Tag:Northern Iowa University
Posted on: March 7, 2010 5:12 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2010 5:14 pm
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Ladies and Gentlemen, Your MVC Champs

C.M. TOMLIN


Today's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament -- or, as I like to call it, "The Battle of Who Has the Flattest, Bleakest Landscape" -- has seen its completion, and your MVC Champs are the repeating Northern Iowa Panthers over Wichita State 67-52. Junior Guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, aside from being my favorite character from Total Recall, led the Panthers with 24 points as his boys toyed with the Shockers before soundly putting them away and claiming their rightful trophy.

So get used to seeing the name Northern Iowa, because for the second year they'll be in your tournament bracket. We actually got to catch up with the plucky hawkeyes during the College Basketball Road Trip, and if you followed that you know that we're quite the fans of this team and its fans, from one of the loudest student sections you'll ever be completely surprised to happen upon to gritty Irish-Polish Lucas O'Rear off the bench for some muscle. 

They're a good bunch of kids with a good staff behind them, and they're tougher than you might think. And somewhere tonight, Wichita State coach and regional State Farm agent of the year Gregg Marshall goes back to dreading March and the tornados he'll be soon watching roll across the prairie toward his freshly-bailed haystacks.

So another contender goes up on the board, and Sunday rolls along with mid-majors galore (look out, East Tennessee State). Of course, next weekend the party-crashers show up as the ranked giants show up and start hitting on Winthrop's girlfriend. But this weekend belongs to the little guy. It's like a high school band party right now -- next week it becomes a raging kegger.
Posted on: February 20, 2010 2:08 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2010 5:18 pm
 

Scrappy Lucas O'Rear Energizes Northern Iowa

By C.M. Tomlin

10:00 AM



They call him “Big Country,” but he looks like he’d better fit in on the south side of Boston than here in the endless cornfields of Northern Iowa. Yet here is Lucas O’Rear, Northern Iowa University’s reliable sparkplug, rousing the crowd and providing the boosting surges of energy which often push the Panthers over the cusp.

To fully appreciate O’Rear, you have to understand the beauty of how he sticks out like a sore thumb among his teammates. With faux-hawked red hair, thick bushy muttonchop sideburns and tattoos on both biceps, he would appear to be more of a hit man than a sixth man.

Yet the 6’6”, 255-lb.forward was named Missouri Valley Conference Sixth man of the year in 2009 and continues to be a brute force beneath the basket which just may propel the Panthers into 2010’s Big Dance..

“We’re not just happy making it to the NCAA Tournament, we want to be the Cinderella team” says O’Rear, laid-back and genially confident in a sweatshirt and cowboy boots. “To do that, we’re going to have to play every game like it’s the most important game we’ve ever played.”

Between post-game moments with the press, O’Rear is approached by families wishing him well and children wanting autographs or pictures. He sincerely thanks the former and stoops to accommodate the latter. He’s very clearly adored.

I ask what he tells the kids who look up to him. :”I just encourage them to keep working,” says O’Rear, who began his career at Illinois’ Nashville High School. “When I came in here from high school, I was scoring nine, ten, eleven points a game. Now I might only score three. I’m a small fish in a big pond.”

Yet O’Rear understands and even seems to cherish the role. “I’m happy that the crowd here realizes that I don’t have to score twenty points a game. set a screen for Ali [Farokhmanesh], he hits a three. I’m fine with that. It’s the little things that make the big things.”

If it seems like O’Rear has a good grasp on things, it’s because his outlook on life is one rare for a junior in college. After his mother passed awy in 2000, O’Rear grew closer to his brother; the two are separated in age by 15 months.

“It was a hard time for us, but we both learned to live each day – and now it helps me look at the day-to-day differently. Something tough comes up, you think to yourself that you’re still lucky, because things can always be worse.”

O’Rear’s appreciation for family is evident in his tattoos. A shamrock adorns one arm to signify his Irish father; a Polish eagle inks his opposite arm, an homage to his Polish mother. He has two others unseen beneath his jersey: the polish word “rodzina,” which means “family,” and a cross on his back to commemorate his mother.

It’s clear to see that O’Rear looks at his Northern Iowa teammates and fans as an extension of that family, and they clearly love him back. The crowd erupts when O’Rear makes a big move and a portion of the student section even wears giant false muttonchops and t-shirts reading “Fear the “Burns.”

The Panthers’ plan for the post-season is to mix it up for opponents by mixing up styles and keeping opponents on their toes. Whatever it takes to get them where they're headed. “They won’t see us coming,” O’Rear says, adding his own personal philosophy, learned from his own life lessons. “We have to just play every game like it’s going to be our last."

