CEDAR FALLS — One of the Northern Iowa’s hallmarks under basketball coach Ben Jacobson has been veteran leadership.
The Panthers won’t have much of that to lean on this season.
Three starters and three of the program’s top four scorers have moved on from last season’s 21-win team, leaving Jacobson with the least-experienced group of his eight-year tenure in Cedar Falls.
The Panthers have 10 newcomers — including five true freshmen and Tennessee transfer Wes Washpun — that they’ll need to find roles for before the season opener Nov. 9 at Ohio.
“We’ve got to work on that. It’s going to be very important for us to do everything we can to get some guys up to speed,” Jacobson said Wednesday during the team’s media day.
The most intriguing newcomer is Washpun, a 6-foot-1 guard and a former star at Cedar Rapids Washington High. He returned home after just a year with the Volunteers.
Washpun didn’t play much at Tennessee. But he’s expected to play a key role for the Panthers.
Washpun, who practiced last season with Northern Iowa while taking a redshirt year, could allow the Panthers to play much faster than they have in the past.
Washpun still has a lot to work on, especially on defense. But he also has a chance to add a new dimension to what Northern Iowa does offensively.
“I do feel like the up-tempo fits my style a little bit more,” Washpun said.
The Panthers are expected to pair Washpun with junior Deon Mitchell, by far the most seasoned guard on the roster.
Though he and Washpun are both point guards, Northern Iowa believes they can be successful playing together. Mitchell scored 9.3 points a game last season and led the team with 126 assists, and he said he’s looking forward to sharing playmaking duties with Washpun.