The decadelong friendship between senior co-captains Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner started with a fight. In the sixth grade the two were matched against each other in a summer camp basketball game when the bumping and banging boiled over. "We started pushing and shoving and throwing elbows at each other," recalls Brunner, a 6'7" power forward who back then was seven inches shorter and, like Horner, a point guard. "They had to stop the game to break us up."
Horner remembers being surprised that the game hadn't been called sooner. "My team was killing his," he says.
Over time the childhood rivals would learn to play nice, combining for more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in their first three years as teammates at Iowa. Their boost in production late last season buoyed a club whose bid to end a three-year NCAA tournament drought was nearly ruined when leading scorer Pierre Pierce was dismissed from the team on Feb. 2. (He pleaded guilty in August to third-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, false imprisonment and fourth-degree criminal mischief; he was sentenced to two years in prison on Oct. 28.)
Without Pierce, Iowa dropped five of its next six games before Brunner and Horner set the tone for the rest of the season with their tough defense and unselfish play, sparking the Hawkeyes to five straight wins. "The more they leaned on each other," says Iowa coach Steve Alford, "the more it elevated their play."
The Hawkeyes lost in the first round of the NCAAs, then worked off their frustration in the gym--no player more so than Brunner, who shed 15 pounds to get down to 245 and add two inches to his vertical leap. Still, Horner doesn't see the big man yielding any ground in the paint. "A lot of guys will lose that weight and get bullied around inside," says Horner, "but he still maintained his strength."
Also back is junior Adam Haluska, who emerged as a reliable third scorer upon Pierce's departure. Kurt Looby, a 6'10" Texas juco transfer, gives the Hawkeyes added depth up front behind 6'11" senior Erek Hansen, whose 2.6 blocks per game led the Big Ten, and 7-foot sophomore Seth Gorney.
Size and experience give Iowa a shot at battling Michigan State and Illinois for the conference title. "This team is good enough to go even further than it did last year," Horner says. What would Brunner and Horner's last hurrah be like without one final fight?
The talent-rich state has provided the high-scoring trio of Greg Brunner (Charles City), Adam Haluska (Carroll) and Jeff Horner (Mason City).
Coach: Steve Alford 2004-05 record: 21-12 (7-9, 7th in Big Ten)
2005 tournament: Lost in 1st round to Cincinnati
Adam HALUSKA [RETURNING STARTER]
Greg BRUNNER [RETURNING STARTER]
Erek HANSEN [RETURNING STARTER]
Mike HENDERSON [RETURNING STARTER]
Jeff HORNER [RETURNING STARTER]
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
Jeff Horner will pull up from 30 feet on the break with no hesitation.... When Pierre Pierce left last year Adam Haluska came out of his shell as a scorer. He was forced to take shots in clutch situations.... Greg Brunner is a matchup nightmare: too agile to be guarded by a 4 and too big to put a 3 on him.... If you take it right at Erek Hansen and get him in foul trouble, you can nullify his shot blocking ability.
SCOTT MUSSELL/ICON SMI
¬†HIGH, HARD ONE
By stepping up his off-season training, Brunner increased his vertical leap without sacrificing valuable inside muscle.