Jack Nunge returns after redshirt season

Iowa basketball's Jack Nunge redshirted last season and now returns to the lineup better than ever.

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Jack Nunge returns after redshirt season

Iowa F Jack Nunge faces off with Michigan State G Matt McQuaid (20) during a basketball game between Iowa and Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the visiting Spartans, 96-93.

Iowa F Jack Nunge faces off with Michigan State G Matt McQuaid (20) during a basketball game between Iowa and Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the visiting Spartans, 96-93.

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Shiva

Iowa F Jack Nunge faces off with Michigan State G Matt McQuaid (20) during a basketball game between Iowa and Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the visiting Spartans, 96-93.

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Shiva

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Shiva

Iowa F Jack Nunge faces off with Michigan State G Matt McQuaid (20) during a basketball game between Iowa and Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the visiting Spartans, 96-93.

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

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Taking a redshirt year means a season full of falling under the radar. The focus is on practice and self-improvement without the luxury of appearing on the court during games.

Iowa basketball’s Jack Nunge started 14 games as a freshman during the 2017-18 season, ranking second on the team in blocks (25) and fifth in scoring (5.7 points per game). After redshirting last year, the third-year sophomore will be back in the Hawkeyes’ rotation this season.

“I just thought it was the best decision for me,” Nunge said. “I got a lot stronger. I got to work on my game a lot. I think I’m still kind of the same player that I was, just improved on everything. I think this year, I can be a guy who can mismatch, create mismatch problems. Take guys outside and shoot over them or drive by them.”

Standing at an imposing 6-11, Nunge is a rim protector that will fight off opposing players from trying to score in the paint. Nunge also drained 19 3-pointers his freshman season, fifth on the team.

He is the type of dual-threat post player that is very sought after in today’s game of basketball.

“His growth in just a year is tremendous,” junior Luka Garza said. “He’s gotten a lot more athletic, he’s gotten stronger, he shoots the ball at an incredibly high level. He’s gotten really comfortable on the block. His freshman year, he wasn’t that comfortable, and now he is doing a really good job.”

The year off from seeing in-game action allowed Nunge to improve behind the scenes, but it also served as motivation.

“Seeing games from the bench, getting a different perspective, and seeing how other guys prepare for a game and trying to learn from them,” Nunge said. “I think it makes you appreciate the games more — being able to have the games to look forward to and being able to go out and show your skills, show everything that you work for.”

Deciding to redshirt a player is never an easy decision. In Nunge’s case, however, the decision seems to have paid off.

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“I think it did for his game exactly what we all hoped it would,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Physically, he is in a completely different place, especially as it relates to his ability to do things in the post. He’s finishing plays. Defensively, he’s always had tremendous defensive instincts, so now you have a bigger body to combat talented players in this league.”

Nunge’s accelerated performance physically over his redshirt season will be key in defending some of the conference’s best post players.

Mentally, the year off also did wonders for the Newburgh, Indiana, native. That, McCaffery said, will be evident out on the court this season.

“I think [redshirting] also helped his confidence level,” McCaffery said. “He’s making shots at a high percentage. He’s running the floor. Physically, he’s really in a good place, not only in terms of size and strength, but also in terms of stamina. When you have a skilled big man like that and his strength and stamina are in a good place, you end up with somebody who’s productive.”

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