought. Between missed lay-ups, subpar defense, ill-timed jump shots and a timid use of his athletic ability, May was caught in a limbo.
A limbo, it seems, he hasn't gotten out of.
Since May's freshman season, his minutes, field goal attempts and three point attempts fell drastically. The more they fell, the more Iowa's total wins went up.
A direct correlation? Fairly, or unfairly, it seems so.
I truly want May to get out of that funk during his senior year. It would be a tremendous story that would surely turn brisk boo's into ravenous applause during senior night. All he needs to do is roll off a few "wow" moments during the Hawkeyes' out-of-conference schedule and force Fran to excessively extend his leash during Big Ten play.
Taking to the leadership role that has become vacant by the graduation of Gatens would be another tremendous step in the right direction. It would surely warrant the senior more "PT" if the coaches can depend on him being the voice inside the players' locker room.
Then, who knows, May might even obtain a green light to take a few side-pocket threes during offensive droughts?
But for any of that to happen, May needs to make the most of his now limited role as a bench player and once again relish every opportunity on the hardwood. It also might help to finally play with that chipped shoulder; aiming to prove he always belonged on a Big Ten roster.
Regardless, May will not hurt this team in 2012-13, as there are plenty of underclassmen salivating for whatever minutes McCaffery has penciled in for him. He can only be an asset.
What May will decide to do has yet to be seen, but there is hope that he can become more than a "good mid-major player", who was always a little too in over his head.
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