O’Rear thinks for a moment as a young child in an NIU jersey runs up to him and jumps into his lap, and O’Rear welcomes him like he were family. “I just feel honored to have what I have,” he says. “If you work hard, good things come.”

 


Posted on: February 20, 2010 12:38 am
Edited on: February 20, 2010 3:40 am
 

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

By C.M. Tomlin

11:10 PM



If there was supposed to be a giant onslaught of awful winter weather, we didn't get the memo. But it's apparently sitting right on top of our heads. And collecting at an alarming rate.

No one in Cedar Falls seems to be bothered much by it, though. As it is, snowy roads had us rolling into the McLeod Center just in time to catch Northern Iowa's Panthers taking on Old Dominion's Monarchs.

The drive from Milwaukee to Cedar Falls had us passing through miles of snow-covered, barren farmland and through Dubuque, where we stopped at a hotel just in time to catch a mafia-themed wedding party. I'm not sure if this is the norm for Dubuque, but it seemed natural. On the way, we listened to an AM stion that some might argue overcovers the high school wrestling landscape here in the Hawkeye State. And we learned that Iowa is so flat that you can see Oregon from your car window.

Full disclosure: we weren't prepared to be impressed by our UNI experience. It definitely had chips stacked against it. We'd been driving for hours with little to no signs of life. Roads were a little dicey. The fourteen-foot mound of plowed snow backed up to the McLeod Center didn't exactly seem inviting. Plus, it's hard to get excited about a smaller D1 school when you have porterhouses like Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse on the menu.

Despite the increasing nightmare of frozen terrain outside this arena, however, Panther fans were in full regalia and ready for battle. Something tells me these folk know how to handle a little inclement weather -- and far be it for them to let a dusting like this make them miss a nationally televised outing like this.

I'm here to tell you -- firsthand -- that Northern Iowa fans do it up ght. The McLeod Center,, small potatoes compared to a monstrosity like the Carrier Dome, was lit to the rafters and louder than a 747. What's that? Elaborate further? Don't mind if I do.

-Normally, at any reputable college basketball game, there's a distinction in the level of excitability dictated by the age of the fans. Not so here in America's heartland. Don't get me wrong: the Panther student section was as loud, if not louder, than many large schools you'll visit. And they're absolutely rabid. But everyone else is in on the act too. Northern Iowa basketball isn't just a sport, it's a collective push by an entire community. John Mellencamp could write a song about this kind of familial camaraderie. (Ed. note: I'm watching you, John Mellencamp, I'm already writing my all-American tune for Northern Iowa.)

-If you sell white body paint in Cedar Falls, you're making a killing. The laws of probability in sports fandom (Schleppenfelder's Fan Love and Outward Expressions Thereof; page 63, paragraph C) dictate that in any large crowd of supporters, there will be at least two body painters. Northern Iowa had tonight, at best estimation, upwards of 25 frothing Panther hooligans decked out mimes on a bender. Don't get me wrong, Northern Iowans are already white as it comes, but with this much body paint it's like the college basketball scene from Night of the Living Dead. You remember that scene, don't you? No? Moving on.

-Children play a huge role in the proceedings. That's actually pretty rare. At larger schools, where season tickets cost a cool thousand, you're not going to find many parents wasting a ticket on a child who'd be just as entertained by  same episode of Yo Gabba Gabba on loop or a refrigerator box. They're going to bring colleagues, friends, people they want to impress. At the McLeod Center, it's a family affair. Not only are the stands littered with entire families having a great time, but children help the mascot do its routines and play in the foyer.

-You don't want to make the wrong call here. Iowans take any things very seriously. Corn. The Andy Griffith oeuvre. Hay. And fair and balanced judgment of a basketball game. The din of madness that overtakes these fans when they feel slighted is terrifyingly sincere. Not a good idea to break up with a girl from Northern Iowa, I'll bet. There were moments when the rush of noise from a supposed malfeasance portended to erupt into the Watts riots. (Note to John Mellencamp: that song is the one I'm writing after the one about community fandom.)

So, yeah, consider me a new fan of the Northern Iowa Panthers. They've got it right. Somewhere, out there in Midwestern America, they know the score.

Speaking of scores, the final was 71-62 Panthers, and this small portion of the state is sated until the next skirmish. As we left this monument to great feeling, however, we skidded back into the hellish reality of snow-covered roads and buckets of powder dumping from the sky. And that, dear readers, is why this particular missive comes to you from the welcome dining room of Junie's Diner at a truck stop in Evansdale, Iowa.

The snow continues to fall gently but quickly, stars falling from the sky and onto the families and fans of Cedar Falls. And all is well in Northern Iowa tonight.

(Don't take that awesome line, John Mellencamp.)

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com