NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa — Remember Jarrod Uthoff, the kid whose contentious transfer from Wisconsin sparked a national debate last spring?
It's understandable if you don't.
Even his summer league team can't seem to remember his name.
Uthoff — or "Utoff," as it's misspelled on the back of his gray mesh jersey for the recreational league in North Liberty, Iowa — spent the past season working anonymously toward his long-awaited Division I debut.
Uthoff, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa native, will get his wish after two long years when he's finally eligible for Iowa this winter.
"That's what keeps me going," Uthoff said. "There's a light at the end of the tunnel."
Uthoff's appearance in a summer league game Thursday was one of the first opportunities Iowa fans had to see him play.
For a while, it looked as though he might never play for the Hawkeyes — or any other team remotely connected to Wisconsin.
Uthoff, a 6-foot-10 forward and Iowa's Mr. Basketball in 2011, committed to coach Bo Ryan and the rival Badgers before his senior year at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. The Hawkeyes heavily recruited Uthoff, a versatile big man who lived about 20 minutes from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But they were just starting a major transition between Todd Lickliter and current coach Fran McCaffery and were mired in the Big Ten basement.
Uthoff, a skilled shooter and passer for his size, seemed a perfect fit for Ryan's system.
He never was, though.
That's when the trouble began.
Uthoff sought to transfer from Wisconsin after not playing as a freshman in 2011-12. Ryan, who has rarely lost a player during his highly successful tenure in Madison, initially denied Uthoff permission to contact a number of schools, including those in the Big Ten and ACC, rival Marquette among others.
Ryan eventually relented and removed restrictions on any school outside of the Big Ten. But Ryan's actions prompted a backlash among many who wondered why coaches who are free to move to any school they want could restrict players from doing the same.
Uthoff stayed in the Big Ten anyway, electing to go to Iowa.
The restrictions prevented Uthoff from speaking with anyone connected to the Hawkeyes until he enrolled in classes. He also had to pay for school during the 2012-13 school year.
Though the soft-spoken Uthoff never sought to create a national dialogue about NCAA transfer rules, he's convinced he made the right call.
"The first couple of weeks, I knew it," Uthoff said. "It was everything. The atmosphere, the Hawkeyes community, the fan support. Everything."
The Hawkeyes are happy to add Uthoff, now on scholarship, to what could be their best team in nearly a decade.
Uthoff can stretch the floor as a big man with a mid to long-range jump shot and improved ball-handling skills. Uthoff also has the size and athleticism to score from the blocks through tip-ins or dunks, and he can defend multiple positions.
"Jarrod has been playing really well this summer. He can hit outside shots, and obviously he creates matchup problems for those post guys inside," Iowa senior forward Zach McCabe said. "He was always working on his game, just getting ready. Just talking to him, he's sick of sitting out. He wants to play."
Uthoff will join a crowded frontcourt that includes centers Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni and McCabe, star Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe at forward.
Even with all that depth, Uthoff should push for significant playing time on a team expected to finish in the top half of the Big Ten and snap a seven-year NCAA tournament drought.
"I couldn't be happier. I'm with a great team. I love my teammates, and I'm having a lot of fun," Uthoff said.
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